The Wake Audubon-sponsored trip to Lake Mattamuskeet took place Dec 4-6. Our group braved some inclement on Saturday as a moving weather front brought cold, intermittent rain to the area. We were able to get out for a few hours in the morning, and some in the late afternoon, and get in some decent birding in between bands of light rain and drizzle. In mid-afternoon we ate a leisurely lunch at the Hotel Engelhard, after which John Gerwin conducted a sparrow identification workshop, using specimens from the Museum’s bird collection. Thanks go to Becky Desjardins, Bird Collections Manager and Wake Audubon President, and Keith Jensen, part time Bird Collections Technician and longtime Audubon member, for pulling those specimens together – it helped fill in a rainy couple of hours with an educational and entertaining program. Much thanks go to the Hotel Engelhard staff for providing great hospitality, nice comfortable rooms, and “birder friendly” breakfasts.
Sunday dawned clear and cold, as the front had now passed. The early morning light was spectacular for viewing the thousands of Snow Geese at the Lake Landing area. The list of birds, and approximated numbers seen, are at the end. Highlights were:
Peregrine Falcon: on Friday, a few of us “early birds” were witnesses to an adult Peregrine chasing and stooping on a flying Snowy Egret over the main body of water to the east of the causeway. After half a dozen or so passes, the falcon gave up, and the Egret continued on, unharmed.
White Pelican – one seen by all flying west across the causeway.
Tree Swallow – we witnessed one of the most amazing congregations of swallows I have ever seen: there were tens of thousands of birds swarming overhead all day long, everywhere we went. I have never seen anything like it. Apparently feeding in advance of the approaching cold front, it was beyond any Hitchcock image, and was truly spectacular. Perhaps nearly as spectacular was the near-absence of this species the following morning, when we counted only about 25.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – one along the causeway.
Yellow Warbler – a short but good look at a female or immature along the causeway.
Prairie Warbler – one along the causeway, and another one or two seen Sunday a mile south.
Little Blue Heron – several immatures were seen, standing with Cattle and Snowy egrets, at the Lake Landing area.
Merlin – one seen each day but the best view was a flyover this morning.
Virginia Rail – a bird called right along the roadway we were walking, among some short vegetation in shallow water. Participant Alex Capaldi had a “Field Guide to Birds” application on his cell phone, which included vocalizations. He played the V. Rail to get the birds attention, which he did. We could see the “shadow” as the rail ran among the thick vegetation, very close to us. Board member Erik Thomas, donning rubber boots, went in to “bird dog” it, and successfully flushed it. The bird flew about 15’, into the wind, and only about 15’ in front of us, which allowed us all to get a great view.
Marsh Wren – always a piece of work to get into view, the group persisted and succeeded in doing so with one in a cattail patch at the Lake Landing area. Much thanks to Alex Capaldi again for using his cell phone to keep the bird’s attention, and coaxing it out several times, enough for folks to get a decent, albeit always brief, look.