“Welcome to Gordons Pond, where the fishing is fine!” Perhaps a sign like this should be posted near the entrance to this special part of Cape Henlopen State Park. Or better yet, a sign saying “Warning: Great Birds Ahead.”
An Osprey eating a fresh-caught shad is just one of the many highlights from this bird-packed field trip.
As we hiked the wide gravel trail through stands of pines, we heard the trilling song of the well-named Pine Warbler. The males defended their territories and sang loudly to proclaim the boundaries against rival males. We photographed this handsome male as he visited us near the trail. He’s got a lot of yellow!
A really cool bird that is unique to southern Delaware is the Brown-headed Nuthatch. These active little birds feed on pine seeds and insects, and often travel in large flocks which give themselves away by their loud “rubber ducky” squeaky calls. We watched this nuthatch perch on the marsh grass just ten feet from us, as he came in to investigate our Tufted Titmouse imitation.
As we birded, the “witchety-witchety-witchety” song of Common Yellowthroats rang out from the marsh edge. These sharp-looking warblers with the black masks and yellow throats like to nest in the thickest places. They’ve just returned to our area after wintering in the tropics, and now will be with us for the whole summer.
When we reached the viewing platform overlooking the pond, we found an array of watebirds enjoying the shallow waters. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Snowy and Great Egrets, Willets, Forster’s Terns, American Wigeon, Black-bellied Plovers, Glossy Ibis, and yes, even our favorite- the Dunlins!
A pair of Bald Eagles landed in a tree together, a Peregrine Falcon zoomed overhead, and Ospreys seemed to be all over as they searched for fish. The bird that stole the show, though, is an avian superhero: the Merlin(perhaps you’ve heard of Merlin the Magician?). We saw 12 of these amazing falcons, as they sped by like black darts on their northbound migration. A couple Merlins paused to catch their breath and we had great looks through the scope as they perched close by.
We finished the afternoon standing on the sand dunes and scanning the ocean, where we saw migrating flocks of Double-crested Cormorants, diving Forster’s Terns and huge numbers of Barn Swallows heading north. Our three-hour trip helped us observe 51 species(including many “life birds”), and we enjoyed the thrill of seeing a new place during the height of spring migration.
- Story and images by Derek Stoner