August birding: New arrivals and departures daily!

By on August 12, 2017

Various tern species

Story and Photos by Jeff Lewis

Wow! Has it been a hot summer. If I was a shorebird on the Arctic Tundra, I’d chill for a while until things cool off down south. But it doesn’t work that way. When the various sandpipers, plovers, stilts and avocets finish nesting, it’s time to pack the bags and head south again — immediately! The adults don’t even bring the kids with them.

The irresistible lure of home sweet home.

Luckily for bird watchers, many of these long-distance, migrant shorebirds stop in coastal North Carolina to refuel, and August is the start of the peak season for observing the frequent fliers.

Advertisement

Nearly 40 species of shorebirds are possible. On large grass habitats (think airports, turf farms, the Wright Brothers Monument lawns), look for Upland Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and American Golden-Plover. Other, more common species will be present as well, especially after rain events. If a tropical system is involved, the birding can be phenomenal, during or just after the storm has passed.

On the ocean beaches, Sanderlings, Willets, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers and a few other shorebirds should be present, especially near the inlets. If you come across pools or mud flats, give them extra attention. Keep your eyes on the ocean, too. You can often spot small flocks of shorebirds migrating south, just over the water.

Gray catbirds are common in backyards, trails and fields.

Mudflats (or salt flats) attract the greatest number and variety of shorebirds. Check the edges of the impoundments at Pea Island and the Bodie Island pond, especially if water levels are low. Also scan the distant flats just south of the Bonner Bridge, east of the road for sure, and west, if you can find access.

In addition to shorebirds, wading birds, terns and a few ducks should be present. August is the best month to find Black Tern, an inland, freshwater species that feeds on insects and occasionally dips down to catch a fish. For some reason, they didn’t evolve to plunge-dive like the other terns, they just swoop and pluck. Black Terns are stunning in breeding plumage — mostly black, with gray wings and white under the tail. Look for them in flight or resting on sandbars, often with other terns.

On Hatteras Island, the Cape Point area can be excellent for shorebirds, especially around the salt ponds. A spotting scope will prove helpful. In times of plentiful rainfall, check the campground at Buxton; it can be excellent when flooded. Don’t forget the ocean beaches. They normally offer better birding than the northern ones.

Advertisement

There are no impoundments along the “Northern Banks,” but when the water levels are low in Currituck Sound, the muddy edges can hold good numbers of shorebirds. Don’t even bother to fight the traffic with a southwest wind blowing; the water will be up high in the grass. You want a northeast wind that pushes the water out. Same scenario for Roanoke Sound.

Lake Mattamuskeet is slightly distant but definitely worth mentioning. If water levels are low, the “shorebirding” can be awesome. A favorite area is Lake Landing, on the southeast side, where you can walk the dikes and scope the muddy and grassy impoundments. Lots of other birds will be present, as well: herons, egrets and ibis, terns, and maybe a few raptors. Rarities have been spotted here, over the years. For thorough coverage, a spotting scope is a must.

Many of our local colonial and other beach-nesting birds will be finishing up with their nesting duties in August and Least Terns and Gull-billed Terns will actually begin departing this month. You will probably see juvenile birds on the beaches, resting with the adults, or learning survival techniques, like young Black Skimmers learning to “skim” or American Oystercatcher juveniles attempting to feed themselves.

Advertisement

Dare County’s “famous” Purple Martin roost at the William T. Umstead bridge will still be going strong in August, but should be winding down during the second half of the month. If you still haven’t witnessed the spectacle, drive to the west end of the old Mann’s Harbor Bridge in early evening and wait by the bridge or on the fishing pier until sunset. Up to 100,000 (peak) martins arrive, from as far away as 100 miles! The flock is so large that it shows up on radar! They swarm the area until finally settling in to roost under the bridge as darkness sets in.

Please do not plan on driving back over the bridge until the birds have finished roosting, as the martins fly low over the bridge and deaths by collisions with vehicles are common.

A fun alternative is to book a spot on one of the evening sunset/Purple Martin cruises out of Pirate’s Cove Marina.

Upland sandppers can be challenging. Fields, especially turf farms, are good places to look during migration.

If you visit a forested habitat, like Nags Head or Kitty Hawk or Buxton woods, you’ll notice that most bird song has stopped. You’ll hear lots of insects buzzing and juvenile birds begging for food, but by and large, things are winding down for the year. Some of our nesting songbirds will actually start leaving us this month, most notably Orchard Oriole and Prothonotary Warbler, followed soon by Worm-eating and Hooded Warbler and Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

The good news is that songbirds are also departing from more northern latitudes, so we will start to see some interesting “northerners” coming through our area. Keep an eye out for migrant American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers and Baltimore Orioles, especially toward the end of the month.

Morning flights of Bobolinks will be noticed overhead by those who have learned to recognize their “ink” calls – especially during the second half of August. To see Bobolinks, visit the farm fields out on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Individuals or small flocks are often seen perched up on the tops of weeds or crops.

In the backyard, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds should be at peak numbers in August, so keep those nectar feeders clean. The (1 to 4 ratio of sugar to water) solution should be changed at least twice a week this time of year. Please, no red dyes! Keep an eye out for Rufous Hummingbirds; we get a few in North Carolina each year!

Bird baths and other water features remain a popular attraction during the dog days of August. Try to keep them clean and filled – the birds really need water for bathing and drinking this time of year. Water features attract more species of birds than feeders do — most birds do not eat birdseed, but all birds need water.

Good birding!

Recent posts in this category

Comments

Jim Gould

August 13, 2017 7:12 am

Reading this article has got me all excited for the change in seasons, and onslaught of songbirds!

Thinking About The Future

August 12, 2017 5:59 pm

Oops, in my enthusiasm I’m sorry for the misspelling. Really your bird reports!

Thinking About The Future

August 12, 2017 5:57 pm

Excellent right up – many thanks!

Comments are closed.