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June 2009
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Member of:

Society for Ecological Restoration Ecological Society of America Delmarva Ornithological Society

Pipit Aboard in North Carolina

What better way to break in my new blog than with an exciting bird find on the high seas!  As some of you may know, my girlfriend Lauren Morgens is Captain of the tallship Kalmar Nyckel, a modern-day recreation of a 17th century Swedish 3-masted ship.  Last week, while en route from her home port in Delaware to Hampton, VA, the Nyckel was enjoying some nice sailing about 40 miles off the North Carolina coast when an unusual avian visitor came aboard.  Lauren and I have both had the good fortune to be aboard ship for landbird “events” before, so I was excited, but not too surprised when she told me that she had just had an avian encounter.

Then she showed me the pictures:

Dorsal view of the mystery bird.

Dorsal view of the avian visitor.

Wow!  This was a good bird.  One that I had only seen once on a whirlwind trip to Manitoba!  What was it doing 40 miles off of the Atlantic coast in June?  The next pic sealed the deal on the identification.

Check out that eye ring and necklace!!

Check out that eye ring and necklace!!

If you haven’t guessed by now, the bird is a Sprague’s Pipit.  Lauren was confident of the identification before she showed me the images, but it was a life bird for her, so she wanted my unbiased opinion.  Needless to say, I was excited to give it.  I passed the pic along to my buddies Jeff Gordon and Forrest Rowland for their viewing pleasure, then decided I’d better get a post up to document this find.  We believe this bird was found in North Carolina waters (it was south of the Virginia land border), but perhaps someone more versed in pelagic birding can verify that.  The exact location is plotted on the map below.

Location of Sprague's Pipit Sighting

Location of Sprague's Pipit Sighting (June 2, 2009)

Here is Lauren’s email description of the encounter:

The bird buzzed the ship a few times but I didn’t have my bins around my neck and it kept disappearing.  It was calling as it flew, a two-noted call that stumped me utterly.  Finally got the bins and got a good dike-style look when it flew low athwart the main deck at 1139, and managed to id it as a Pipit, which is when I recorded the location.  Later as it became more tired it started landing on the ship more and observation/photography became more of a possibility.  It was quite spooky at first, though, and it took some time to get a good photo; I had the crew on mission to photograph the head/breast as I became more convinced that it was a Spragues (dorsal view was a lot easier to get when it landed in the channels).  Eventually became very ‘tame,’ got good looks and decent pics.

According to the online North Carolina state list, there are more than 2 previous records of the species from the state.  I suspect though, that there are few, if any records of this species at offshore locations in the Atlantic.  Lauren will be submitting the record to the appropriate records committee when she gets ashore.  I’d like to thank her for a great find and for allowing me to share it with all of you!

In coming weeks, I’ll be adding more content to the rest of the site, and cleaning things up a bit as I get better with the software.  In the meantime, excuse the dust, and enjoy the wildlife!


6 comments to Pipit Aboard in North Carolina

  • Judy Richardson

    Hi guys,

    What a wonderful spot, Lauren, and what fun to be the safe haven for this tired little migrant! Well done!! Keep watching!


  • sally

    Very nice opening blog entry. Good luck and look forward to reading more. Great sighting!

  • Ned Brinkley

    Hey Matt – Very cool – and almost in VA waters!! Did the bird stay on board for long? I was wondering if it made it into VA, which is very close by. Check out some of the cool stuff seen offshore here this spring ( – I managed to get out and see Bermuda Petrel and tons of skuas and jaegers in May but missed the European and Swinhoe’s Storm-Petrels this year. Just ran into Laura Lohse (our local tall ship captain last night) and she had just seen Lauren over in Yorktown that morning! Small world! Hope you’re well and seeing stuff – if you get down near Cape Charles or Chincoteague give a ring & we can go birding or herping.

    Take care

  • Hi, Matt. Great bird! And welcome to WordPress. I look forward to reading more of you blog.

  • Great post! I’ll subscribe right now wth my feedreader software!

  • Thanks for the great feedback, everyone! I’m just back from some restoration work on my property in Pennsylvania and will try to get a post on that up soon. The pipit was definitely a fun story to share with all of you!

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