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North Carolina: Mountains to Shore

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Old Thursday 3rd June 2010, 18:48   #1
Mysticete
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North Carolina: Mountains to Shore

Hey Folks

Just recently, to celebrate the the big 3-0, I decided to take a week off and visit North Carolina. This was a jam-packed trip, and just like my recent trip to Texas, probably covering more ground than a sane person would in a limited time period. The first 3 or so days were spent near Highlands, NC, meeting up with old friends from my Masters days and doing a bit of Salamandering (one friend works on Plethodon systematics). The next 3 days were solo birding in the Croatan NF in the southeastern part of the state. finally, I had 3 days on the Outer Banks, two days of which were pelagics trips with Brian Patteson. I managed 10 lifers and 11 ABA birds total, and also did quite well with Mammals and herps.

I won't get go into detail on the first three days, as I didn't see much birdwise, although lots of Wood Thrush and Blue-headed Vireo was nice. We did manage quite a few salamanders...The appalachians are the salamander capital of the world, and I think I had something like close to 11 salamander species total on this trip. One thing I didn't realize about "salamandering" is that they are quite easy to find on the prowl at night, just by checking streamsides and scanning the leaflitter. Much easier than endlessly flipping rocks. As an example, we probably managed 50 something Red-legged Salamanders along a stretch of road at night.

We had one day in the Smoky Mountains National Park, most of which was sadly spent in a car. Bear jams are a huge problem here (as our stupid tourists). Some of the Bear jams took at least an hour to get through. In most cases there was plenty of room to pull over, but people instead stopped their car in the middle of the one lane road to take photos. We saw 2 black bears like this, which were completely nonplussed by human observation. My first lifer mammal of the trip and my first bear. The human watching was also good. One group of locals, on seeing the bear, shouted BAAARRR BARRRR!. the older woman in the group then jumped out of said vehicle and walked within 20 feet of the bear to take pictures. One wonders how this person ever managed to reach her present age!

So if you are ever interested in visiting Smoky Mountains National Park, definitely plan for a longer visit, and also plan to spend a good chunk of your time traversing the park in stop and go traffic.

Also, if you ever want to see a distillation of everything tacky, take a drive through Pigeon Forge, which must rank as one of the world largest roadside tourist trap.

I will stop for now. The next portion will cover Croatan National Forest and the vicinity
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Old Friday 4th June 2010, 19:30   #2
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After hanging out with friends in the Appalachian mountains, I was dropped off in Raleigh where I picked up my car and took the 2+ hour drive down past New Bern to the Croatan NF. My base of operations was the Neuse River Recreation area, a fairly birdy campground which I would spend my next three nights. I arrived after dark, and so wasn't able to bird; however the rains did bring out large numbers of Southern Cricket Frogs and Southern Toads, the former of which was a lifer.

I spent a hot and sweaty night in the back of my rental car, attempting to get some shut eye (and interrupted once by rangers checking permits). I was glad to get up the next morning and head to my major target for the day; The Millis Road Savannah. This is one of the most northernly locations to "easily" get the three southern pine wood specialities: Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Bachman's Sparrow, and Brown-headed Nuthatch. I arrived at the Savannah at dawn, and was initially greeted with rather quiet conditions. I spent some time walking the rough track into the savannah, and the first birds to greet me were Eastern Pewees and a Red-headed Woodpecker. After around a hour of walking, I hit the Jackpot, finally spotting a pair of RED-COCKADED WOODPECKER. More walking gave me great looks, and my estimate is that I saw something like 20 different birds. While looking at a nice flock I also lucked upon my first BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCHES. Oddly enough, despite being the "easiest" of the 3 targets this morning, they also turned out to be the least cooperative. Continuing on, I had one remaining target left; Bachman's Sparrow. I managed to hear several probable birds, but had no luck observing them. Finally, I managed to flush a sparrow that was cooperative enough to perch on a bit of dead brushy vegetation. Great looks at my lifer BACHMAN'S SPARROW. Another group of birder came up behind me, and I was able to locate an additional sparrow for them. This was there second attempt (in several years) at Red-cockaded here, and they managed to miss them completely so far up to this point. The woodpeckers can be quite difficult...they have large home ranges and move around quite a bit, so I felt fortunate to be able to tag them and the Bachmans in under an hour of birding.

With my morning targets down, I walked back to my car, with the intention of hitting up some seep areas to try my luck on some warblers. Largely because of an artifact of where I have lived and birded, I am still missing several relatively widespread Eastern warblers, namely Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky, Worm-eating, and the super difficult Swainson's. Sadly despite attempts, these species are still missing from my list. However I did manage to get a few other birds in the wetter sections near the savannah, including my lifer ACADIAN FLYCATCHER, and pretty good views of Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warbler, as well as White-eyed Vireo. Herps were decidely absent.

I headed back toward camp, stopping for lunch on the way. The area around where I was camping was suppose to be good for warblers, and I was also hoping to snag some herps while I was at it. Strangely, when I walked the trails and intentionally looked for birds, the birds were absent. However, the best birds here I saw were all by accident, including a Summer Tanager by the bathrooms and a pair of Northern Parula which decided to stop by my campsite. A more intensive search in afternoon (after a much needed nap) yielded a few more species (Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Wren), and several lifer herps, including GROUND SKINK and ATLANTIC COAST SLIMY SALAMANDER. After dark, I decided to roadcruise for more herps and for Chuck-wills-Widow. I heard the latter but failed to see it, and the only herps I encountered were numerous Southern Toads. I finally made it back to camp at around 11:30, exhausted and with a giant headache from eye strain

This post has gotten longer than I intended, So I will cover the next day or two later.
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Old Saturday 5th June 2010, 21:10   #3
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Nice report so far. Especially interested in your three target species, as I struck out on all three of them on a trip to Florida in March. Long story, but still got lots of great new birds.

Summer Tanager and Northern Parula - what a great mix of colors!

Coming from Wyoming, I would think you would have seen plenty of bear-jams, up in Yellowstone. Anxious to hear about your pelagics.

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Old Friday 11th June 2010, 17:55   #4
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"BAAAR BAAAR" hahahah, that must have been hilarious. As for the birds, congrats on the Red-cockaded and Bachman's Sparrow! The salamandering sounds really cool- would love to do that some day. Looking forward to the rest of the report.
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