The early bird sees more birds

Published 6:54 pm Thursday, August 5, 2021

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The south side of our county is chock-full of birds. Last week I went on a small expedition to bird some hotspots on the south side of the Pamlico River. The following itinerary makes a nice half-day birding excursion.

I started at Crisp Landing, the Wildlife Commission boat ramp on Blounts Creek.   Here I have often seen red-headed woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, and ospreys. Other birds I noted last week include eastern kingbird, yellow-billed cuckoo, white-eyed vireo, blue-gray gnatcatcher, eastern wood-pewee, and summer tanager.  In the spring I did also see a swallow-tailed kite there, which would be a county record for this species.

Not far from the public boat ramp is Cotton Patch Landing, a private boat ramp.  If you stop in the store and ask nicely, the owners may allow you to bird there.  I like to make a purchase to keep in good graces; you’ll probably find some ice cream and snacks, or outdoor gear that you need.

My next stop was at the boat ramp on Main Street in Aurora. This is a good place to see marsh and water birds. On the day I came the birding seemed a little thin. Still, I enjoyed 22 species including Purple Martin, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Forster’s Tern. I do notice that the later I get started in the morning, or the later I visit on a multi-stop trip, the fewer birds I see.  An early arrival before 8:00 or so will yield (on balance) about three times as many species seen and heard, in my experience. If you are a natural early riser, you have a distinct advantage as a birder. If you are not an early riser, perhaps the prospect of seeing some fascinating birds becomes one of the few things to make you really want to jump out of bed.

I then went up to the south side terminal of the Aurora-Bayview ferry.  Checking the board, I saw that I had 45 minutes to bird Hickory Point nearby.  I had to keep to the state highway because there is no public access to the water near there, other than the ferry terminal. However, I still was able to observe a number of Royal Terns feeding and loafing on old pier pilings along the shoreline.

I boarded the ferry and watched for birds during the crossing. Typically, one will see lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, lots of Laughing Gulls in the summer, here and there a Forster‘s Tern or Royal Tern, and Brown Pelicans.  A pair of dolphins (Atlantic porpoises) leapt in the water close to the north side landing, a common sight.

From the Bayview (north side) ferry landing picnic area, I spotted Barn Swallows, more Royal Terns on the pilings in the water, Purple Martins, and Eastern Bluebirds.  As usual I find these more by ear than by sight.


From the Bayview ferry terminal, a return to Washington takes you by the community college, which has some good birding on the campus.  Find the fitness trail and it will lead you to the disc-golf trail.  This walk goes through a variety of habitats, from the wetlands by the field where you can get Eastern Bluebirds and Northern Rough-Winged Swallows, to mature hardwood forest where Summer Tanagers and many woodpeckers can be found.

I hope this itinerary gives you an idea of some of the variety and wonder that can be found in our county, especially if you make an effort to get to whichever side of the river that you are not usually on. Happy birding!

Betsy Kane is a Washington resident who enjoys the outdoors.