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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%.