Story and Photos by Joe Sebastiani
My Delaware Bird-A-Thon efforts began at 3am, Saturday May 12th, standing at the south base of the Reedy Point Bridge near the C&D Canal, hoping for a King Rail to respond to my iPod. I played the recording, and sure enough, 2 responded, becoming my first bird of my big day. Nearby, I played a Virginia Rail recording and got two to vocalize back to me, making my railing efforts pay off early. A Yellow-breasted Chat sang nearby, which was nice, as I would not have to work hard to find that species later.
I got back in the car and hit the “Go” button on the GPS so that I could arrive at Milford Neck, one of the wildest places in Delaware, without thinking at this early, pre-dawn hour. Upon arrival, I got out of the car in the dark and immediately heard a calling Chuck-wills-Widow and a nearby “peenting” American Woodcock. Yes! They can be tough to find. On this lonely, quiet road I heard Whip-poor-wills, Great Horned Owl, a pair of Barred Owls, and called in an Eastern Screech-owl, making my pre-dawn birding very rewarding. I was off to a great start!
Down the road at Big Stone Beach, I watched the sun rise with a large pod of Dolphins swimming under its red globe. A very nice way to start a beautiful day! Driving back through Milford Neck, I spotted a group of birders in the woods. It was Chris Bennett doing the Spring Roundup bird survey. They had a huge group of warblers passing through so I joined them. We had a swarm around us that contained Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Pine Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, and Canada Warbler. This is exactly the kind of flock I needed to find!
Shortly after, I met my roommate from college, Justin Baker, a lifelong birder and friend. We took off to Redden State Forest and the Nature Conservancy’s Ponders Tract in central Sussex County but didn’t really add much to the list for the day. A biggie was finding a Worm-eating Warbler in the woods at Redden.
Off to Cape Henlopen State Park to the point. We saw Piping Plovers up close as well as a single Red Knot plus Least, Common, Forster’s and Royal Terns loafing on the sand bars. The wind was calm, the ocean was like glass, and we could see Cape May across the bay really well. Unfortunately, we saw no ocean species of birds like Northern Gannet or Loons. At the nature center, we quickly called in a Brown-headed Nuthatch.
Next was Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge where we added species like Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-throated Warbler. A big hit of the day was the Dupont Nature Center at Mispillion. Hundreds of Red Knot lined the beaches with thousands of Dunlin and a few Sanderling. Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows were easy to find in the marshes near the center. A Lesser Scaup was in the harbor as well, and it looked injured, so it didn’t make the return trip north with the other scaup. It counted for our big day, though!
Up to Bombay Hook we went, and we scored big there adding Mute and Tundra Swan, Glossy Ibis, Least Bittern, American Coot, American Avocet, and Swainson’s Thrush among other birds. From here, we made stops at Taylor’s Gut for a Northern Shoveler, and saw the Cliff Swallows at their normal breeding spot along Route 9. Having missed Grasshopper Sparrow, we stopped at the Blue Diamond Park nearNew Castle where I easily have found them before. No dice on that bird, but I did pick up Little Blue Heron and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow for my trouble.
As I hit traffic in northern Delaware at 6pm, and with Justin on his way back to New Jersey, I figured I’d had enough birding for one day, and called off the quest for more. I finished with 149 species for the day. Hey, I have to leave some for next year!
If you would like to support Joe’s Bird-A-Thon effort, please contact him at: email@example.com