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.