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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An unforgettable New Year's Day Trip for 11 BCDC Members

Sunrise at Port Mahon
          We didn't know it at the time but this was going to be the most awe-inspiring day that we have witnessed on a BCDC New Years trip. Eleven participants elected to spend New Year's Day in the state of Delaware birding the southern portion of the state. We would commence the day at Port Mahon Rd where Vance and Sue Downing along with Emma Chou found a Short-eared Owl for their first bird of the year. Unfortunately the rest of us arrived a little to late to see the owl but did find a lot of Northern Harriers.
           Afterwards we dashed over to Cartanza Rd in search of field birds. We stopped, got out of the car, and immediately found a large flock of birds flitting around the fields. In the group were about 60 Horned Larks and to our astonishment there were also 30 or so Snow Buntings in the group. Some of the birders got to see them in the scope but because of the birds' hyper behavior it was hard to keep track of them as they hid in the gullies.
         Heading south we arrived at Prime Hook refuge. We were entertained by approximately 100,000 Snow Geese, give or take a thousand here or there.
Blue Goose (by Nick Pulcinella)
Just a small portion of a very large and noisy flock of Snow Geese

      Also present were Tundra Swans, Long-tailed Duck, Surf and Black Scoters and a Red-shouldered Hawk. While we were birding at the bay we encountered a man coming out of his house.  His wife was telling me that he was going in the water for his annual New Year's Day swim. But the wife explained that he forgot his swim trunks, so he was going in with his boxer shorts instead. I was hoping at this point that he wouldn't lose the shorts as he dove into the frigid waters. Well, he survived but none of us took any photos. That was probably a good thing.
Tundra Swan (by N Pulcinella)
Red-shouldered Hawk -Immature (by N Pulcinella)
         After meandering through Prime Hook refuge we traveled to Gordon's Pond on the southern edge of Cape Henlopen State Park. In the parking lot we met up with Delaware birder, Rodney Murray, who pointed out the area where an Ash-throated Flycatcher had just been seen. After looking around for three minutes,  Rodney yells out that he has the bird in a little snag. Sure enough there was the flycatcher, a vagrant from the western United States. For the next ten minutes, the flycatcher put on quite a showing, allowing great looks and pictures.
Ash-throated Flycatcher(by N Pulcinella)

Photo by Nick Pulcinella
BCDC group celebrating the Ash-throated Flycatcher

          For many, this was a life bird. We then went to the beach to scan the bay. In the bay,  there was a flock of at least three thousand Snow Geese and overhead small flocks were still coming in from feeding at various inland locations.
Snow Geese with a blue phase Snow Goose trailing 
          While we were still birding at Gordon's pond I received a call that the Crested Caracara was at the ball field not far away. Gathering up the team, we headed directly to the ball field. We were too late as the Caracara had flown the coop.
         So off to Indian River Inlet for more birding. The tide at the inlet was quickly flowing out the inlet producing rips at the end of the jetty. This is usually good for gull activity, as they feed on the food brought up by the rips. However, for some reason, that wasn't true today. For the first time that I can remember there weren't any Bonaparte's Gulls to be found. When the Bonaparte's are feeding in large flocks we can sometimes pick out a Black-headed Gull, Little Gull or even a Kittiwake but that wasn't going to happen today.
           However, we did find some good birds. We added more Dunlin and Sanderlings, plus a Ruddy Turnstone and Purple Sandpiper. There was a nice size flock of Long-tailed Ducks (formerly known as Oldsquaw) and about 8 distant Gannets, plus both species of loons. We located two Forster's Terns which were the only ones seen today and a few Buffleheads. While at Indian River I received another call, this time from Andy Ednie that the Caracara was back at the ball field. 
           Instead of heading directly back we made a stop at Silver Lake for the Canvasbacks that winter there ever year. We were hoping to find a Redhead in the flock of Canvasback but no luck this trip. 
Canvasback (by N Pulcinella)

           Upon arriving back at the ball field, there were a few folks standing around looking through telescopes, so we knew luck was on our side. We all quickly jumped out of our vehicles and walked to where the bird was perching and preening in a tree. We all had great views of the bird and looking through the scope we could even see the pink on the bill, the nice striped tail and the small spotting on the lower neck region. I quickly put out a text message to the Delaware birders and within minutes people started arriving. George Wrangham told me that he counted fifteen cars and 28 birders at the height of the gathering crowd.

Crested Caracara - overall brownish coloration instead of black like an adult bird
Caracara - back view - notice striped tail

Notice crest and pinkish base to bill - young bird.
          After viewing this magnificent creature for over thirty minutes, everything afterwards was anti-climatic. We made one more stop for the day at Broadkill Beach near Prime Hook Refuge and added Shovelers, Am Wigeons, Pintails and Green-winged Teals, plus Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay. We also found a flock of 13 Avocets in winter plumage.
Adult Cooper's Hawk (N Pulcinella)

Avocets (N Pulcinella)
           This was definitely an awe-inspiring day and one that will not be soon forgotten. We found 74 species which was a little below average, but the quality of birds certainly made up for that. We are already looking forward to next year's trip. Happy New Year everyone and have a good year of birding.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Chasing Northern New Jersey Rarities

Rock Wren

          My son Chris and family were visiting over Christmas and their stay was over.  Sharon and I had to drive them to the airport at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday. So we figured since we were up anyway that we would drive to northern Jersey and chase a few rarities that have been hanging around for awhile. 
         Our first stop was near Princeton Junction which was the location of two Barnacle Geese. Since we left the Philly airport around 6AM we arrived in Princeton around 7AM which proved to be too early for the geese to be roaming around in the fields where all the reports were saying they were located. So we drove around not having high hopes and eventually gave up on them and headed further north to a construction site in Somerset County.
          We arrived at the construction site and a few birders were standing around with binoculars and scopes but after asking, no one had found the bird as of that time.  We were looking for a Rock Wren, a western bird only occasionally found in the east. Since everyone was standing around, another birder from New York and I started walking around the building. I spotted some dumpsters and headed in that direction and what do you know but a Rock Wren pops up out of some old wooden pallets.
Cute little guy trying to hide from me
            Once we found it, I ran back to get the other folks while the New Yorker kept an eye on the wren's whereabouts. Fortunately, everyone got to see the bird. While we were standing around watching the wren I asked this local guy about other birds in the area. He happened to be doing the Christmas Count for Somerset County. He told me that about a mile from here there were 7 Sandhill Cranes in a corn field. So we jumped in the car and drove directly there. Sure enough they were right where there were supposed to be.
Seven Sandhill Cranes
          From here we headed 40 miles southeast to a location that was supposed to harbor both Pink-footed Goose and Greater White-fronted Geese. We spent about an hour searching the area but came up blank. It's always hard to find geese because they roam around so much and can be in a field not visible from your car. So we decided to head back and search for the Barnacle Geese again. 
             We searched for half an hour in the small area where they are usually found to no avail. So we started heading home and stopped at McDonald's for a bite to eat. In the meantime I checked the eBird alerts and some woman had relocated three Barnacle Geese on a little pond in a development. So we finished up lunch and drove back up north again for our third attempt. This time luck was with us and we were able to locate our quarry. We couldn't find three but were able to locate one.

          So after chasing four state birds we came away with two. I always say that if you can find a third of the birds you are looking for you are doing good. So we were happy with achieving 50%.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Black-headed Gull at John Heinz Refuge - 12/26/16

Black-headed Gull - 1st winter

          A first winter Black-headed Gull was first reported from John Heinz refuge on Christmas Day. The eBird alerts went out to late in the day for me to get to the refuge before sunset so I was there at first light on Monday Dec 26th. When I got the the boardwalk I was a little frustrated because there were only three Ring-billed Gulls flying around among the Common Mergansers, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Hooded Mergansers and Buffleheads. So after a half hour or so the gulls started streaming into the area but still only Ring-bills and one Herring Gull showed themselves. 
          Damon Orsetti soon showed up and then came Frank Windfelter. Around 8am I finally spotted the Black-headed Gull circling around behind us and it was putting on a real exciting show giving us great looks at this European vagrant. This was a new Philadelphia County bird for me and apparently only the second record for the county.
          Later that day I headed to the the Philadelphia Naval Yard and was able to find a Black Scoter sleeping among the mixed flock of Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks and Greater Scaup. This was my second new county bird of the day.
Black Scoter and Ruddy Ducks

Some of the 60 Canvasbacks

           So I figured good luck was with me today so Sharon and I drove up to the Wissahickon Valley Park. We arrived just after dark and walked a little ways down the trail to get away from the road noise. We then played a tape of the Eastern Screech-Owl. Sure enough I soon saw one fly in over our heads and land on a bare branch and started calling. This was a bird that I should have had on my Philadelphia County list previously, but never made the attempt to find one. Now that I did it was my third new county bird today. What a great day!
Black-headed Gull in flight - notice black tipped primaries, red legs and bill

And finally a great photo of an Eastern Screech-Owl at night

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Hi all

       I have made a simple analysis of eBird submissions from the past 6 years and you can see it below.

2016 Delaware County eBird Years in Review

***eBird Web Site ( for all kinds of data characterizations and how to join in if you care to do so. Except for the value of time and effort involved, it is all available free of monetary charge; allowing access to: review of data submitted from all over the world, rare bird alerts, feature articles, personal lists from life lists to specific area lists, and a venue for contributing to a data-base of world-wide submissions in a "Think Globally, Act Locally" manner.

***Species reported for each month for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016; year total for 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016; and All Time totals for each month and year for all years combined back to earliest entry from 1900:
2011:      J-077, F-071, M-083, A-134, M-140, J-100, J-078, A-119, S-098, O-128, N-089, D-092, Y-211
2012:      J-081, F-080, M-084, A-134, M-135, J-098, J-084, A-102, S-124, O-146, N-084, D-086, Y-216
2013:      J-084, F-079, M-098, A-130, M-147, J-087, J-102, A-109, S-129, O-113, N-087, D-098, Y-214
2014:      J-093, F-089, M-100, A-135, M-155, J-098, J-099, A-112, S-123, O-130, N-097, D-097, Y-220
2015:      J-081, F-081, M-104, A-150, M-152, J-112, J-082, A-120, S-129, O-124, N-098, D-089, Y-223

2016:      J-087, F-087, M-104, A-133, M-153, J-101, J-095, A-102, S-134, O-118, N-090, D-088, Y-213
All Time: J-147, F-139, M-152, A-220, M-234, J-156, J-159, A-189, S-233, O-228, N-182, D-173, Y-327

***Discussion via Bullet Points:

  • 327 species have been reported to eBird all time for Delaware County. No new species were added to the Delaware County eBird list since 2013 -  American Avocet.
  • 213 species were listed on eBird for Delaware County in 2016, 10 less than in 2015.
  • A new total species high count was set for 1 month out of twelve: September 2016 and also March tied with the record set in 2015.
  • 100+ species have now been reported in eight out of twelve calendar months at least once,  leaving only the winter months November thru February outstanding.
  • 150+ species have been reported for just two months: April & May. October is the only other month which approaches 150, missing by only six species.
  • 42 species have been reported for Delaware County for every one of the eBird bar chart weeks in a year.
  • The top 15 of 41 Delaware County eBird locations based on species diversity reported to date:

1.  John Heinz NWR-wetlands(Delaware Co) – 267 (two new birds added this year)

2.  Ridley Creek SP (IBA) – 202

3.  Delaware River-Ft Mifflin/Hog Island Rds-201 (two new birds added this year)

4. Tyler Arboretum – 185

5. Springton Reservoir (Restricted Access) – 182 (four new birds added this year)

6. Ridley Creek SP--Bridle Trail – 178

7. Darlington Tract – 173 (six new birds added this year)

8. Crum Woods – 160 (three new birds added this year)

9. Big Bend Farms (restricted Access) – 146 (seven new birds added this year)

10. The Willows – 145 (eight new birds added this year)

11. Rose Tree Park – 138 (five new birds added this year)

12. Haverford College (Delaware Co)- 137 (two new birds added this year)

13. Crum Creek Reservoir –132 (six new birds added this year)

14. Hildacy Farm - 130 (New to top 15 hotspots)

15. Thornbury Township Trail – 129(Two new birds added this year)

  • To view the list of the Top 100 eBirders for Delaware County in 2016, go to:

The top 100 birders in Delaware County submitted 213 species and submitted 2433 separate checklists. Way to go!!! And I know there a several good birders whose lists aren't counted. Maybe they will add their sightings next year. (Hint, Hint)
Delaware County data sets for bar chart and other eBird status & distribution characterizations were greatly increased in 2016 by the record participation of birders by/for whom data was entered. Thanks to all of you!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Birding South New Jersey Labor Day Weekend

              Hurricane Hermine was destructive in the Florida Panhandle and the Carolina coast but fortunately missed most of the New Jersey shore.  There were some high winds and tides but fortunately no rain or flooding.  We were able to tour the beaches after the mass exodus Saturday morning  when the visitors took Governor Christie and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz’s advice and went home or never risked coming down in the first place.                                                                                                                       
                In the afternoon there were strong winds when we arrived at Sunset beach on the southernmost tip of New Jersey.   It was tough to steady my camera in the wind but the gusts also slowed the flight of large numbers of Common Terns and at least 30 or more Black Terns just a hundred feet off the beach allowing me to get some decent photos. A few of the Black Terns even landed on the beach alongside the Common Terns but they flew away before I was able to unpack my camera.   

Black Terns

           After being blown around for an hour we decided to head over to the town of Cape May and walk along the Oceanside Promenade.  Not as many birds in the air except for the Laughing Gulls and some Royal Terns but lots of Black Skimmers hunkered down on the Beach. We were exhausted after being out in the wind after 3 hours and headed home for warmth and shelter.                                                                                                     
          The next morning I drove over to the South Cape May Meadows (just a mile north of Sunset Beach) to see if I could locate the Baird’s Sandpiper that had been observed there the week before.  Upon arrival there was a single sandpiper out on the mud flats but it was a considerable distance from the viewing tower and I had not brought my spotting scope.  I took some photos hoping to see more detail to help with the identification but they turned out to be grainy and not useful.  This was almost a repeat of last year when I saw a Baird’s in the same location which had been confirmed by a number of the CMBO members but it was so far away and the views so poor that I did not list as a “lifer”. Anyway I knew I would get back to this fairly reliable spot tomorrow.                                               
Baird's Sandpiper
          The following day which was Monday I visited Highbee’s Beach first and was immediately treated to a field of Bobolinks feeding on Sorghum and Sunflower seeds that had been planted there. 

              Intermixed with the Bobolinks were Red-Winged Blackbirds and a single Blue Grosbeak. 
Blue Grosbeak

         There were a few other birds of interest including Parula, Prairie, Yellow warblers plus Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart and a Red-Breasted Nuthatch.  Anxious to try my luck with the Baird’s I left Highbee’s and returned to the Meadows.  This time there was a flock of Least Sandpipers accompanied by a slightly larger Sandpiper which looked pretty much like the bird I saw yesterday.  In addition to the size it had a buffy head and breast band and a scaly pattern to its back.  I took some better photos since the bird was a lot closer this time and added the Baird’s to my life list!     
Baird's Sandpiper

          Wednesday morning I headed over to Cape May Point State Park since a Red-necked Phalarope was seen in the Bunker Pond next to the hawk watch platform. Sure enough the bird was right in front of the hawk watch stand but unfortunately it was back lit by the early morning sun and was partially hidden by the phragmites in front of it!  While I was trying to figure out a way to position myself for a better view of the bird a Peregrine Falcon appeared and proceeded to harass a Northern Harrier totally ignoring all the other shorebirds including the phalarope. Lucky for all the birds the falcon seemed to lose interest and headed out to the ocean.  After about 30 minutes the phalarope flew to the dune side of the pond and was no longer in front of the sun or behind the tall reeds.  I moved to the dune side of the pond and was a able to get some nice shots of bird before it flew off. 
Red-necked Phalarope

              I then walked around the rest of the pond and was watching a Great Blue Heron eating a snake when a bulky brown bird flew right over my head and landed on another edge of the pond.  It was a bit of a distance but I got a got look at an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.   
Immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
             At this point I decided to walk over  to the Meadows which adjoins the State Park.  This time no sign of the Baird’s but I did get some nice looks at some Pectoral Sandpipers, hundreds of Tree Swallows, a Glossy Ibis and a white phase Little Blue Heron. 
Great Blue Heron chowing down on a snake

Flock of Tree Swallows on the move

Glossy Ibis

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

          So in spite of the gloomy weather forecast for the Labor Day weekend the birding experience was anything but a bust.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Cape May Birding

We birders residing in the Delaware Valley are fortunate to live within the busy Eastern Flyway migration route. We are in easy driving distance to several migration "hotspots" and to me, the "hottest" of them all is Cape May, NJ. All the birds that migrate south through New Jersey end up sooner or later in Cape May and because of this, the quantity and diversity of birds found hear can be mind-blowing.

On Tuesday, October 11, 2016 I went birding at Cape May. A nice cold front had come through two days prior and as a rule the second day after the front is usually the best for migrants. The strong winds have usually subsided and birds are on the move.

I birded only three areas, spending the majority of time on the Higbee Beach Dike and walking around the Northwood Center. I made a quick stop at the Magnesite Plant hoping to find newly arrived sparrows.

Areas Birded - Higbee Dike, Magnesite Plant and Northwood Center.

Higbee Dike is an outstanding spot to watch migration, but it isn't for everyone. On a good flight day, the birding can be fast and furious. I would guess that 98% of the birds seen here are in flight only and of these, maybe 75% can be identified to species. If you are wanting nice, prolonged looks at birds, this is not the place, but, if you want an identification challenge and a chance to capture some unique flight images, then this is the place. This is frenetic birding that should be experienced by everyone at least once. The Cape May - Morning Flight Songbird Count is conducted here each fall August - October.

Some of images from the dike. 

This young Bald Eagle passed by soon after sunrise providing some nice photo ops.

There were a number of American Robins heading south.

This local Belted Kingfisher was busy searching for breakfast. 

October is usually considered the end to the warbler migration with diversity and quantity decreasing through the month, but it is also the peak time for Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. Both were evident today.  At times, flocks of 20-30 Yellow-rumps would be in view. A few other warbler species were also seen but in much smaller numbers.

These are a few of the Yellow-rumped Warblers that came by.

These are some of the other warblers that were migrating today.

Northern Parulas

Black-throated Blue Warbler 

Black-throated Green Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Palm Warbler

October also ushers in the peak of the Northern Flicker migration and today was no exception.

Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flickers

It appears this fall that we are in the midst of an incursion of Red-breasted Nuthatches and possibly Purple Finches, as sightings of these birds have been increasing weekly. Both species were seen today heading south.

Red-breasted Nuthatches

Purple Finches

Scattered within the flocks of Purple Finches were several House Finches.

House Finches

A species that I was a little surprised to see migrating along the bay was Eastern Meadowlark. The dike was entertained by a few fly-bys.

Eastern Meadowlarks

Of course, all this songbird activity attracts numerous raptors that are also heading south especially accipiters. 

Sharp-shinned Hawk was the most numerous raptor today.

A few other raptors were also cruising by.


Northern Harriers

Birding at the Magnesite Plant produced Chipping, Song, Savannah and Swamp Sparrows along with more Yellow-rumps but not much else.

Birding at the Cape May Bird Observatory's Northwood Center is much more relaxed even when the trees and bushes contain numerous birds. Here, the birds will be feeding on berries or insects, perched for a bit nearby or flitting from one nearby tree to another. 

Here are some images taken at the Northwood Center.

Cape May Warbler

Golden-crowned Kinglets

Red-eyed Vireo

Yellow-rumped Warblers

Here are my eBird Checklists for this outing.

Higbee Dike

Northwood Center

The official Morning Flight Count for this day can be found here