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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

One and Done???

About 346 species have been recorded in Delaware County (Delco). Of this total, 32 species have been seen only once. Shall we call these 32 species the One-and-Done group? That is, these birds have been seen once, but, will they be seen again. Let’s take a look at each one and figure out if they’ll be seen again. 

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck - Four birds were at the John Heinz N.W.R. 6/2/2020 visiting both Philadelphia and Delaware Cos. I’m a little surprised that it took so long for this species to make the Delco bird list. This species is annual in the mid-Atlantic and I would expect that it will probably make more appearances in Delco. 

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks 6/2/2020 John Heinz N.W.R. (Rob Fergus)

Tundra Bean-Goose - A “Mega” find for Delco and I’m not sure if there will ever be another. The goose was present 12/16-20/2020 first at Springton Res. and then visiting Springton Lake Middle School, Springfield Country Club and some other nearby areas. It is extremely rare outside of its Siberian range. Probably one of the rarest birds to ever visit Delco. 

Tundra Bean-Goose 12/20/2020 Rolling Green Country Club (Todd Fellenbaum)

Harlequin Duck - A female seen in southward flight along the Delaware River from Hog Island Road. Bizarre as to location and date, 7/9/2021, it may have been displaced by the recent passing of a tropical storm. Displaced, but from where, as there are very few July records except for injured birds in the mid-Atlantic.

Eared Grebe - One was on the Delaware River at Hog Island Road 3/23/07. This species should be found again maybe at Springton Res. 

Calliope Hummingbird - A female or immature was seen briefly while perched in a tree at Taylor Memorial Arboretum 9/17/2020. Keeping a close eye on hummingbird feeders, especially after mid-September may turn-up this species again.

Allen’s Hummingbird - One of the rarer hummingbirds to visit the east in late fall and one of the most difficult to identify without in-hand measurements. An adult female was visiting a feeder in Springfield 12/9-19/2020 and was banded during its stay. After departing Springfield, this same bird, verified by recapture, was found in Philadelphia 1/6-22/2021.

Allen’s Hummingbird 12/17/2021 Springfield (Adrian Binns)

Wilson’s Plover - One was reported by two experienced birders at Springton Res. 5/10/1952. This species is extremely rare away from the immediate coast, so I’m not certain it will return to Delco.

Piping Plover - The only report is of four birds seen in the Darby Creek marshes 8/1/1950 by a single experienced birder.  The date of this sighting fits within this species’s Fall Migration pattern in the mid-Atlantic, but the report of four birds raises a red flag for me that maybe it was a mis-identification.

Black-tailed Godwit - The report of this bird in the Darby Creek marshes 10/16-26/1979 attracted birders from all over the country. This is one species I expect will be found again maybe on a sandbar in the Delaware River.

South Polar Skua - Another amazing find. This bird was found and photographed by storm-watchers as it flew along the Delaware River at Hog Island Road during the passing of Hurricane Isaias 8/4/2020. Interestingly, a South Polar Skua was seen on the same day flying south of the George Washington Bridge in New York City. This species is very seldom displaced by storms which makes this sighting exceptional and possibly a One-and-Done.

South Polar Skua 8/4/2020 along the Delaware River at Hog Island Rd., Tinicum Twp.during Hurricane Isaias (Ross Gallardy).

Pomarine Jaeger - A group of 19 was seen flying along the Delaware River near Chester during the passing of Hurricane Sandy 10/30/2012. With the dedicated coverage along the Delaware River by storm-birders, this species will probably be seen again.

        Pomarine Jaegers 10/30/2012 along the Delaware River at Chester (Jeff Davis)

Parasitic Jaeger - One along the Delaware River at Hog Island Road during Hurricane Sandy 10/30/2012. As with the previous species, it should be found again.

Black-legged Kittiwake - The only report is of an immature seen in flight by two birders in a boat on the Delaware River near Marcus Hook 12/11/1992.  With dedicated late fall - early winter coverage of the Delaware River this species will probably be found again

Sabine’s Gull - Two were seen on the Delaware River at Hog Island Road 9/6/2006. Sabine’s Gull has a known overland migration and becomes widely displaced by Tropical Storms so this species should be found again. A caveat, this sighting was not storm related.

Common Gull - One photographed sitting with other gulls on at the Ridley Township Marina on Darby Creek 2/1/2020. The recent splitting of the Mew Gull complex into Short-billed Gull (US west coast) and Common Gull (Europe and Asia) added very little new identification information. This particular individual showed a dark mantle consistent with the Kamchatka race of Siberia. Carefully checking over flocks of gulls might turn up another. 

Common Gull, dark-backed gull in the back, 2/1/2020 Ridley Twp. Marina. (Samuel Neat).

California Gull - One seen on the sandbar in the Delaware River from Hog Island Road 12/31/2020. There are several records of this species in southeast PA, so I think with careful study of gull flocks, another will be found.

White-winged Tern - The bird, discovered during the Big Sit event at John Heinz N.W.R. 10/8/2017 spent most of its time in the Philadelphia Co. portion of the refuge. It was seen flying into the Delco portion during its stay. This bird may have been the same individual that was present near Wellsboro in northeast Pennsylvania 10-13 Aug 2017. There is a slim chance another may turn up in Delco especially during the Black Tern migration.

White-winged Tern 10/8/2017 at John Heinz N.W.R. (Adrian Binns).

Sandwich Tern - One was reported along the Delaware River at Hog Island Road 9/2/2006 during Hurricane Ernesto. Dedicated storm-watching may produce another.

Leach’s Storm-Petrel - Another “Mega” storm bird seen on the Delaware River at Marcus Hook 10/302012 during Hurricane Sandy. Highly unlikely, but not impossible that another will be displaced by a storm.

Leach’s Storm-Petrel 10/30/2012 along the Delaware River near Marcus Hook (Tom Johnson).

American White Pelican - Great find as five were seen heading south in flight over Haverford College 6/4/2019. No doubt, the same five birds were seen 6/5/2019 loafing on the Delaware River from Hog Island Road.

American White Pelicans flying over Haverford College 6/4/2019 (Kristen Johnson)

American White Pelican on the Delaware River near Hog Island Rd., Tinicum Twp 6/5/2019 (Damon Orsetti)

Say’s Phoebe - One was reported without details from Media 11/24/1979. I’m surprised another hasn’t been found since it is a rare and regular late fall visitor in the east.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - The only report was of one seen flying in the area between the south end of the Philadelphia Airport and the Delaware River 10/26/1972. Like the Say’s Phoebe, it is rare and regular in the mid-Atlantic from late Summer through late Fall so another is due. Identification should not be a problem.

Violet-green Swallow - One seen in flight within a flock of Tree Swallows along the Delaware River at Hog Island Road 10/29/2020. Very rare in the east during Fall Migration, this might be a One-and-Done.

Cave Swallow - A bird that was present at John Heinz N.W.R. Philadelphia portion 10/31/2012 would occasionally cross into Delco. Should be looked for again in late fall as there are many records in the east from Oct-Dec. Fall birds have been determined from specimens as belonging to the southwest race Petrochelidon fulva pallida. 

Golden-crowned Sparrow - One reported without details in the Delco portion of John Heinz N.W.R. 1/12/1961. Rare, but nearly annual, in the east, it should be looked for within flocks of sparrows.

Le Conte’s Sparrow - One was at the Darlington Tract 1/25-2/28/2009.There are numerous records in eastern PA in late Fall and Winter and Delco should produce another one of these skulkers.

LeConte’s Sparrow 1/31/2009 Darlington Tract, Middletown Twp. (Adrian Binns)

Swainson’s Warbler - One at Ridley Creek S.P. 8/14/1997 was great find. Most mid-Atlantic records are from overshoots during Spring Migration and it is very possible that is when the next will be found. 

Black-throated Gray Warbler
- One was observed and photographed in Little Crum Park in Swarthmore 11/29/1972. Rare and regular in late fall and winter in the mid-Atlantic states and should be found again.

Black-throated Gray Warbler 11/29/1972 Little Crum Park, Swarthmore (Horace Alexander).

Townsend’s Warbler - A male was seen by many at Cobbs Creek Park 11/20-21/2010. A report from Tyler Arboretum from 17 Nov 1973 could not be verified but may be a good record. Late Nov and Dec is a good time to look for this species in wooded areas.

Black-headed Grosbeak - One bird was seen at the south end of the Philadelphia Airport 5/10/1987. This species is rare and irregular in the east in both Spring and Fall with a few more records in Fall especially Nov. Most likely will be found again.

Painted Bunting - A male seen by many was visiting feeders in Broomall 3/7-20/1993. Rare and regular in the mid-Atlantic in late Fall and Winter especially at feeders. Hopefully, the next one will also be a male.

Here are a few species that have been recorded more than once, but not in a very long time (30+ years). These are all possible again so be on your toes.

Species             Last Seen         Years since last sighting 

Dovekie         1950          72

Pine Grosbeak 1961 61

Black-backed Woodpecker 1962 60

Black Rail 1970 52

Northern Gannet 1975 47

Boreal Chickadee         1975 47

Yellow Rail 1977 45

Loggerhead Shrike 1979 43

Curlew Sandpiper         1981 41

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Rail Trip April 30, 2022



                On April 30 2022 a group of birders traversed the state of Delaware on a search for nocturnal birds.  Seven of us met at the Odessa Park and Ride at 9 PM with high hopes of finding some birds that we often don’t get the chance to see or hear.  We started by caravanning to Greer’s Pond on Dutch Neck Rd near Port Penn. I was hoping for an American Bittern for my New Castle County list but unfortunately that was not in the cards tonight. The first bird we heard after exiting the cars was a calling Barred Owl. After listening for 10 minutes to the various frogs and other creatures we picked up a calling Sora Rail and Common Gallinule and not long afterwards, we were surprised by a calling Barn Owl flying in the distance. If we didn’t know that it was a Barn Owl the sound of it screaming could be quite scary.

                Moving on to Reedy Point Bridge we encountered at least three calling King Rails. Although the winds were calm and the skies were clear not much else could be heard from the marshes except Canada Geese and Mallards. At the Ashton Tract the marsh was unusually quiet but with binoculars we could see Great Egret and Great Blue Heron silhouettes in the ambient lighting.

                From here we traveled to Bombay Hook NWR. As we were driving down Whitehall Neck Rd we were stopped in our tracks when we spotted the eyeshine of an Eastern Whip-poor-will just resting on the road in front of us not more than 15 feet away.

                Entering the refuge and after using the facilities we drove a short distance and then got out of our cars. Andy noticed a bird overhead and turned on his mega spotlight and was able to follow our second Barn Owl of the evening that was flying in circles above the group. This had to be the best view I’ve ever had of a Barn Owl in flight, noting its bright white underparts as they glimmered in the bright light. We could even see the hear-shaped face and the black eyes staring down at us as it made several passes. It finally flew into the nearby trees and out of sight. It was magnificent!

                At the marsh boardwalk we heard a male and female Great Horned Owl duetting. We picked up our first of several singing Marsh wrens and two Greater Yellowlegs. Although we couldn’t see them in the dark the White-throated Sparrows obviously knew we were there as they would give out their alarm calls as they scattered ahead of us. On the boardwalk we played a tape of Virginia Rail and had at least 6 birds call back, plus three or four Clapper Rails. Andy and I were pretty sure we heard the grunt call of a Black Rail but we decided not to count it. Although I have heard probably a hundred plus calling Black Rails I have yet to mark it off as a lifer since I have yet to see one. In the distance I picked out the call of a Dunlin talking in the marsh. At Raymond Pool we found more Virginia Rails and one Seaside Sparrow decided to let us know of his presence by singing from the reeds across the channel.

Shearness Pool is usually a good spot to find American Bittern but we had no luck with them tonight. We also could not locate a Least Bittern but did take notice of the two Black-crowned Night-Herons calling from the tree line. We stopped at Parsons Point parking area and played a Screech owl tape and got three owls to response. Once again Andy was able to get the light on one of the owls and we watch it flying around the trees for a minute or so.

                As we were departing Bombay Hook, we made one more stop at the construction site of the new HQ building and found a baby fox wondering around its den. Andy was able to spotlight it for the group to view. He was a cute little fuzz ball. We saw at least three foxes in the refuge this evening plus others along the main roads.

                Our last stop of the evening was on Pickering Beach Rd in hopes of hearing a verifiable Black Rail. Some of you might remember a few years back that this road was where we had a Yellow Rail calling. By the time we arrived it was 1:45 AM and the wind had suddenly picked up considerably. It was also getting very chilly. We had no luck with the Black Rail but added another Virginia Rail. So we decided to call it a night and say good night to everyone and start the long drive home.  

We managed to find 4 species of owls and four/five species of rails plus a few herons, shorebirds and sparrows. I’m already looking forward to doing this again soon.

Owls seen or heard included 4 Great Horned Owls, 3 Eastern Screech Owls, 6 Barred Owls and 4 Barn Owls. Rails included 3 King Rails, 5 Clapper Rails, 8 Virginia Rails and 2 Soras.