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Thursday, January 2, 2014

2014 Delaware New Years Field Trip

Bruce Childs scanning the marshes at Port Mahon Road
      We launched the year 2014 with our field trip to the state of Delaware. We no sooner arrived at Port Mahon Rd when within a minute of getting out of the vehicles we had our Short-eared Owl scouring the marshes for breakfast. Also over the marsh were 7 Northern Harriers, a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds, about two thousand Black Ducks in the bay along with hundreds of Canada Geese and a small fly by flock of Dunlin. 

       I decided to change things up a bit this year and headed to the Dupont Nature Center and Mispillion Light at Slaughter Beach instead of going directly to Indian River Inlet. I was trying to time the tides at the inlet to our advantage. We were looking for Nelson's Sparrow at Mispillion Light, but couldn't pish one into view. As we drove to the nature center we encountered a slight problem with the roadway. It was covered in water from the rising tide. I decided to go first to test if the cars could get through. I drove through with my car door open to make sure the water wasn't to deep. It was quite deep actually, about 8" but I got through.
Navigating the 8" of salt water from the bay (photo by George Wrangham)
      We managed to get to the nature center and found lots of Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin and Ruddy Turnstones. I'm sure we missed other birds because we were in a hurry to leave as the tide was rising quicker than I thought. 
        Fowlers Beach was our next stop and we found lots a Snow Geese in the surrounding fields.
      At the beach access we found the road to the bay was closed. But we managed to add Tundra Swans and Greater Yellowlegs, plus Ruddy Ducks and Buffleheads.
        We arrived at Indian River Inlet around 10:30AM with an outgoing tide. This is what I was hoping for as it encourages the Bonaparte's Gull to feed in the riptides. We didn't discover any unusual gulls but found Gannets, both species of Loons, Red-breasted Merganser, Boat-tailed Grackles, 150 Long-tailed Ducks, Surf and Black Scoters and the best find was a female King Eider. Another surprise species was a Tri-colored Heron flying around and landing in the marsh grasses.
Long-tailed Duck in the inlet
       As we were driving south to Indian River Inlet I noticed that the Lifeguard station was gated closed. I knew that a Snowy Owl was hanging out there but didn't know how to approach the parking situation on the return trip north. I also knew everyone was expecting to stop there to hunt for the owl. Well on the way north, as we approached the lifeguard station there must have been twenty cars parked along the side of the road with a huge crowd of people standing around with binoculars and cameras. That solved the problem. We just pulled off onto the shoulder and got out to see the Snowy Owl just sitting on top of the dune visible from Rt 1.
A real crowd pleaser
        At Silver Lake we found the usual massive flock of Canvasbacks but also found three nice male Redheads floating among the Canvasbacks. At Cape Henlopen we stopped at the nature center to get the Brown-headed Nuthatch, but to our disappointment this is what we found.
Empty feeder (photo by George Wrangham)
       Apparently the staff never filled the feeder, so there were no birds. At that
 point we did get more Bald Eagles, Red-breasted Mergansers, Loons and Scoters and a flock of 180 Snow Buntings.
       Broadkill Beach produced Greater Scaups, Pintails and Coots. A walk around Prime Hook HQ added a few sparrows and woodpeckers but the surprise was three species of warblers, Yellow-rumped, Common Yellowthroat and Nashville Warbler. We could not find the expected White-crowned Sparrow. At this point we called it a day. We ended the trip with 89 species, a little above the average of 83. The weather was very copperative with little wind and temps in the high 30's. 14 participants joined in the trip. 
A departing photo from the boardwalk at Prime Hook


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