Authored by Bob Oberfelder
All photos also by Bob
The 2014 Wings Over Water Festival (WOW) took place during the last week of October, and my wife and I stuffed a host of activities into about a day and a half. We were impressed with nearly every aspect of the festival, the quality of the trip leaders, the quality of the birding, the art instruction and last (but definitely not least) the quality of the keynote speaker. While most of the participants we met were regional, North Carolina or Virginia residents, there was at least one couple on our walks that came from El Paso, Texas. They made a special trip to attend the festival for the eastern birding experience. Our busy schedule and obligations allowed only a limited amount of time so we drove down to the North Carolina coast on Friday afternoon, spent a full day participating in WOW activities on Saturday, then returned home on Sunday.
Saturday was indeed a very full day. We spent the morning at the Old Oregon Inlet Coast Guard Station, a trip lead by Ricky Davis. We met the group at the south end of Bonner Bridge. This area is a migrant trap and thus a birding hotspot which often gets more than it’s share of unusual birds. We saw, and in some cases photographed, a number of interesting birds. We saw Brown Pelicans, Semi-palmated Plovers, Dunlin, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellow-legs, numerous Palm Warblers, a Blackpoll Warbler, a White-winged Dove, many Kinglets, and of course the requisite trove of Yellow-rumped Warblers. While we were there, Jeff Lewis and others heard a Bell’s Vireo, a very rare bird. Despite an hours long effort, no one actually saw this bird. In the brushy area near the Old Coast Guard Station, Ricky Davis spotted a Wandering Glider (a dragonfly) perched on some reeds. Ricky described this dragonfly as one that is almost always in motion and rarely perches. He indicated had seen one perched only a few times. At the end of the trip, we explored the catwalk on both sides of the southern end of the Bonner Bridge and discovered a very cooperative Ruddy Turnstone that allowed me to get so close I could not focus my camera. (I was probably less than 5 feet from this bird. Note the jailbird photo.)
Saturday afternoon I attended the Shorebirds and Waders trip lead by Steve Shultz, while my wife attended the wildlife sketching session lead by North Carolina artist John Sill. I met Steve and the group at the Bodie Island Lighthouse parking lot and hitched a ride with a fellow birder from Rocky Mount N.C. We spent most of the afternoon at the North Pond in the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Steve did an excellent job leading the shorebird trip, and my wife enjoyed the wildlife drawing session as well. For me, the highlights of the trip were a Peregrine Falcon causing pandemonium at the North Pond, close views of some Marbled Godwits, a group of White Ibis, and about 75 White Pelicans. I thought there were good numbers of ducks and shorebirds present at Pea Island, however Steve said that Friday they were even more plentiful.
We ended the day at the keynote dinner, this year held at the National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Roanoke Island. The Keynote speaker was Noah Strycker who is both an excellent birder and a very entertaining speaker. Noah is a young man, about 25 years old who has followed his passion for birding into a career. Noah described his fascination with bird behavior, the driving force to write his new book “The Thing With Feathers,” a very interesting read. As a teenager Noah was interested in the behavior of Turkey Vultures, whether they were able to find their meals by sight or exclusively by smell. In order to determine which, Noah decided to sequester a deer carcass, and brought it back to his home in the trunk of his car late one evening and parked the car in the family garage. He then forgot about the carcass that was stored for a couple of days in the trunk of his car inside his garage. He knew the answer to his question when he awoke to a group of 15-20 Vultures sitting perched in trees around his garage. With the help of various sponsors, Noah is planning a 2015 worldwide Big Year with a goal of amassing 5000 birds. Considering the places he has been and the birding he has already done, I would not be surprised to see him achieve his goal.
A quick trip to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on the way home Sunday resulted in two Black Bear sightings. On Friday evening nearly at dusk, we had stopped in for a brief visit and observed a distant black bear in one of the fields. Since both of these visits to the refuge were very brief, and at different times of day, clearly the reputation of Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge as a haven for black bears is well deserved. On Sunday we had excellent views of both an American Restart, and a Sedge Wren.
We both agreed that the WOW weekend was successful. The trip leaders and the WOW organizers should be congratulated for a first rate festival and I would encourage people of the birding community to check it out next year. Here is their website