Outer Banks Birding: It’s not just the weather that’s hot in July

By on July 12, 2018

Stilt sandpiper (Jeff Lewis)

It’s hot! But just how hot is it?

Last week I watched an osprey carry a fish back to the nest and by the time the fish was delivered, it was broiled!

Yesterday, I noticed that the laughing gulls had moved from the parking lot at the burger-joint to the ice cream shop!

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And just this afternoon a robin was seen using an oven mitt to pull worms! Now that’s hot!

In all seriousness, the heat can be dangerous for birds, and other wildlife, just as it can be for humans.

But what can we do to help?

Bird baths can be topped off daily with fresh water and cleaned regularly, drip systems can be installed, nectar feeders can be changed out two to three times per week and good food can be offered at the feeders, so that birds don’t have to forage as much.

And hopefully, you have some shade available.

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The birding on the Outer Banks in June was too good not to share, so here’s a brief recap.

Birders enjoyed lots of unusual visitors from the south: one to three roseate spoonbills in several locations, multiple Anhingas, a wood stork just over the county line in Tyrrell County, a purple gallinule in Nags Head, a reddish egret in two locations, a couple of roseate terns at Cape Point, a magnificent frigatebird at Pea Island, and a white-winged dove in a couple of locations – just to name a few!

Southern species have been steadily increasing in the Carolinas for some time now, but the invasion that we experienced last month was incredible – it seemed like Florida around here!

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Some species are expanding their breeding range northward as the climate heats up: Swallow-tailed kites and wood storks are now nesting in North Carolina and the breeding roseate spoonbill population in South Carolina is increasing.

So, there should be some great birding in July as well. Keep your eyes open at Pea Island, Bodie Island, Hatteras Island, Mattamuskeet, Morgan Futch Game Land and anywhere else there are shallow impoundments, mudflats or wet, marshy areas – you may spot a spoonbill or wood stork or – who knows what!

Wood stork (Jeff Lewis)

From the opposite direction – many species of shorebirds finish up their Arctic tundra nesting duties in July and head back south for the “winter” (non-breeding season).

They stop over in prime habitat like that found at Pea Island and Mattamuskeet refuges to “refuel” and thus are available to birders who haven’t succumbed to the July heat. A good pair of binoculars are essential and a spotting scope will allow for even better views.

Shorebirds to look for include: spotted sandpiper, greater and lesser yellowleg, willet, least and western sandpiper, whimbrel, marbled godwit, sanderling, stilt sandpiper, short-billed dowitcher, and semipalmated plover.

Other species are possible as well, especially in late July.

One “holy grail” bird to scan for is the curlew sandpiper, a primarily Eurasian species that sometimes puts in a rare appearance in July or August at Pea Island. Keep an eye out for migrant black rerns, too – they start showing up July.

On the ocean beaches primarily south of Oregon Inlet, American oystercatchers, piping plovers, black skimmers, and least, common and gull-billed terns are still feeding their young this month.

You’ll see other tern species, as well, species that nest on islands in the sound.

You may see a few sanderlings as well, but they are migrants and don’t nest here. While birding the ocean front, keep an eye out for the awesome magnificent frigatebird, a rare possibility.

Out on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, if you can look beyond the distracting black bears, bobcats and wolves (and biting flies), you may see juvenile songbirds being fed by their parents: various woodpeckers, flycatchers and warblers, plus bobwhites and turkeys.

As you cruise the dirt roads, keep an eye out for barred owls – they are frequently seen on low perches in trees, often over a canal, where they search for prey. Great horned owls and eastern screech-owls are present as well, they’re just more nocturnal and harder to find.

Juvenile birds are also being raised right in our own backyards. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, brown thrashers, mockingbirds, mourning doves, Carolina wrens, ruby-throated hummingbirds, house finches – they’re all feeding young in July.

Some are even working on their second brood by now! Suet may become more popular now with protein in high demand for those young birds. The best thing that you can do for these young birds is to keep your bird baths filled and your cats inside!

Purple martins (Jeff Lewis)

A spectacle on the Outer Banks that you shouldn’t miss begins this month and peaks in late July and early August – the purple martin gathering over Croatan Sound.

Each year at this time, when the martins have finished raising their young, up to 100,000 of these graceful swallows return to roost on the girders beneath the William B. Umstead Bridge, the “old bridge” that connects Manteo to Manns Harbor.

Each late afternoon, the martins leave their feeding areas, from as far away as 100 miles, and gather near the Manns Harbor end of the bridge, creating vast swarms high in the air. It is truly a sight to be seen!

As the sun sets, they descend in virtual bird tornados, find their perches, and eventually, when it’s almost too dark to see, settle in for the night. The next morning the Purple Martins leave at sunrise to forage for the day and then in the evening they do it all over again! And so it continues, night after night, until the time is right for them to migrate to South America for the winter. Amazing!

To witness this spectacle, you want to be on the Manns Harbor end of the bridge well before sunset, before the purple martins descend, as automobiles on the bridge during this time can prove fatal to the birds.

See you there!

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