Off Season Bird Watching at the Outer Banks of NC ~ The Birds of Duck

We just returned from a week of bird watching in Duck, NC.  Being mid to late December, we weren’t sure how many different kinds of birds would be around this time of year.  Having just completed a painting of some Sandpipers, which I call The Beach Boys, I was certainly hoping to see Sandpipers, Seagulls and a Pelican or two.  

I wanted to make sure I have plenty of material to work from throughout this upcoming new year, so I was planning on taking many pictures.  Turns out I had a field day taking over 1500 pictures!  The weather cooperated with the first three days in the 70’s.  The beach birds were out in large numbers enjoying the sun on the beach.  I chased the little birds up and down the beach trying to get them in good light and in focus, which isn’t always easy to do.  

 Storming the beach!

Storming the beach!

 Flight of the Sandpipers!

Flight of the Sandpipers!

 The Eastern Willet

The Eastern Willet

One time I let my guard down and while I was photographing a seagull in mid-air, the ocean wave flooded my good running shoes!  Usually Jen is around to warn me of any imminent danger ☺ but this time I was working solo.  I had to put up with wet socks and heavy shoes for quite a while! ☹

An added bonus with the warmer weather was a steady stream of Pelicans flying up and down the coast a few hundred yards offshore.  They put on quite a show from flying in formation, to buzzing the tops of the waves to dive bombing into the water after fish.  I only wish I could have been a little closer to them.  

 Pelicans in formation ~ FLY BOYS!

Pelicans in formation ~ FLY BOYS!

After a couple of days the weather turned colder, the shorebirds disappeared for the most part, so we decided to explore the rest of the long and narrow Outer Banks island for other birds.  What would we find???

We explored the northern end of Corolla a little and all the way south to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, known to be a birder’s paradise.  Whether it was due to being off season or just timing, we saw little in the way of birdlife.  So mixing in a fresh scallop meal at the Sugar Shack near Manteo helped lift the spirits! ☺

Then we discovered that right near us in the town of Duck is a long boardwalk overlooking the Sound side of the island.  We had only been on it before when going to the shops, never thinking about bird watching.  A beautiful, long boardwalk out over the water, near marsh grasses, fallen trees and thickets made for perfect bird watching.  

My eyes opened wide when we first stepped onto the boardwalk!  I saw what looked like dozens of beautiful swans and geese all within range of my zoom lens.  The large white birds turned out to be Tundra Swans that migrate from the Arctic and the sub-arctic tundra every winter.  They were captivating to watch and photograph.

 Tundra Swans Gathering!

Tundra Swans Gathering!

 Flapping and sunning!

Flapping and sunning!

 Moving on!

Moving on!

When there were down times and no big birds to photograph I turned my attention to the little birds that seemed very happy to be living down at the beach even during the winter.  Some buzzed the boardwalk as if to say try to catch me.

This little Yellow-rumped Warbler did just that!

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Other little birds hid in the thickets by the boardwalk and obviously didn’t want their picture taken.  Usually, my patience would outlast theirs and eventually I would get a picture or two.  

This Carolina Wren had me standing around in cold, wet weather testing my patience, until she couldn’t stand it anymore, came out, and broke into song!  

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Each day I walked the boardwalk taking pictures I would at some point hear the unmistakable sound of a Kingfisher (in my opinion, one of the coolest little birds).  I’ve been seen running around marinas, up and down piers, chasing one little, very fast bird, the Kingfisher!

The Town of Duck Kingfisher had me running up and down the boardwalk like a crazy tourist with a camera.  He would land on the railing of the boardwalk, flit over to a tree, and then move on down the boardwalk to his next stop.  Fortunately, not too many people were around to witness the spectacle!  ☺

This is the best I could do with the little manic Kingfisher!

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Below are photos of a few of the other birds that we saw.  I think that given the relatively short time we were in Duck, and being off season, the birdlife was quite spectacular.  

These two gulls were fighting over a treat that a little boy had thrown into the water to feed the birds.

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The Canadian Geese were enjoying some rest time in the late day sun.

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When I spotted this barrel chested Dove in the tree along the boardwalk, I had to take a double take!  

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This little Purple Finch was flitting all around our beach house and stood still just long enough to get this OK picture.

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This was the last bird we saw when leaving the boardwalk.  We kept walking closer and closer to the little Downy Woodpecker and it didn’t seem to mind at all.  We ended up about 5 feet away from it, we were amazed and when it finally flew off it was time to pack up the camera and head home.

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There were many blurry pictures and many missed shots, but I was also lucky enough to get a good number that I would love to paint.  Spending so much time seeing the birds in their natural habitat will be invaluable when contemplating future compositions.  

There are over 400 species of birds that migrate to or call the Outer Banks their home.  So with that in mind, it’s a good excuse to plan another trip back to the beach!