North Carolina – Birding the Land and the Sea – Part II – On Sea

I have been on many pelagic birding trips out of Westport, Washington and one out of Neah Bay.  I also took a short such trip in Maine.  All have been fun and productive giving access to many wonderful birds that are rarely if ever seen from land.  There are regular pelagic trips that are run out of the Central Coast of California, the San Diego area and Hatteras, North Carolina.  A few trips go out of other areas.  Each has its own special birds that birders seek on those trips.  In addition to the regular fare, there is always the possibility of rarities.  All trips offer this possibility but perhaps no area is more likely to find truly rare birds than the ones out of Hatteras run by Brian Patteson aboard the Stormy Petrel II.  The list of rarities including mega-rarities is astounding.  It was finally time for me to give it a go.

The Stormy Petrel II – Hatteras, North Carolina

Stormy Petrel

Patteson runs some trips throughout the year but from late May through early June, it is his Spring Blitz that has the greatest appeal with an amazing record of rare birds.  The general approach is to book at least two trips to insure against weather cancellations and to increase the odds of finding good birds.  Some people book 5 or more trips and do it every year – hoping for that truly special bird.  Frank Caruso and I reserved trips on June 1 and June 2.  The day we arrived in North Carolina – May 29th, the trip had found a Tahiti Petrel, a bird of the Pacific Ocean and is the only record in the Atlantic.  Of course we wished we had been there, but it certainly reinforced our decision to take this trip and got our excitement level way up.

In my planning, I figured it was almost guaranteed that I would get four ABA Life birds on the trips: Audubon’s Shearwater, Black Capped Petrel and both Wilson’s and Band Rumped Storm Petrels.  I also expected to get a first ABA photo of a Cory’s Shearwater, a bird I had first seen without getting a photo last year in Provincetown.  Beyond them, I hoped for maybe one real rarity and if I was really, really fortunate maybe a second one.  In any event this was a chance to add a group of ABA Life birds all in one place – something that is getting harder to do.

Pelagic trips leave early.  We had to be at the boat at 5:30 a.m.  Fortunately our hotel was only a few minutes away, but remember this was 2:30 a.m. West Coast body time.  The usual case for pelagic trips is for the Captain to be knowledgeable and for him to be assisted in spotting birds by two or more spotters – who really know their stuff.  This was certainly the case with this crew.  Brian is an expert himself and his first mate, Kate Sutherland is terrific in every way including really knowing her birds and being really good at getting people on them.  There were three other spotters:  Steve Howell, a Senior Leader with WINGS Bird Tours and the author of a number of birding books including Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America, Peter Flood, a seabird expert from Cape Cod who was well known by Frank, and Ed Corey, an excellent birder from Raleigh, N.C. who among other things had been the February 2016 “eBirder of the the Month”.

In addition there were many super birders on-board, some of whom had been on numerous Hatteras pelagic trips and were experts in their own right.  It was an interesting and fun group from around the U.S.  Pelagic birding generally doesn’t “get good” until at least 10 and even as much as 20 or 30 miles out from shore – getting to the deeper water and in the North Carolina case getting out to the Gulfstream.  Our weather was great and we were treated to a great sunrise as we left Hatteras.



You never know what the sea conditions are going to be – a function of the tides, the winds and the ocean temperatures among other factors.  Our water was not bad – not big waves, but it was a bit rough and the spray caused us to take shelter wherever we could.  For me this meant in the cabin which was a bit close and hot and humid, but better than being exposed outside.  On the Westport trips there are often birds of interest fairly quickly including gulls, alcids and often Sooty Shearwaters sometimes in the hundreds or even thousands On this trip it was quiet and almost birdless for the first hour.  In Washington the trips have a far greater diversity and number of birds.  Usually the best birding is when a processing ship or a trawler is located and there may be hundreds of birds surrounding it.  No such opportunities here.

There being far fewer birds in general, the pressure was really on to be ready for any sighting as it could be “a good one”.  Early on the birds were found kind of helter-skelter – one or two would appear out of nowhere and may or may not be visible for more than a few moments.  Later, Kate would put out some kind of vegetable or fish oil to create a slick and if we were lucky birds would smell this and come in to explore.  She also used some menhaden – frozen and then dragged behind the boat in a cage to increase the chum effect.

When we finally got out to the “good water” about 30 miles out, we had our first shearwaters and not long afterwards some petrels and then storm petrels.  Birds were never in great numbers and unlike in Washington where they are often right next to the boat coming in for fish parts that are cast out to them, birds were generally further away – often very far out.  Nonetheless the spotters were excellent at identifying birds at great distance and directing our attention to them.

I am not going to try to relate the observations chronologically.  Among the early birds seen were Audubon’s, Great and Cory’s Shearwaters.  I was able to get good looks and ok photos.  There was also a single Manx Shearwater.  Just a quick look and no time for a photo before it disappeared.

Audubon’s Shearwater (ABA Life Bird)

Audubon's Shearwater 1

Cory’s Shearwater – New ABA Photo

Cory's Shearwater A1

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater 3

The next birds to show up were our first Black Capped Petrels.  These were the second most numerous of the species seen and were easily identified by their white rump.  It was another ABA Lifer for me.

Black Capped Petrel – ABA Life Bird

Black Capped Petrel Vertical

The most numerous birds were the Wilson’s Storm Petrels – another new life bird for me.  They are less than half the size of the Petrels and just under a third of the size of the the Shearwaters.  They often came in close to the boat following the slick and picking bits of food off the water.  But they are very small and active and not always easily photographed.  But I took many photos so some did come out well.

Wilson’s Storm Petrel – ABA Life Bird

Wilson's Storm Petrel 6

The Wilson’s Storm Petrel has relatively long legs which extend behind the tail in flight – a good way to distinguish them from the larger, slower flying, longer winged and shorter legged Band Rumped Storm Petrels.  Kate was particularly good at calling out the relatively few Band Rumps and I eventually got decent looks and ok photos.

Band Rumped Storm Petrel (Note that legs do not extend behind tail) – ABA Life Bird

Band Rumped Storm Petrel 1

It was maybe about 9:00 a.m. and I had now seen all of the expected new species for the trip – four ABA Life Birds.  I had the cake and now it was time for some icing.  Frank Hawkins, one of the long time participants in these trips shouted out “Fea’s Petrel“.  Everyone raced to the stern and we were able to get quick looks and some photos of this major rarity.  Usually one or two is seen each year – usually earlier in late May.  This was the first of 2018.  There was a celebration onboard.

Fea’s Petrel  – ABA Life Bird and a Major Rarity (Note Dark Underwings)

Fea's 6.1


After this excitement we continued to get more of the same birds seen earlier and then a Long Tailed Jaeger made an appearance and stayed with us for more than 30 minutes – harassing the Storm Petrels and Shearwaters.

Long Tailed Jaeger

Long Tailed Jaeger A

Everywhere except in the ABA area, a somewhat smaller version of the Cory’s Shearwater is recognized as a separate species called Scopoli’s Shearwater.  On this trip we had at least two of these birds which breed in the Mediterranean.  Supposedly they will be split off and recognized as a separate species this year or next.

Scopoli’s Shearwater – Potentially an ABA Life Bird after a Split

Scopoli's or Cory's

Early in the afternoon, Frank Hawkins came through again when he spotted a Mega-rarity, a European Storm Petrel.  Smaller than the Wilson’s and much faster flying with a quicker wingbeat and white under the wing – a new ABA bird for almost everyone.  Only one was seen all last year and two the year before.  Getting this together with the Fea’s Petrel was a major coup.

European Storm Petrel – Mega Rarity and ABA Life Bird

European Storm Petrel

Brian and Kate did a masterful job following and relocating this bird and everyone eventually got a view.  It meant we got back to the marina a bit later than usual but nobody was at all concerned about that.  We also had a very brief look at a single Leach’s Storm Petrel.

Species List for June 1, 2018
Fea’s Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  36
Cory’s Shearwater  27 / Scopoli’s Shearwater  2
Great Shearwater  9-11
Sooty Shearwater  1
Manx Shearwater  1
Audubon’s Shearwater  20
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel  130-150
European Storm-Petrel  1
Leach’s Storm-Petrel  1
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8-10

Day 2 – June 2, 2018 – met again at the dock at 5:30.  Much of the same gang as yesterday with a few new faces.  The seas out were a little calmer and the birds seemed fewer with an occasional Audubon’s Shearwater and some Great Shearwaters the first to be seen.  Kate got the chum going and HOLY COW! Maybe the first bird in to the chum was a Fea’s Petrel – better and longer looks than yesterday,  There was some extra excitement as what appeared to be a relatively small bill had folks thinking of a possible Zino’s Petrel.  Sadly not the case but what a way to start the day.

Fea’s Petrel

Fea's Petrel 1

Fea's Petrel 4

The reality was that the start was the highlight of the day.  A first day that that had everything you thought you would get plus two specialties dims everything else by comparison.  If we had only gone out on this day it would have seemed spectacular with the same life birds as the previous day except for the European Storm Petrel.  There were not as many birds as the day before but all species were represented.  It did not seem spectacular to two newcomers who were quite seasick.  Not fun for them or to watch.

As with the day before we saw numerous Flying Fish but on neither day could I get my camera focused on them quick enough for a photo.  I include one from a spotter below.  Another treat was a small Portuguese Man of War – much easier to photograph.

Flying Fish (Photo by Spotter Steve Howell)

Flying Fish

Portuguese Man of War

Portuguese Man o' War1

The only new bird added on this trip was a Skua.  There was some discussion that it could be a Great Skua but they are very rarely seen except in the Winter.  Some concluded it was a South Polar Skua – the likely Skua species and others left it as Skua sp.  I barely got a distant look and was not on it in time for a photo.  The photo below was taken by David McQuade who was on the boat both days with spouse Tammy.  More on them later.

Probable South Polar Skua – Photo by David McQuade


Here are some more photos of the same species seen on June 1st.

Audubon’s Shearwaters

Audubon's Shearwaters 2

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

Black Capped Petrel

Black Capped Petrel6

Wilson’s Storm Petrel (Note Legs Extending beyond Tail)

Wilson's Storm Petrel

Species List for June 2, 2018

Fea’s Petrel  1
Black-capped Petrel  30
Cory’s Shearwater  14
Great Shearwater  5
Audubon’s Shearwater  76
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel  58-63
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel  8-10

We were back earlier than the day before.  There had been reports of Tropicbirds being seen by some of the fishing boats and we were on the lookout for them in the skies all the time but it was just not to be.  I checked all of the reports from trips that went out from May 23rd through June 9th – the 17 days of the Spring Blitz.  There were no more rarities seen after ours.  We had the only Fea’s Petrel and European Storm Petrel for the whole time.   White Tailed and Red Billed Tropicbirds had been seen on May 26th and the by now famous Tahiti Petrel was seen on the 31st.  Two Trindade Petrels were seen on May 25th.  There were a number of trips – particularly in May where there were many Leach’s Petrels.  One would have to say that we had done extremely well – especially adding in that there was no rain.

Summarizing, I had seen 11 pelagic species – not a lot compared to some Westport trips where I have seen twice that many species on a single trip, and there is no comparison between the North Carolina and Westport trips for total numbers of birds, but of those 11 species seen, six were life birds and I got another life photo.  If/when the Scopoli’s Shearwater is split, that would be another ABA Life bird and photo.  Pretty amazing.

ABA Life Birds

  • Black-capped Petrel 
  • Audubon’s Shearwater 
  • Wilson’s Storm-Petrel 
  • Band-rumped Storm-Petrel 
  • Fea’s Petrel 
  • European Storm-Petrel
  • Scopoli’s Shearwater (Contingent)

ABA Life Photos

  • All of the above plus Cory’s Shearwater

I mentioned David and Tammy McQuade above.  I spent a lot of time visiting with both of them.  They are very active, very passionate and very excellent birders.  They discovered this activity together about five years ago and have jumped in big time – birding almost entirely together and then with many others including people I have met or read about.  They have a great network.  Despite having birded only in the Lower 48 and for such a short time, they have each observed more than 720 species.  Oh yeah, neither is retired either.  Really fun to compare notes and share stories.  I envy them their shared birding life and I also envy the 500 mm lens that Tammy uses quite well to take super photos.  It was great to visit with many others as well.  People had birded all over the world with great stories and great birds seen.  Good company.

Also great to be out with Kate and Brian.  They run a first class operation.  Can’t imagine how little sleep they got during the Blitz.


North Carolina – Birding the Land and the Sea – Part I – On Land

The main draw to North Carolina for Frank Caruso and me was the chance to see pelagic birds – some new lifers almost guaranteed and the possibility for some really rare birds as well.  But especially for me there was also a chance to photograph some land birds that I had seen before in the ABA area but had never gotten a photograph – most of them seen more than forty years ago.  This blog post will cover birding on land – two days before and two days after our two days of pelagic birding.

We flew into Raleigh Durham airport and headed east to Plymouth, N.C.  a drive of about 135 miles.  We saw some new birds for the year along the way, but nothing of note.  On a whim after dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Plymouth, I turned onto a forested road and as soon as we got out of the car, we heard the song of a Wood Thrush, and then another and another.  This species was high on my “photo needed/wanted list”.  We vowed to come back in the morning.  When we did the thrushes were very responsive to playback but would immediately bury themselves in the thick foliage.  Many were heard and seen briefly, but I never got a photo.  A major disappointment – but there would be a happy ending later in the trip.

Our next area to visit was the Palmetto Peartree Preserve and then on to Alligator River NWR.  Along the way to Palmetto Peartree, we stopped at a good looking spot not far off the freeway – along Old Highway 64.  We quickly found lots of good eastern birds including Pine, Prairie and Hooded Warblers, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Summer Tanager, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Chimney Swift and Carolina Chickadees and Wrens.  But the real prize was a Prothonotary Warbler, which provided a new ABA Photo for me.  We would see and hear many on our trip.

Prothonotary Warbler Old Highway 64 – May 30, 2018

Prothonotary Warbler 1

We were never quite sure that we found the actual Palmetto Peartree Preserve but at least nearby we had essentially the same birds and heard another Wood Thrush – one that would not come closer for us.  It was on to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge – a huge forested area.  Here we added White Eyed Vireo and Blue Gray Gnatcatcher and had at least a dozen Prothonotary Warblers.  The bird of the visit, though was a Red Headed Woodpecker – actually a pair.  While I was very pleased to get another new ABA life photo, we never got the killer view and killer photo of this beautiful bird that I had hoped for.

Red Headed Woodpecker – Sawyer Road – Alligator NWR – May 30, 2018

Red Headed Woodpecker B

We checked out the hotel where we would be staying that night in Manteo on Roanoke Island and then continued across the causeway/bridge to the Outer Banks.  Along the way we stopped for some Great Black Backed Gulls and our first Boat Tailed Grackles of the trip.  Frank and I had seen them in Florida together last year and had already seen hundreds of Common Grackles in North Carolina.  I had hundreds of Great Tailed Grackles in Texas and Arizona earlier this year, so now I had all of the Grackle species for the year – lucky me.

Boat Tailed Grackle – One of Many on the Coast

Boat Tailed Grackle

A short while later our stop at the North Pond at the Pea Island Island NWR provided perhaps the biggest disappointment of the trip.  I very much wanted a photo of a Seaside Sparrow – a species I had missed in Texas.  We had two birds fly by and then disappear into thick brush.  We could never get them to show themselves – so no photo.  They are well known as real skulkers and photos are a challenge, but this was Oh so close!!!  Nearby in Rodanthe, we found a good spot for shorebirds and terns.  The numbers were few but the prize for me was a single White Rumped Sandpiper.  I had gotten a very iffy photo of one in Florida last year.  This fellow was with a few Semipalmated Sandpipers and even at a distance it seemed “different”.  I got close enough for some photos to confirm the ID and then it flew.  My flight photo caught the tell-tale white rump.

White Rumped Sandpiper – Rodanthe, N.C.

White Rumped Sandpiper (2)

White Rumped Sandpiper Flight

Semipalmated Sandpiper Flight Shot

Semipalmated Sandpiper Flight

Frank’s favorite bird here was the Black Skimmer.  Several put on a great aerial show right in front of us and then per their name, skimmed the water, providing a great photo opportunity.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer Skimming

We also had Least, Common, Caspian and Sandwich Terns.  Not a great photo for the latter and I will include photos of the others later.  We returned to Manteo and after dinner visited the Roanoke Island Festival Park where we had a surprise Brown Thrasher singing and then foraging on the ground.  No camera, thus no photo, so this is out of sequence, but I include a photo from later in the trip when we found another and it obliged for a photo.  It was only my second one of this species and far better than the one two years ago in Maine.

Brown Thrasher – Roanoke Festival Park

Brown Thrasher 1

Our second day of birding in North Carolina included more searching for Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows, shorebirds, terns etc.  We also went down to Hatteras to be sure we knew what to expect for the next day’s pelagic trip.  Two unexpected additions were chasing first a Purple Gallinule and then a Roseate Spoonbill.  The first was highly successful and the latter was at most a quick distant view.  The Ebird report for the out of place Purple Gallinule gave a specific address on South Old Oregon Inlet Road in Nags Head.  Just before reaching the address we saw the head of the Gallinule poking up from some water weeds on the side of the road.  If its head had been down we would have missed it.  Instead we were treated to a great close up of a very photogenic and beautiful bird that we had seen the previously year in Florida where it belongs.  Sometimes we were so close, it was hard to focus.

Purple Gallinule – Nags Head N.C.

Purple Gallinule

A great addition to our trip and state list and for my ABA year list.  After watching for many minutes we continued a bit on the road and then made a U-Turn to head south.  When we got back to the spot where we had seen the bird, it was invisible, buried in the weeds.  If the timing had been just a bit different, we may have not seen it.  Just another reminder of how luck and timing are critical factors in our birding experiences.

We heard some Clapper Rails but could not get any to show themselves.  We also continued to see shorebirds and added Black Bellied Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Short Billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstone and American Oystercatcher to our trip list.  As I said we had at most a very distant look at the Roseate Spoonbill at the Salt Pond in Hatteras.  The area was right and it was seen there again later that day, but it was distant and in poor light and disappeared into an area that was too far to chase.  So at best a “maybe”…

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone Flight

We moved to our hotel in Hatteras ready for a very early start on the pelagic trip the next morning and another one the following day.  And this is where I will go out of sequence as I cover that trip in a separate blog post.  The remainder of this one picks up after the pelagic trip first with another stop on the coast hoping for a Clapper Rail photo and then a brief visit to a large colony of Least Terns and Black Skimmers – probably more of each than I had seen previously in my whole life.

Least Tern

Least Tern Hovering

We returned to spend the night again at Manteo and in the morning of June 3rd got the Brown Thrasher photo included above and then later found a second one.  Our next stop before heading west was at Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve.  It looked like a great place but there were more bugs than birds and our list was disappointing.  Even the  Ruby Throated Hummingbird coming to a feeder at the closed info center would have been better if it were a colorful male instead of the drab female.  Still always fun to see hummers.

Ruby Throated Hummingbird Female

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

We then returned to Alligator River NWR and drove around the Sawyer Lake Road area again.  As before we had Prothonotary Warblers everywhere and we added our only Black Throated Green Warbler and a nice Pileated Woodpecker but our hoped for better look at a Red Headed Woodpecker was not to be.  Some beautiful Indigo Buntings and some quick looks at Yellow Billed Cuckoos were a treat but the best was a heard only Swainson’s Warbler.  We never coaxed it into the open but hearing it sing and then listening to the song as we tried playback would produce great benefits later.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting A

A surprise “miss” on the trip so far had been the absence of Brown Headed Nuthatches a common bird of the Southeast.  We listened everywhere and had tried playback without success in seemingly perfect habitats.  Before continuing west towards Raleigh Durham to be ready for our return flight the next day, we stopped at Loop Road in Columbia, N.C. back near the Palmetto Peartree Reserve which we still are not sure we found at least any central portion.  At an arbitrary stop along the road we finally heard Nuthatches chattering and we had our target.

Brown Headed Nuthatch

Brown Headed Nuthatch

We also had a very cooperative White Eyed Vireo and a close look at an Acadian Flycatcher.

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher 1

We headed south on Old Highway 64 towards U.S. 64 our main route west with our windows open both for fresh air and to listen for birds.  Suddenly, Frank yelled “STOP”!  This is where our early time listening to the Swainson’s Warbler songs paid off.  He thought he might have heard one.  We got out of the car and even I could recognize its song which is characterized as “whee whee whee whippoorwill with opening notes down-slurred and the last three notes clear and faster”.  I rarely relate to song descriptions but this one was right on, and our bird was close.  It took only a moment to see it buried in the foliage.  Unlike the first one we had heard, this guy was in a curious mood and responded immediately to our first and only playback.  It remained in the open sufficiently long for some nice photos.

Swainson’s Warbler

Swainson's Warbler 1

Swainson's Warbler 2

I knew that finding this species was a possibility but it has a reputation for being tough to find and even more difficult to photograph, so I had the finding odds as low and even lower for finding getting a picture.  Frank had the same assessment so we were thrilled with this find – the best land bird of our trip.  I am not sure if I had seen one before although I know I had heard one – and only one.  That was 43 years ago at Pocomoke River State Park in Maryland on a trip led by the legendary Chan Robbins as part of a Maryland Ornithological Union field trip.  It is usually a skulking bird and many of my birder friends have it as either the only or one of a few warblers that they have either not seen or never photographed.  This was a stunning moment and I celebrated with a victory whoop!!

We continued west in good spirits and returned to Rankin Road in Plymouth where we had seen Wood Thrush before but I had not been able to get a photo.  This time I did – finally adding it to my ABA photos list.

Wood Thrush – Plymouth N.C.

Wood Thrush

We spent the night in Rocky Mount, N.C. about 70 miles from the airport.  The next morning we found a great birding spot – Horton Grove Nature Preserve in Durham County.  We had 38 species here including several either new ones for the trip or better looks and/or photographs.  The previous day I had my best picture yet of a Yellow Billed Cuckoo.  This one was even better – the only one I have seen completely out in the open.

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

Yellow Billed Cuckoo

In one great spot we heard and saw numerous (at least 10) Ovenbirds singing – joined by Northern Parula Warblers – both new for the trip. We heard two Red Headed Woodpeckers calling continuously but could not get them to move at all.  Chimney Swifts flew over head and there were Carolina Wrens and Chickadees.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren A

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee


Ovenbird 1

Northern Parula Warbler

Northern Parula 1

There were several Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees and other warblers too including Common Yellowthroat, Prairie Warbler and a lovely Yellow Throated Warbler that we finally spied after a long hide and seek chase.

Yellow Throated Warbler

Yellow Throated Warbler

We also got to hear, see and photograph the “Eastern” White Breasted Nuthatch.  Many think this subspecies will be split from the White Breasted Nuthatch of the west and will be recognized as a separate species.  Thus I have this “tick” and a photo ready in the bank if that occurs.

Eastern White Headed Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch Eastern

These were all great birds but the best for me was one of the three species of Vireo that we found here.  Two had been seen throughout the trip:  Red Eyed Vireo and White Eyed Vireo.  We heard a song that was similar to that of the Red Eyed Vireo yet different.  I was hoping it was a Yellow Throated Vireo.  I had seen one briefly in Texas earlier this year but had no picture from then or from my only other record – from Wisconsin in 1976.  Frank was pretty sure that the call was my guy – a “THREE-eight” call repeated three times, slower and more deliberate than the Red Eyed.  It came into the open only briefly and the photo was not that great – but an ABA first and it confirmed the ID.  This was another of the birds that had been on my “hoped for but really not expected list”.

Yellow Throated Vireo

Yellow Throated Vireo


I was a very happy camper as we moved on to another area in the Preserve.  We added new birds for the trip when we found several Yellow Breasted Chats and some Field Sparrows and it was here that we got our best look at a Summer Tanager.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

We had spent two hours at this great spot and it was now time to end the trip, return the car and get our flight.  Even without the pelagic birds, this had been a great trip.  Excluding the pelagics, we had seen 108 species.  As I had expected, none were ABA life birds but 16 were new ABA birds for the year – a year which has had a fair amount of birding in a lot of regions.  Five were new ABA Life Photos:  Prothonotary Warbler, Wood Thrush, Red Headed Woodpecker, Swainson’s Warbler and Yellow Throated Vireo.   The latter two more than made up for failing to get photos of Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow which had been on the “hoped for” list.  I also got that photo of the White Rumped Sandpiper which had been a “probable” but not absolutely “certain” photo from before.

Several photos were also improvements of ones from the past – an ever continuing process.  Since I had also added many ABA Life photos on the pelagic trips, the photo of the Yellow Throated Vireo was number 680 on my ABA photo list.  Not going to get to my magical 700 this year but I have a chance of getting there next year.  Incidentally, the Ovenbird was ABA species #503 for the year.  I had not set any goal for ABA birds for the year but it was nice to get past 500 again.

This had been a very good birding trip.  It was too hot and it was way too humid and there were way way too many bugs for my liking, but the birds had been excellent and all the people we met – birders and everyone else were terrific.  I had eaten far too much food but somehow gotten enough walking in to have only gained a couple of pounds.  Not sure I will ever return but definitely glad I came.

Audubon, Swainson, Cassin, Townsend, Steller, Pallas and Wilson and the Birds Named After Them

There will be at least two blog posts later on my recently ended excellent trip to North Carolina.  One of the last birds seen on that trip was a Swainson’s Warbler.  It had been hoped for but I was not expecting to find one and certainly not expecting a photo.  Thanks in large measure to the wonderful birding ear of my travel companion, Frank Caruso, we found one and it cooperated for a fine photo.

Swainson’s Warbler

Swainson's Warbler 2

Earlier I had earlier seen my ABA first Wilson’s Storm Petrel and my ABA first Audubon’s Shearwater and the combination of the three made me wonder about the naming of these three species and maybe others that were named after people.  So I went all bird nerdy and checked the AOU Checklist (the one before Hawaii was added – I will never accept that addition).  I may well have missed some but found that there were 100 species on the list that appeared to be named after specific people – although I wasn’t sure about Anna’s Hummingbird and three warblers – Lucy’s, Grace’s and Virginia’s.  The vast majority were one-off mostly rarities like for example Stejneger’s Petrel.  Remove them and the list drops dramatically.

If thus limited to species where at least two are named after a specific person, the list has only 36 species.  Drilling down a bit further, of those 36 there are 14 named after 7 individuals – like the Bell’s Sparrow and Bell’s Vireo named after John Graham Bell who accompanied John James Audubon on one of his trips.  But it’s my blog so I get to make executive decisions and I am using Audubon’s Warbler instead of Yellow Rumped Warbler to move John James Audubon from that group of seven to the group of seven for whom at least three species are named.

Here then are the remaining 25 species where at least three are named after one individual – listed from most to fewest by their namesake.

  • John CassinCassin’s Auklet, Cassin’s Sparrow, Cassin’s Finch, Cassin’s Kingbird and Cassin’s Vireo
  • Alexander WilsonWilson’s Warbler, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Plover and Wilson’s Phalarope.
  • William SwainsonSwainson’s Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush and Swainson’s Hawk
  • John Kirk TownsendTownsend’s Warbler, Townsend’s Solitaire and Townsend’s Storm Petrel
  • Georg StellerSteller’s Eider, Steller’s Jay and Steller’s Sea Eagle
  • Peter Simon PallasPallas’s Rosefinch, Pallas’s Leaf Warbler, and Pallas’s Bunting
  • John James Audubon: Audubon’s Shearwater, Audubon’s Oriole and Audubon’s Warbler – currently lumped with the former Myrtle’s Warbler as the single species now known as Yellow Rumped Warbler.

Including Audubon, these 7 ornithologists/naturalists/artists thus give us names for 22 ABA species.  All of the Pallas species are rarities from Eurasia found almost exclusively in remote areas of Alaska.  The same is true for the Steller’s Sea Eagle.  At first, I could not find any Ebird ABA area record for the Townsend’s Storm Petrel which generally occurs in Pacific waters off Central America but learned it has been seen on some San Diego pelagic trips.  It was a split from Leach’s Storm Petrel.  Excluding those five very rare species, after my trip to North Carolina, I have now been very fortunate to have seen and photographed all 20 remaining species – all of them in 2018.  It just turned out that way as I was chasing other targets – but a fun outcome.  The remainder of this blog shares some information about the people who gave their names to these species and includes my sighting records and photos for the year.

John Cassin (1813 – 1869)

John Cassin

A noted taxonomist who among other things named 198 species not previously described by Audubon and Wilson.  He served as Curator of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences.  All of the birds named after him were found in the West, his major area of focus but one he never visited.

Cassin’s Auklet – Westport Pelagic, Washington March 17

Cassin's Auklet

Cassin’s Sparrow – King Ranch April 6

Cassin's Sparrow

Cassin’s Finch – Texas and Washington April 13

Cassin's Finch Llano

Cassin’s Kingbird – Ramona, California, February 28

Cassin's Kingbird with Berry1

Cassin’s Vireo – Bullfrog Pond, Washington May 8

Cassin's Vireo

Alexander Wilson (1766-1813)

Alexander Wilson

Regarded as the founder of American Ornithology due to his pioneering American Ornithology – a 9 Volume set published between 1808 and 1814 (the last volume posthumously).  His work encouraged John James Audubon.

Wilson’s Warbler – Scriber Lake Park, Washington May 21

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Storm Petrel – Hatteras, N.C. Pelagic June 1

Wilson's Storm Petrel 6

Wilson’s Snipe –  Ridgefield NWR, Washington January 7

Wilson's Snipe2

Wilson’s Plover – Tule Lake, Corpus Christi, Texas April 2

Wilson's Plover B

Wilson’s Phalarope – County Line Ponds (Grant), Washington May 19

Wilson's Phalarope1

William Swainson (1789 – 1855)

William Swainson

An English ornithologist, entomologist, conchologist, natural historian, and a gifted illustrator of the natural world. He was a pioneer of the new lithographic technology, which enabled quicker reproduction of his work than engraving.

Swainson’s Warbler – Columbia, N.C. June 4 

Swainson's Warbler 1

Swainson’s Thrush – Whitehorse Centennial Trail, Washington June 7

Swainson's Thrush1

Swainson’s Hawk – Kittitas, Washington April 19

Swainson's Hawk Below

John Kirk Townsend (1809- 1851)

TownsendA naturalist, ornithologist and collector who accompanied Thomas Nuttall on a Western expedition where Townsend, better known for the many mammals he found and were named after him, also collected many new bird species including Vaux’s Swift, Sage Thrasher, Mountain Plover and the Townsend’s Warbler sending many to John James Audubon.  An unfortunate note:  he died of arsenic poisoning – the secret ingredient used in his taxidermy preparations.

Townsend’s Warbler – Edmonds, Washington January 8

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Solitaire – Camano Island, Washington January 21

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Storm Petrel (Photo from the Internet – I have not seen one and definitely could not ID it)).  It is a recent split from Leach’s Storm Petrel.  I hope to see one in San Diego in August.

Townsend's Storm Petrel

Georg Steller (1709 -1746)


A German botanist, zoologist, physician and explorer, who worked in Russia and is considered a pioneer of Alaskan natural history from his work in the North Pacific.  In addition to the three avian species, the well known Steller’s Sea Lion is named after him.

Steller’s Eider (Female) – Seaside Cove, Oregon January 28

Steller's Eider

Steller’s Jay – Bow, Washington, January 1

Steller's Jay

Steller’s Sea Eagle – (I have not seen this species – maybe someday in Alaska)

Steller's Sea Eagle

Peter Simon Pallas  (1741 – 1811)


A native German naturalist, he is remembered mostly for his  research occurred during the Siberian Expedition in 1768 arranged by Catherine the Great, ruler of the Russian Empire, where he lived thereafter.  He worked extensively in far eastern Russia. I have not seen any of the species bearing his name and all photos are from the internet.

Pallas’s Rosefinch

Pallas's Rosefinch

Pallas’s Bunting

Bruant de Pallas Emberiza pallasi Pallas's Reed Bunting

Pallas’s Leaf Warbler


John James Audubon  (1785-1851)


The most well known and prolific of the early naturalists and illustrators.  He is best known for his paintings found in his seminal Birds of America, a collection of 435 life-size and most importantly life-like prints an American art classic.  Like most of the others mentioned in this blog, he lived in Pennsylvania where he is said to have conducted the first known bird-banding experiment in North America, tying strings around the legs of Eastern Phoebes learning that they returned to the same nesting sites each year.  He traveled extensively in the eastern and southern U.S. collecting specimens and he collaborated with many other naturalist collectors of the period.  I am including the “former” Audubon’s Warbler as his third eponymous species because it would be wrong to not have Audubon on this list (and I am still hoping they return to that name).

Audubon’s Shearwaters – Hatteras, N.C. Pelagic June 1

Audubon's Shearwaters 2

Audubon’s Oriole – King Ranch, Texas April 6

Audubon's Oriole

Audubon’s Warbler  – South Padre Island, Texas April 8

Audubon's Yellow Rumped Warbler

All of these birds and all of these naturalists/ornithologists were from such a very different time in history.  No cameras, so collecting meant shooting specimens and studying them feather by feather.  That is still done today, of course and there is no substitute for having a bird in hand, but in our digital world, how nice to have our apps, cameras, phones etc.  How nice too to be able to fly to – wherever – rather than the long, arduous, dangerous and sometimes even fatal adventures taken over land and sea by these pioneers.  Birding offers so many areas of interest.  I enjoyed this brief departure from sometimes blow by blow descriptions of my own trips and observations.  It was nice to have this historical framework for these experiences.