Upon arrival, we promptly began a kayak trip through the Great Marsh, the focal point of the 8,320 acre refuge. Five minutes into the paddle, I flushed a Least Bittern from the reeds, my first lifer of the weekend. I saw at least three more later during the paddle. One bittern was incredibly cooperative - I observed the petite heron skulking through the marsh grass, then perch itself up high so it could watch my every move.
When we were finishing up tying the kayaks back down to the car, I spotted a Tricolored Heron in a distant snag and pointed it out to my dad. As we were observing the heron, I spotted movement along the road. I snatched my binoculars and held them up to behold a King Rail, my first in North Carolina, and a lifer for my dad. Rails are some of my favorite birds, and this particular one gave us great views, especially for such a secretive species. While we were eating lunch, we heard two more calling to each other, but they remained hidden deep in the marsh.
We made our way down the dike on foot, since the gate prohibited any vehicles from entering. I began sorting through the flocks of shorebirds in the impoundment, hoping for something new. Spotted, Solitary, Least - nothing I haven't seen already this year, but still fun to spot. A Merlin flew out of the trees, its pointed wings beating fiercely. This was a big surprise - these small falcons are usually all but gone by May, so it popped up as "rare" when I reported it to eBird (the first of 8 "rarities" this weekend for me). I looked out on the mudflats and spotted my first Glossy Ibis, my second lifer on the day. I scanned again for shorebirds, and this time had a little more luck - Semipalmated Sandpiper, my third Calidris this year! Peeps can be quite a challenge, and luckily I managed to snap some photos to help me ID them.
We opted to take the ferry back to Currituck, then head out to the Outer Banks to visit Corolla, the northernmost point accessible by actual roads. On the ferry, I spotted several Bonaparte's Gulls, and my first Black Scoter this year - a female floating out in the sound. It seemed pretty late to still be in NC, but just about everything has been late this year.
The long drive up to Corolla proved to be uneventful. We pulled up to a small parking area for the Currituck Estuarine Reserve and set off down a short boardwalk. I heard a distinctive song I had memorized but never heard in the field - a Warbling Vireo, a rarity on the Outer Banks. It was presumably blown in by the storms that day, and just goes to show how significant weather is for birding. We also visited the Corolla Lighthouse as the light was fading - closed, but I did hear (and see) a Blackpoll Warbler at the rest area, another lifer. A great way to close out the day!
Lake Mattamuskeet NWR was the destination for the next morning, and it certainly did not disappoint. We arrived around 10 AM and were immediately greeted by 15 American White Pelicans, highly unusual for NC at this time of year. White Pelicans have one of the largest wingspans of any North American bird, and are quite a sight. Out on the mudflats with the pelicans were a few Semipalmated Plovers (year-listers), some peeps, and several Caspian and Forster's Terns.
Some of the American White Pelicans present at Lake Mattamuskeet
I finished the weekend with 217 birds on my year list and 195 in North Carolina. Least Bittern was probably my favorite sighting this weekend - there is just something about the way they prowl the reedy marshes that fascinates me.