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Bird on water

OBX Birding
As popular as windsports and fishing? Who knew?

When I started my research on birding at the Outer Banks, I wondered if there were enough information for a story; now I’m wondering if I can cut it down to fit. I feel belittled and stupefied by the multitude of information available. Who knew?

Shelby and I got interested in birding because of the brouhaha over piping plovers last year. Then a neighbor mentioned huge birding tours that go to the Outer Banks from the Washington, DC area several times a year. We had heard that the Outer Banks was a resting stop for migrating birds but that was about it. Turns out that about 400 species of birds can be seen here. A 2005 survey sheet went on for 11 pages with 30 entries per page – yikes, that’s a lot of fowl.

There are also pelagic bird tours. I’d never heard the word before and turned to the dictionary to discover that it means “living on the water.” In other words, you can take a boat, go out in the middle of the ocean and rock around for hours looking for birds in flight or on the water. (Could be ugly if you get seasick.)

“Birders,” people who look at birds, compile “life lists” of every species of bird they see in their lifetime. They also photograph and participate in “watches” - compiling and counting species and numbers of birds. It is unknown how many birders come to the Outer Banks every year, but their numbers are significant.

If you want to try birding, what do you need and where do you go? I interviewed Pat Moore of Buxton to find out. She’s a big birder who is very involved with Wings Over Water, an annual bird festival held every fall. I had heard that all you need to get started in birding is binoculars and a field guide, later I read that you’d probably want insect repellant. Pat said you’d probably also want a telescope with tripod if you were going to get at all serious. Binoculars at 10x power are about all you can keep steady in your hands and that wouldn’t be enough to identify some birds that are far away. Pat also suggested investing in a camera with a long lens. ("How long?" I had to ask and she said, “About three feet.” That’s a serious lens.)

Now, where to go? You could start at Pea Island in the northern part of Hatteras (milepost 31). There’s a path by the visitor center and it’s wheelchair accessible. The next big stop is the Hatteras Lighthouse, actually the flats beyond the original site of the lighthouse. Be warned it’s a two mile walk round trip. (Did I mention that birders tend to be in good shape?)

Buxton Woods is next, best in the spring and fall when there are migrant songbirds. This is a great place if you can identify birds by their sound. If you want to go off-island, Ocracoke has a great birding spot – the nature trail opposite the campground.

What you exactly do when you go birding isn’t clear to me. The first time out, I’d probably want to go with some people who knew what they were doing. Fortunately, there are nature and birding tours given by the park rangers every week in season at Pea Island and the lighthouse. Also, the various birding groups are continually organizing tours, walks and events. Some tours combine kayaking with birding. Others go out to sea to look at birds on the water.

Here are a few web sites to help you on your way:

Coastal Carolina Wildlife – A very good overall guide to birding on the Outer Banks.

Pea Island – A National Wildlife Refuge. They also offer canoe tours of the nearby Alligator River.

We'll cover more birding topics in future issues of Half Vaster.

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