Cape Hatteras in winter
January 21st, 2012
In winter, when most of the bright yellow birds have flown to the tropics, and
goldfinches have molted most of their yellow for dingy greyish-green, what a
sight to see a meadowlark, as golden-breasted as ever! These birds, generally
thought of as a rural species, occur year-round at Pea Island Wildlife Refuge.
In summer I hear them singing from the boardwalk.
, a supersize relative of the Common Grackle, is one of the
characteristic birds of the south Atlantic coast. In winter they get very
flocky, gathering on lawns, rooftops, sand dunes, and last but not least,
feeders. A large group was patronizing the feeders at the Visitor Center,
though they flushed into the vegetation as soon as I drew near.
The dominant wintering duck at Pea Island appears to be the Northern
---they raft by the hundreds on open water. They're skittish when
approached, though, so I wasn't able to get any good pictures of them. These
were somewhat more cooperative.
I was handicapped in my attempts to view and photograph waterfowl by the
damage from Hurricane Irene. It broke the dam and all but emptied out North
Pond, which is encircled by a public trail and normally teeming with ducks,
geese and swans in winter. Reduced to mud flats and puddles, it wasn't very
attractive to waterfowl anymore. It was just the right habitat for sandpipers
though---particularly these Dunlins
Temperatures in excess of 15 degrees drew out flying insects---much to the
delight of Pea Island's abundant wintering Yellow-Rumped
. Unlike most warblers, Yellow-Rumpeds can survive on berries for
long stretches (particularly wax myrtle berries, which they are specially
evolved to digest), which is why they can winter well north of the tropics.
But an influx of protein still makes their day. As my mother and I went down
the boardwalk they were flycatching in the air all around us, sometimes
perching on the railing for their next sally.
A trio of Tundra
. Outer Banks is an important wintering ground for this species, which
breeds in the far north of North America and Eurasia.
I almost passed this up at first, mistaking the distant raccoon for part of
the oddly-shaped bundle of sticks.