Our second annual “South to North” trip took place during the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count, and how appropriate: we could count birds all along the way as we birded the coast of Delaware. It is one big backyard and full of birds!
Our starting point at Indian River Inlet gave us looks at interesting sea birds like Long-tailed Ducks, Northern Gannets, Red-throated and Common Loons. The rocky, algae-covered jetties held shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and our favorite Dunlins. Of course, there were also lots of gulls to count– but no sea gulls!
At Silver Lake in Rehoboth, we found the duck of everyone’s desire: Canvasbacks! This location seems to be the only reliable place in Delaware to see this beautiful duck. Amongst the hundreds of Canvasbacks we found Ruddy Ducks, Black Ducks, and a lone Double-crested Cormorant.
Our next stop at Cape Henlopen State Park yielded another prize bird: the Brown-headed Nuthatch. The funny “rubber ducky” call that they make, along with their fast-moving flights back and forth from feeders make them a joy to watch. When we headed out to Lighthouse Point to scan for more waterbirds, we found a nice mix: a drake Surf Scoter, Horned Grebe, Red-breasted Mergansers, and more Northern Gannets. The big surprise, though, was a Harbor Seal perched on a jetty and basking in the sun. This is the first seal most participants had ever seen in Delaware! Meanwhile, some of our group had taken a side trip to the nearby Cape May-Lewes Ferry Terminal, where they found the Western Grebe that had been reported there recently. A great rarity, the grebe was nowhere to be found when the rest of our group went to look. That is how birding is sometimes!
Heading further north, we came across a major spectacle at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge: a massive flock of Snow Geese! Blanketing the water as far as the eye could see, this flock likely had at least 100,000 geese in it. The noise they made was incredible, and when they took flight all at once, they blotted out the sky! In the flock we managed to pick out one Cackling Goose, along with at least seven neck-collared Snow Geese. One neck-collared goose (59AR) that we identified is a female that was banded in May 2008 on her Arctic nesting grounds. You can learn more about this Snow Goose Research project at the Greater Snow Goose Demographic Studies page.
Our final destination for the day was Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, where we found the Black-necked Stilt that has wintered at the refuge’s Raymond Pool. This is the first time this species has ever been documented wintering in Delaware, and we are lucky to have seen this same bird in December during the Christmas Bird Count. At Shearness Pool we found several new species to add to our day’s list: Tundra Swan, American Coot, and Common Merganser, along with hundreds of other waterfowl.
We concluded the day with a tally rally, discovering that we’d observed 72 species over the course of 7 hours. Our observations were submitted to the Great Backyard Bird Count for the 11 different locations visited, aand more than 150,ooo birds were counted! And for the 29 participants, we experienced a fantastic day of birding in Delaware: South to North!
Special thanks to trip leaders Bill Stewart, Kim Steininger, and Mike Hudson. Trip report and photos by Derek Stoner.
Enjoy the video of highlights from the field trip:
Are you ready for Long-tailed Ducks, Red-throated Loons, Great Cormorants, Canvasbacks, and Common Goldeneyes?
Have you ever seen a Brown-headed Nuthatch? Or watched flocks of Brant, Bonaparte’s Gulls, or Northern Pintails?
If you’d like to see some incredible winter birds along the coast of Delaware, join the Delaware Dunlins for our second-annual South to North field trip on Saturday, February 18. We will meet at Indian River Inlet at 9:00am, and then bird our way north until late afternoon, stopping at hotspots all along the way.
The field trip flyer below gives the appointed times we will be at each location, and we encourage participants to car-pool if at all possible. Please register for this trip so that we know to expect you in our caravan of birders. RSVP to Derek Stoner at email@example.com or 302-893-8426.
The Delaware Dunlins Winter Birding Workshop featured lots of great presentations on winter backyard birds, the Rio Grande Birding Festival highlights (presented by Kathleen), best of backyard bird photography (courtesy of Kim), and a special game of quiz the birders!
We went outside Ashland Nature Center for a bird walk and immediately found an awesome sight: a flock of bright-blue Eastern Bluebirds devouring the red berries of a Winterberry! After watching this feeding frenzy for a while, we moved on to viewing flocks of Dark-eyd Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and Field Sparrows. A Sharp-shinned Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk flew over for comparison, and an angry “murder” of American Crows voiced their concerns.
While hiking along, we gathered dead limbs and small logs for a special project. Once back inside, we transformed these pieces of wood into a treat for the birds: a Suet Log! The holes will be packed full of peanut butter, beef fat, and seeds– and provide much-needed fat for the birds during the winter months.
And to round out the afternoon of fun, we enjoyed a guest appearance by our favorite ducks: Rosita and Azul, the Education Mallards. After showering and eating a meal of crickets, the ducks performed several flights to show off their skills. And then Azul teamed up with Dominic to pull of the ultimate balancing act: the Duck on Head trick! This new look may catch on with waterfowl watchers!
With great anticipation, our Delaware Dunlins crew set out to participate in our fourth annual Bombay Hook Christmas Bird Count. The count itself has run for 72 years and is the longest-running count in the State of Delaware. Knowing that a lot of great birds hang been lingering in the area due to the mild weather, we anticipated excellent birding.
Right away, early birds Amy and Kathleen helped us by identifying a long-legged, long-billed pair of shorebirds feeding in the mudflats near Shearness Pool: Marbled Godwits! Believe it or not, this pair (that had been seen at the refuge since at least October) is the first record of Marbled Godwit ever for a Delaware Christmas Bird Count! And apparently, we were the only birders who saw the godwits on this day and helped to add them to the count.
After meeting the rest of our spirited group (in holiday attire!) at the visitor center (and adding the beautiful singing White-crowned Sparrows there), we teamed up to scan the expanse of water at Raymond Pool. And the big find? Lots of shorebirds! For December, finding a variety of shorebirds is unusual. In fact, usually we expect to see just our namesakes, the Dunlins, who overwinter in big flocks at Bombay Hook. But today we lucked out and saw a lot of unique shorebirds: A Black-necked Stilt (another first-ever for a CBC in Delaware!), 17 American Avocets, 2 Long-billed Dowitchers, and 135 Dunlins.
After the excitement of all the shorebirds– and plenty of waterfowl, too– we visited Finis Pool to round out our morning. There we came across a beautiful Belted Kingfisher that posed for fantastic scope views. We also saw Gadwalls, and both Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Then came the final act, a classic tradition of many a Christmas Count: the sparrow stomp! With a huge field of clover and warm season grasses before us, we wanted to see how many songbirds were hiding out. So we spread out and walked along the deer paths in the field. As we neared the end of field, sparrows starting flushing ahead of us: 14 Song Sparrows and 8 White-throated Sparrows headed for cover. We made sure to not trample the habitat ( and of course, not actually stomp on the birds!) and got a great lesson on how many birds can hide in open fields such as this one.
For the morning, we finished with 53 species, and had a great deal of citizen science data collected by the 15 participants. Thank you to count compiler Andy Ednie for inviting our group to once again be part of this great tradition. We really enjoy the experience and the opportunity to bird one of Delaware’s best locations. Great Christmas Counting, everyone!
A super-enthusiastic crowd of 53 birders– kids, parents, and grandparents alike– came out to Conowingo Dam on November 27, 2011, to witness the annual spectacle of Bald Eagle congregations. Everywhere we looked, eagles soared, perched, battled, and made themselves very obvious. You could not swing a binocular without bumping into bunches of Bald Eagles! Our team of youth birders did their best to try to get an accurate count, but we could only say for sure that there were more than 100 eagles present. The juvenile eagles fought over scraps of fish and shrieked their shrill calls.
One adult eagle flew over us with a wriggling shad, landed in a nearby tree, and devoured the fish in less than five minutes!
The tower above the dam hosted a perching Peregrine Falcon, and other sights of interest included 35 Great Blue Herons, Great Black-backed Gulls, and Black Ducks. We hiked down the river through the forest and enjoyed encounters with Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, and both Golden- and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
As always, our group enjoyed great scope views of the birds and connected to the magnificent eagles through one great sighting after another. See you all again next November at Conowingo!