Hatteras Island offers bird watchers a truly incredible opportunity which is unique by our various seasons. The East Coast of the United States bordering the Atlantic Ocean offers millions of migrating birds a visible flyway. Because Hatteras Island offers birds a less human populated rest stop with a reasonably temperate climate along their route we often are able to see species that actually summer far north of here. But those aren't the only unique avian visitors during the course of the year.
Let's talk a bit about the various seasonal bird watching opportunities that are offered here that you won't find anywhere else in the country.
Our winter climate is comparable to the summer climate of the far northern reaches of Canada. Many far northern species consider Hatteras to be close enough to their summer tolerance level to be the perfect wintering grounds. The species and amounts of each that we actually see during a given year varies greatly by the weather conditions. Local bird watchers often call each other to report sightings of rare species so that they can be added to everyone's "life lists." One of my favorite occasional wintering species is a bird I have sat in a boat and watched in July in Northern Canada named a Cedar Waxwing (right). This species darts around erratically in large flocks which I often see in February in Hatteras Island yard getting drunk on yopon berries! On the soundside it is fun to watch the winter feeding ducks, loons and mergansers.
Usually by spring each year I have cabin fever so badly that I can't wait to get out and go for walks in the Buxton Woods and near the Hatteras Lighthouse. Spring bird watching for me usually consists of seeing the many various species that summer in the North coming migrating through the area. Every year we usually see something we hadn't seen in the previous years. Spring also signals the arrival of our resident summer species and of course nesting. Many of the normally coastal species like the Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull and Oyster Catcher begin showing up along the beaches. Usually our first arrival of our resident summer birds is the Osprey. Although there are plenty of shorebird species to be seen around the beach, surf and sound areas, we really try to get to the fields and local wooded areas for those species in particular that are a lot more rare for the area.
What fun would the beaches be without watching the Osprey dive along the surf for fish or the sandpipers searching the sand for their tasty mole crabs (sand flees to locals)? It is fascinating to watch the Skimmers cruising up and down the beach with their lower beak skimming the water's surface for a tasty minnow. During any summer day you will see many different species just living and feeding along the surf including plovers, sandpipers, terns, loons, Ruddy Turnstones and several various gull species. Summer is a magical time to just drive the beaches and soundside to see just how many different species you can identify in any one day. Don't forget to always carry a good bird identification book with you everywhere you go on the Outer Banks. We can highly recommend The Sibley Guide to Birds for its great pictures, descriptions and ease of use in identification.
This is another time of year when migration is key for the avid birdwatcher. Because the ocean water keeps our temperatures warm until late in the fall, this season doesn't really get going until mid to late November. With a little investigation, the avid bird and casual watcher alike will be able to locate many unique and interesting species. The annual Wings Over Water Festival held in Dare Country every November is a must for anyone that has never had the opportunity to experience it. It is a celebration of the wildlife and wetlands of Eastern North Carolina. Wings Over Water Festival offers all kinds of various events, notable guests, demonstrations, excursions, field trips, training and many other things that display the incredible wild beauty of this area.
Bird watching can be fun and educational but it takes both preparation and patience. Yep, there are going to be frustrations while you are birding. You may spend hours searching only to barely see a flicker of the color on a certain bird all the while knowing full well it was something you had never identified before. Then in an instant it flies away before you were able to identify it or point it out to whoever was with you. In order to really enjoy bird watching you should be prepared with the right equipment in order to cut frustrations to a minimum.