2/20/16 – 2/21/16
What would have been our Presidents’ Day Weekend Trip was postponed by one week due to unseasonably (even for February) cold and low wind-chill temperatures. There were only four of us going, so the change wasn’t met with any undue difficulties. Also, since we were all staying at Bill Ellis’s townhouse, no reservations had to be changed either.
We could even have gone down in one car were it not for the fact that Bill planned on driving down on Friday night with his telescope and a car full of equipment. I met Debby Terry from the Baltimore County Chapter at Bob Ringler’s house and we proceeded from there. We left around 7:15 am and headed for the Bay Bridge. This being Saturday, the traffic was light. Driving Bob’s car over the bridge, I was even able to slow down (just a bit) so we could gawk at the 100s (maybe even 1000s) of Double-crested Cormorants sitting on the underside of the second bridge opposite us.
Other birds seen later along the way included Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Tundra Swan, and Common Grackle. The grackles were in a large flock. Shortly before reaching Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, which is the traditional first stop on this trip, we slowed down to watch a Mourning Dove sitting on a branch near the road. Ordinarily, we would have made a note of the bird and quickly moved on. This individual, however, was exhibiting some very unusual behavior. It seemed to be having difficulty hanging on to its perch. A drunken dove? Who knows? Eventually, it appeared to put itself right, much to our relief.
Other birds encountered as we approached the refuge were two Northern Harriers and some Horned Larks. The fields just outside the entrance were perfect habitat for these species. Bill was waiting for us at the visitors center. Unfortunately, it was closed. We did make use of the facilities, however, and checked the list of bird sightings on the clipboard there. Nothing special caught our eyes. Outside the building, we noted White-throated Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, and House Sparrow. Another Northern Harrier (or maybe one of the ones we had already seen) passed low overhead.
In the impoundments there were plenty of ducks to observe. Our list included Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Bufflehead, Black Duck, Gadwall, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal. Bob pointed out the buffy patch on the tail of the latter. Other species encountered were Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Red-winged Blackbird, Carolina Wren, and Blue Jay. At some point, a nice “V” of Snow Geese flew over.
Compared to what we had seen here on previous trips, there didn’t seem to be nearly as much in terms of either quantity or quality, so we decided to move on rather quickly. Stopping again at the visitors center, we did add Carolina Chickadee, American Robin, and Tufted Titmouse. Leaving the refuge, we had Horned Larks again and possibly an American Pipit.
Driving into Little Creek, Delaware we were amazed to find a large flock of Snow Geese feeding in a field that was very close to the road. It almost seemed like they were in someone’s front yard. We pulled over to the side of the road so I could get some photos. There were some Blue Geese among them.
The road to Port Mahon was closed. What a disappointment. I enjoy the fact that you can get relatively close to the birds there without even getting out of your car. Not that I’m lazy. (Well, maybe just a little.) It does make it easier to take photos though.
Heading south again, we watched a Northern Harrier as it put the U.S. Airforce to shame near Dover Airforce Base. Fighter pilots should be able to maneuver that well! An American Kestrel sat tight on a wire somewhere along Route 13. At another spot, a sign made us all chuckle. It said “The older I get, the better I was.” How true.
Before long, we arrived at the Indian River Inlet. Bob had some information that a Razorbill had been seen here. There were quite a number of cars in the parking lot, but not that many birders. One fellow coming back from the jetty, told us that someone had spotted the bird in the surf a while ago. We scanned every inch of the watery landscape, but found no Razorbill. There were other birds, however. These included Long-tailed
Duck, Common Loon, Red-throated Loon, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great Black-backed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Purple Sandpiper.
All three species of Scoter (Black, White-winged, and Surf) were also present. The latter looked amazing in the scope. Turning the scope on a cormorant sitting atop a pole, I could tell it was a Great Cormorant. What was more exciting, however, was the fact that its eyes were green. I had never been able to see one that close before. (Or, had I just never noticed?) To top things off here, we located an immature Common Eider bobbing up and down in the inlet.
Upon reaching Ocean City, we decided to stop off at Bill’s place before moving on to other birding spots in the area. Turning onto Jamestown Road, we spotted a Horned Grebe in the water behind the Green Turtle Restaurant.
Piling into one vehicle, we continued south toward the jetty at Ocean City Inlet. A quick stop at Sunset Park turned up no birds at all. Sometimes, this spot can be good for rarities. The inlet itself rewarded us with some nice views, however. We saw Surf Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers, Bonaparte’s Gulls, and Herring Gulls. Out on the green buoy which was bobbing up and down in the waves sat at least twenty Purple Sandpipers. They looked like they were on some carnival ride.
The WOC (West Ocean City) pond was next. The light here wasn’t very god, but we managed to locate some Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Buffleheads, Northern Pintails, Gadwall, and Ring-necked Ducks.
We ended our birding day at the end of Selsey Road. Here, we saw or heard Bufflehead, Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Northern Mockingbird, Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Bluebird, and Belted Kingfisher. There was also a hawk sitting off in a tree that we never could identify because the bird refused to give us a good look.
Dinner was at Dumser’s. Afterwards, we all went back to Bill’s place and sat around drinking Sambuca. Bill surprised us all with the amount of music he had on his computer and we spent the rest of the evening playing our own version of “Name that Tune.” It was no surprise I suppose that the golden oldies came to mind more easily.
The Next Day
There was an American Robin in the Denny’s parking lot, singing on territory. What a great place to raise a family. We just went there for breakfast, after which we proceeded to where we could observe the 3rd- 4th Street flats. Usually, we have to jockey with the fishermen who set up there. Not today. It wasn’t crowded at all and we had nice views.
Setting up the scopes, we were soon scanning for American Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Bonaparte’s Gull, and Ruddy Turnstone. Locating a couple of Laughing Gulls in the mix was especially exciting for this time of year. Out on the water, two Red-breasted Mergansers were engaged in some sort of mating behavior. They would lift their heads up and stretch their necks until it seemed they would snap. This was repeated a number of times. We also spotted some Common Loons here and heard a Fish Crow and a Song Sparrow.
Then, it was back to the Ocean City Inlet. By quietly approaching the jetty, we were able to surprise some Harlequin Ducks that were feeding close by. They moved off a little once they noticed us, but did not seem particularly concerned about our presence. It wasn’t like any of us planned to strip down and jump in! Watching these birds, I was amazed at the way they allowed themselves to be tossed around by the waves. Sometimes, they even washed up onto the rocks and then back again.
Other species also put on a good show for us. There were lots of male and female Long-Tailed Ducks. Joining them in the water were Common Loons, Red-throated Loons, Bufflehead, Surf Scoters, and Bonaparte’s Gulls. Some Purple Sandpipers were still hanging about the buoys as well.
The light was better this time at the WOC ponds. Our list there included Gadwall, Northern Pintail, Ringnecked Duck, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Canada Goose, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Coot, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Tundra Swan, Great Blue Heron, and Bonaparte’s Gull. In the trees surrounding the pond, we had Yellow-rumped Warbler, Carolina Chickadee, and American Goldfinch.
From here, we drove to what had been Pine Shore Golf Course. It was soon to be a facility of the Maryland Costal Bays Program. At the moment, however, it was just deserted. Bob had found a Lazuli Bunting here while doing the most recent Christmas Count. None of us really expected the bird to still be there, but…
Of course, we didn’t find the bird. However, we saw or heard a lot of other interesting species. These included Snow Goose, Pied-billed Grebe, Cedar Waxwing, Carolina Wren, Dark-eyed Junco, Field Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Red-winged Blackbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet Blue Jay, American Robin, Turkey Vulture, Killdeer, Mallard, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Belted Kingfisher, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Coot.
Our most exciting find here though disappeared quickly after being spotted. It was a Common Gallinule. Not a bird you see every day around here. Bob and Debbie saw it first. Bill and I never did get a good look at it. We poked around the reed bed where the bird had disappeared. No luck. It was obviously better at hiding than we were at seeking.
Walking back to the cars, we heard Spring Peepers calling. The day had warmed up considerably and soon we were all taking off some of those layers we had piled on in the morning. Bill left us here and headed home. Debbie, Bob, and I continued to Castaways. This campground is usually our last stop before heading home. The flats there always produce some nice birds. Today was no exception. We saw Black-bellied Plover, Dunlin, and Sanderling.
We did make another stop though. This was at the end of Oakley Street in Cambridge. There were lots of ducks there. Danny Poet was watching them when we pulled up. Bob was glad to see him. It had been a while. Among the mixed flock of Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaup, and American Wigeon, Danny pointed out two Redheads, a Redhead X Canvasback hybrid, and a Canvasback with a leucistic aberration that made it look “white-fronted”.