Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gannets & Bitterns

I am not a birder, but many folks who live on Ocracoke, or visit here, know a lot about birds. Peter Vankovitch, who just moved back to the island, recently started a bird watching group.

Not many days ago Bill and I saw fairly large white birds with black wingtips diving for fish off shore. We weren't sure what they were, but Peter identified them as gannets. Apparently, they migrate through here this time of the year. I learned a number of fascinating facts about gannets. They dive from great distances (as much as 100 feet), and travel as fast as 60 mph when they hit the water. As a result, they can pursue fish much deeper than many other birds. Gannets have several adaptations that facilitate their behavior, including air sacs in their faces to help protect them from the impact, and no external nostrils.

Two days ago we noticed a bittern feeding in the ditch alongside NC Hwy 12, between the airstrip and the campground. The bittern is a fairly large bird in the heron family. Though not an everyday occurrence, it is not unusual to see bitterns wading in the marsh looking for insects, fish, and small reptiles.

I doubt I will ever be an expert on birds, but I do enjoy learning about them as I wander about the island.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the Civil War on the Outer Banks, Josephus Daniels, Jr, Secretary of the Navy during WWI, and his connection to Ocracoke. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous8:45 AM

    Peter moved to Ocracoke?

  2. Yes, Peter has moved to Ocracoke.

  3. To read more about Peter, see the "Ocracoke Current" website -- -- and comments from other bird watchers.