Fort Fisher is located at the tip of a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Cape Fear River, just southeast of Wilmington. It tends to concentrate migrants, most notably shorebirds and sparrows, and is one of "the" places to bird in NC. It's less than three hours from Raleigh, making it the most accessible coastal area for Triangle birders.
We arrived just after 8 AM. Despite the urge to go directly to the ferry terminal and wait for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to show up, we birded some other stops first. The first good birds of the day were two Vesper Sparrows (my first in NC) flitting around the parking area. Excellent sparrow sightings would prove to be a theme on this day. We soon found my first lifer of the day, a Seaside Sparrow. Sparrows in the genus Ammodramus (of which the Seaside Sparrow is a member) are some of my favorite birds. Fort Fisher has the perfect habitat for this coastal species - extensive salt marshes.
|Seaside Sparrow - right at home in the salt marshes along "The Basin" at Fort Fisher.|
|Nelson's Sparrow - a beautiful orange bird. This is distinguished from Saltmarsh Sparrow by its diffuse breast streaks and more orange breast.|
|Marsh Wren, one of many seen and heard by us at Fort Fisher.|
|The ferry terminal's visitor parking area. Not exactly the most picturesque location I've birded.|
The bird had flown south, so we decided to go look for the bird back by where our car was parked, by Battery Buchanan (a large man-made sand embankment). We walked to the top of the Battery to get a more commanding view of the surrounding area. A small sparrow flitted up in front of us. Clay-colored - a rare migrant in North Carolina. We got excellent views of the tiny bird before it flew back into the brush. Another excellent sparrow sighting on the day! I've seen Clay-colored Sparrows in Montana where they are common, but on the East Coast this bird is pretty rare, usually only showing up in fall (with a few overwintering).
|Clay-colored Sparrow on Battery Buchanan.|
No sign of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, though. We moved back to the ferry terminal in hopes that the bird returned. It wasn't there. We decided we likely had seen the last of the flycatcher. With this in mind, we drove about a mile up the road to look for more birds. There, around the State Historic Site's museum, we found a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I also managed to get a cactus with one-inch spines stuck deep into my finger, which was an unpleasant experience I hope not to repeat.
We returned to the marsh, and waded barefoot along the edge of The Basin. We got close-up views of a three-species sparrow flock, containing Nelson's, Saltmarsh (lifer), and Seaside Sparrows. We were entertained for quite a while watching these beautiful species feeding and moving along the marsh's edge. A flock of Willets and a few American Oystercatchers flew past, calling loudly.
Fort Fisher turned out to be even better than expected. I got seven new birds for my North Carolina list, four of which were year birds and three of which were lifers. We spotted three rarities (Bobolink, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Clay-colored Sparrow) and 66 species total.