By Bob Oberfelder
The Wings Over Water (WOW) festival is an annual event that has provided excellent coastal birding opportunities for 17 years. Up until this year, we (my wife and I) had not been able to participate, but I am glad to report that now that status has changed. Although we would only be able to manage a short, whirlwind trip, we decided to “test the waters,” so to speak. This year we were able to carve out a day and a half from our schedule to sample from the multitude of options that WOW had to offer.
Lincoln Sparrow at Alligator River NWR
We drove to the coast Saturday morning arriving in time to participate in an afternoon trip to Bodie Island and the beach lead by Steve Shultz. In the marsh, Steve played audio recordings to draw out the rails and marsh wrens. Unfortunately we were only able to hear the birds respond, they remained hidden in the marsh grass. Hearing the large number of nearby birds (we were almost stepping on a few of them) was a highlight of that trip. The ducks typically observed in the pond area were not there. We saw and heard about 40 species for the afternoon.
Marsh Wren at Alligator River NWR
The main event on Saturday evening was a seafood buffet dinner at Pamlico Jack’s followed by a presentation by the keynote speaker, Greg Miller, of “The Big Year” fame. Greg’s talk was excellent. He was personable and unassuming but clearly knowledgeable about birding. It was fun to hear him describe his surprise as the events of The Big Year book and movie transpired. He described his developing interest in birding, and his personal Big Year adventures, as well as his experience with being the subject of both the book and the movie. Greg described his strategy (i.e., the top 5 “must” US/Canadian birding spots that provide the opportunity to record over 600 bird species) and the personal and financial costs ($31,000 in travel expenses) of pursuing his big year. He described his surprise at being made one of the subjects of the book (he didn’t actually win his Big Year), which also included descriptions of the experiences of Sandy Komito and Al Levatin, his competitors. He was even more in awe when the movie (loosely associated with the facts of the real events) became a reality. Greg described his joy at being a consultant for the movie and his interactions with the stars of the movie, Jack Black (who portrayed Greg in the movie) Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. Greg held down a full time job and still managed to see 715 species, a total that was third on the all time list. According to the book, Sandy Komito is the only person that has ever seen more than Greg in a Big Year.
Pectoral Sandpiper Alligator River NWR
Sunday morning we visited Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), a trip lead by Jeff Lewis. Our species count was considerably better than the Bodie Island count, but it was more varied habitat, and it was a morning trip so that was not surprising. My one previous experience (on my own) at NWR had been disappointing so I was quite happy with this trip. We saw both marsh and sedge wrens, and a Merlin on the wing. There was a large shorebird collection in a flooded field, which included Wilson’s Snipe, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater, and Lesser Yellowlegs and both Long and Short-billed Dowitchers. There were also a variety of ducks including Northern Shovelers, and Pintails. Perhaps the best bird of the trip, for, me was a Lincoln Sparrow that we saw at our very first stop in the refuge. There were numerous opportunities for photographs at Alligator River NWR. In contrast to my earlier experiences at Alligator NWR, birding with a knowledgeable trip leader made the birding excellent and the photographic opportunities plentiful.
Greater Yellowlegs Alligator River NWR
Our first experience with Wings Over Water was a success. The trip leaders were excellent, the birding was good, and the photography opportunities were plentiful. The dinner was enjoyable and the keynote speaker was outstanding. The consensus was that the earlier date for the festival, October instead of November, probably attenuated the total bird count and decreased the number of species as well. If our schedule permits, we will certainly participate in Wings Over Water next year.