Monday, April 6, 2015

Big Bird Sanctuary

Cape Carteret, a cozy little coastal retreat, tucked up against Bogue Sound on the mainland just across the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway from Emerald Isle... 

Our clan has been retreating to our own special corner of the neighborhood there for generations, just a couple of blocks over and a couple of blocks back from the old ferry landing, right at the end of Live Oak Drive. 

It's a pretty humble place, as far as vacation destinations go, with an eclectic mix of year-round residents and vacationers, and an equally eclectic assortment of dwellings, from tiny trailers to cottages or "beach houses," as we've always referred to the cottage there on Live Oak. Back in our early days there, the street wasn't even paved, and it ended rather abruptly in a greenbrier thicket filled with all manner of coastal shrubs and towering old pines. 
There are a few more "nice" houses now, and not many vacant lots left, but it is still the perfect little getaway for folks seeking a few days of peace and quiet and sanctuary from the busy-ness back home; 
sanctuary too, as long as I can remember, for the birds.

Cape Carteret advertises itself as a bird sanctuary on the signs welcoming you to town, and that it is... Hoot Owl Karma has shared our experiences with Cape Carteret's birds in the past, and our visit this weekend reassured us that the birds are doing just fine. 

We awoke on Easter morning to a glorious chorus of birdsong to rival any heavenly choir, and a leisurely stroll down to the water by the light of the just-risen sun found us in the company of brown thrashers, northern cardinals, gray catbirds, eastern bluebirds, yellow-shafted flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, blue jays, northern mockingbirds, boat-tailed grackles, mourning doves and European starlings, just to name a few!

And as we were wrapping up a photo op with this female northern cardinal, striking a classic pose in the lower limbs of a scraggly old dogwood, we heard quite a ruckus resonating from the rotting trunk beyond...

as this big old pileated woodpecker furiously attacked the dying wood!

We've had a few run-ins with this magnificent woodpecker before, but none quite this up-close and personal, so we paused for a few moments to admire his work.

Unfortunately, these are not moving pictures, nor did we record any sound, so you'll have to take our word for what a dynamic scene unfolded before us - wood chips and dust filled the air as this largest of North American woodpeckers hammered the old dogwood with its sturdy and resilient bill.

Leaning back ridiculously, perilously, awkwardly far, balanced only by its lengthy tail feathers, then rock(et)ing forward with all its might, triggering another shower of chips, before pausing to inspect its progress.

This particular excavation was a mere meter above the ground, so we're pretty sure this big fellow was prospecting for food, not excavating a nest cavity.

In either case, we witnessed the awesome power and efficiency of one of Cape Carteret's big birds, and what a thrilling and wonderful privilege it was.

Hearts still racing with excitement, we headed back home for a bite of breakfast, only to hear this remarkable singer broadcasting from the absolute uppermost branches of a still-leafless oak in the back yard of the beach house. As we sidled over to snap a shot of handsome brown thrasher serenading the entire neighborhood, a subtle movement caught our eye from the direction of the neighbor's house, just beyond the trunk of the oak.

We took a knee in the shadow of the heat pump just before a most amazing creature strode into full view...

another of Cape Carteret's big (heck, this one was downright huge) birds, a gorgeous wild turkey hen.

The morning sun glinted off coppery-bronze body armor, making an outright liar of the field guide author who described the female wild turkey's plumage as "brown".

Motionless but for the twitching of our shutter finger, we watched for a full breathless minute as this magnificent bird foraged it's way across the narrow yard between our beach house and the neighbor's, 

never quite stopping, but pausing in its steady progress long enough to pluck a bit of the fresh green grass along the way.

As the wandering wildfowl came fully abreast of our position, it turned its head our way

and held our gaze for a full two seconds, before lengthening its stride and quickening its pace toward the small patch of trees just beyond the basketball goal at the end of Live Oak Drive.

What an awesome Easter morn, communing with our fellow creatures in the peaceful quiet and serenity of the neighborhood we share, 

the big birds' sanctuary, and ours.

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