Venture to the Outer Banks

October 8 – 11, 2021

Narrative and Photos* by Kevin Burke

*Thanks to Simon Thompson and Jonathan Cooley for some great photos!

Fall on the Outer Banks is always a treat. Migrating warblers can be seen flitting in the woods, and waterfowl are starting to show up on the impoundments. We visited Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, the Duck Boardwalk, Pea Island, and many more great birding spots. You never know what is going to show up when you are out at the coast. A long weekend out at the coast is always a fun time. 

We started our long weekend by meeting at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. We drove a couple of the roads looking for whatever we could find.

A Northern Harrier gracefully glided over the fields in search of a meal. Great Egrets foraged in the marshy flats. We were able to pick out several Wilson’s Snipe in the wet fields. This was a good way to start our trip. We headed to the North end of Roanoke Island before we checked into our hotel. American Redstarts chipped in the woods, and Great Black-backed Gulls flew overhead. Brown-headed Nuthatches squeaked from the pines. This area is one of my favorites, because you get a good mix of forest and water birds. Pine Warblers are common here. We heard a House Wren skulking in the bushes. Eastern Bluebirds nest here too. These were a nice mix of birds to see on our first evening of the trip.

The next morning was our first full day of birding. The weather this weekend was a little challenging. We had to be strategic where we went and when. The first stop this morning was a Bodie Island Lighthouse.  The lighthouse is always a great place to stop because of the mix of habitats. A large, forested track that leads into the parking area is often the only place to spy Eastern TowheeRed-breasted Nuthatches were seen foraging here too. A Black-throated Blue Warbler was in the trees along several Palm Warblers. A very cooperative American Pipit was in the parking lot and posed for great views. Our next stop was North Pond at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. There were already a lot of ducks in the impoundment. American Black Ducks, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon were all there just to name a few. Shorebirds were also present, with American Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Marbled Godwit, and American Avocets all foraging in the mud flats. The sheer number of birds in this area is awesome.

After lunch we headed up to the Duck Boardwalk. This city boardwalk has sweeping views of the sound and forested edges.

We got into a nice flock of migrating warblers with Tennessee, Blackpoll, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and Blackburnian all mixed in.

The most impressive spectacle was the streams of migrating Double-crested Cormorants. They flew by in waves of up to two hundred. We counted over twenty-five hundred in all for the couple hours we were there.

It was a great, low-key way to spend the afternoon. We finished the day with a seafood boil from a local fish shop. Crab, Lobster, shrimp, and Clams were all on the menu! Yum!

Sunday morning the weather didn’t look great, so we decided to head inland back to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.

The blackbirds had flocked up and we had great views of Boat-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Common Grackle, and a quick view of a Bobolink. A single Snowy Egret was foraging in a wet field. Highlights from other part of the refuge were White Ibis, Blue Grosbeak, several Bald Eagles, and American Kestrel.

Having spent the morning and part of the afternoon inland we had a small break in the weather, so we headed back out to Pea Island. The harsh weather pushed in a ton of birds to the waterfowl impoundments. We went back to North Pond, and it was awesome!

The Marbled Godwit flock grew to two hundred and fifty. A surprise Hudsonian Godwit delighted the group.

In amongst the peep flock, we picked out a Baird’s Sandpiper. A Merlin swooped in and reshuffled the group. Four tern species were also in the group of birds: Royal, Caspian, Forster’s and Sandwich, along with Black Skimmer. Waders were represented well too, with Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, and Tri-colored Heron. This is the type of birding that makes the coast a great place to bird!

The last morning, we traveled down to Cape Point. Several Peregrine Falcons were migrating through on the way down. We walked out to Cape Point but had to turn around to due to wind and rain.

We did manage to get some views of Sanderling, Sandwich Terns, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. By this time, we had to do a quick change of clothes, so we headed back up the islands and finished up the tour. We had some great company on this weekend. It was a fun weekend spent studying shorebirds and waterfowl and dodging the weather. You never know what you are going to get with a Fall trip on the coast and that is the best part! I can’t wait to get back out there and see what we can find. Please join us for our next trip to the North Carolina coast!

–Kevin

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