2017 Birding Vacation! Part 2

(This is Part 2 of the post “2017 Birding Vacation!”. If you’d like to read Part 1 of our trip, click this link)

We had a blast birding in Maryland at Pickering Creek Audubon Center and checking out the National Aquarium, but the fun wasn’t over yet. The following day Dave and I drove into Delaware to go birding at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

Bombay Hook is a 16,251 acre wildlife refuge located on the coast of Delaware near Delaware Bay. The refuge is mainly tidal salt marshes, but also features freshwater impoundments as well as upland habitats. Bombay Hook is a sanctuary and breeding ground for migratory birds as well as a variety of other animals. Spring at the refuge features the large concentration of shorebirds as well as warblers.

We arrived at the visitor center in the morning to a flurry of bird activity. There was a Purple Martin colony and the feeders were busy with House Finches, American Goldfinches, and sparrows. One particular male House Finch was more of an orange shade than red. Plumage (feathers) can vary in color based on diet, so if a finch is lacking certain nutrients it may be orange or yellowish. There was a short loop behind the center where we saw Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Yellow Warblers, woodpeckers, and a few Northern Mockingbirds. We even saw a cute immature Mockingbird.

Like Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, there is a wildlife drive that winds through the marsh and upland habitats. The drive begins at the Raymond Pool, which has a short Boardwalk Trail and an observation tower. Out in the pool there was a huge flock of Semipalmated Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, a Semipalmated Plover, Dunlins, a Solitary Sandpiper, and the bird I’ve been waiting for: the American Avocet. When I was planning our vacation and saw that we could see Avocets at Bombay Hook I knew we had to go. These elegant birds have long legs, rusty-colored necks, and a long upturned bill. They were beautiful to see in person.

 

On the other side of the pool we found some Snow Geese, Laughing Gulls, terns, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Red-winged Blackbirds, Double-crested Cormorants, and Common Yellowthroats. This trip was the first time that I’ve seen Dunlins in their breeding plumage. When they visit New Jersey in the winter they lack their large black belly spot, so it was cool to see them in breeding mode. A juvenile Bald Eagle appeared and picked up a dead bird that was nearby. We knew it was a juvenile because it was all brown and lacked the white head/tail feathers. It was one of 4 Bald Eagles we saw during the trip.

The Boardwalk Trail looped around a small section of the marsh, and there were Marsh Wrens everywhere. We see Marsh Wrens at Boundary Creek in the summer, but this trail was cool because you were on eye level with them. Marsh Wrens buzz around the cattails and reeds with their tails cocked up while making an elaborate, gurgling rattle. We weren’t able to get any good pictures since they were usually deep in the reeds, but we did get one of their nests. On the boardwalk we also saw Eastern Kingbirds, a female Northern Harrier, Tree Swallows, and Barn Swallows.

The next part of the loop was the Shearness Pool, which also had a short trail and an observation tower. This is were we saw our first Black-necked Stilts. These black-and-white beauties have long, thin red legs. Stilts have the second-longest legs in proportion to their bodies of any bird (second to flamingos of course). Nearby waded an unusual looking bird. It look nervous, constantly bobbing its head while it walked. It was deep in the water though, and you couldn’t see it’s legs. It’s neck was red, had a clean white belly, a thin bill, grayish-brown upperparts, and a very distinctive black eye patch. After much deliberation, we determined it was a female Wilson’s Phalarope. They are one of the few birds were the “gender roles” are switched: the females are more colorful than the males and defend the males who are busy raising the young. When I enter our finding into ebird, it came up as “rare” (even though our list from Bombay said they were “occassional”. I’ll keep you updated if our Phalarope is confirmed, but it was cool to find a rare bird on vacation. (Sorry the Phalarope photo is real blurry, it was use for proof, but maybe you might be able to confirm it for me)

 

Bear Swamp Pool featured a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers in the stunning breeding plumage. We did see one at Forsythe recently (while looking for the American Golden-Plover), but it wasn’t in breeding plumage. There were at least 60 relaxing on the mudflats. An Osprey appeared and was hovering over the water for a bit. We were watching it dive for fish, and a few more Ospreys appeared, until there were at least 5 fishing over the pool. Then a more unexpected visitor arrived: a raccoon. The raccoon was on the other side of the pool and swam over to our side. It was amusing to see a raccoon swimming in the salt marsh in the middle of the day. We drove up closer to where it stepped on land and it popped it’s head out of the bushes to look at us before hiding!

The last area was the Finis Pool. One the way we heard an interesting call from the woods; 3 clear notes ascending. We didn’t figure out who it was at the time, but I recorded it and learned yesterday it was a Northern Bobwhite singing his “poor-bob-WHITE!” song. We also stumbled upon some Great Egrets resting in a tree. It took a few minutes to realize they weren’t alone: there was a Little Blue Heron right next to them! On the way out we actually found a Bobwhite before it quickly ran back into the bushes.

We saw a whopping 55 species on our Bombay Hook Trip with 4 life birds (avocet, stilts, phalarope, and bobwhite). To see the full eBird checklist you can click this link. Combined with our Maryland trip we saw 6 life birds (the 2 Maryland ones were the Yellow-breasted Chat and White-eyed Vireo). We had an amazing time on our 2017 Maryland and Delaware birding adventure!

2017 Birding Vacation! Part 1

Hi friends! Sorry I disappeared for a little bit, but I have a good reason… Dave and I went on a birding vacation! We spent the weekend in Maryland and Delaware hiking and looking for new birds.

We had two major stops planned for our day in Maryland. In the afternoon we drove into Baltimore to explore the National Aquarium. It happened to be 90 degrees that day, so it was the perfect escape from the heat. There were some birds in the aquarium: an alcid (auk) exhibit featuring Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and Razorbills,;and a rainforest exhibit with a variety of birds flying around. But the main highlight of our day was spending the morning at the Pickering Creek Audubon Center in Easton, Maryland.

Pickering Creek Audubon Center is a 400-acre park on an undeveloped tributary of the Wye River. In 1981, George Olds and Margaret Strahl, who were brother and sister, donated Heigh-Ho Farm to the Chesapeake Audubon Society. The property later became Pickering Creek Audubon Center. The farmhouse and adjacent builds are still there and the first thing you see when you enter the park. Pickering Creek is hidden in a quiet rural area, and features fresh water wetlands, a meadow, and a mature hardwood forest. In the forest you can visit the house of Gilbert Byron, the American author and poet who lived on the property for 45 years.

Our adventure began on the Pond Loop Trail behind the farm. The trail was densely lined with trees and had numerous Wood Duck and Bluebird nest boxes. We were hearing a lot of birds but they were hard to spot through all the leaves. Some of the birds around the pond included Mourning Doves, Common Yellowthroats, Northern Mockingbirds, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and Indigo Buntings.

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Pond at Pickering Creek (Image by BirdNation)

We moved on to the Wetlands Trail. There are 2 observation decks that overlook a few small pools. The Wetlands Trail is where we saw most of our Wood Duck observations. Pickering Creek had numerous small ponds and plenty of trees/nest boxes, so it was no wonder that we saw at least 18 Wood Ducks (the most we’ve ever seen on a trip). There were even a few chicks swimming around with their mom. Other birds in the wetlands included Tree Swallows, an Osprey, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Mallards, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  We even found a raccoon sleeping in a tree with his little ear sticking out :-).

From the beginning of the hike we were seeing a bright yellow bird fly around over head. It was very vocal, had dull upperparts, white eyerings, and black on its face. It flew deep into the thickets being loud. We kept trying to get a good look at it, but were continually missing it. It wasn’t until towards the end of the Wetlands Trail when this mystery bird landed at the top of a nearby tree and sang that we got a good look at it. It’s song was quite unusual. It croaked, rattled, gurgled, whistled, and made all sorts of jumbled sounds. We later learn that we were watching a Yellow-breasted Chat. Yellow-breasted Chats are part of the Wood Warbler family, but seems like more of a mix between a warbler and a tanager. It’s the largest warbler, with a longer tail, a heavy bill, and a more varied repertoire of songs. It was fascinating to watch him sing from the treetops.

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Yellow-breasted Chat (Image by David Horowitz)

The final trail we took was the Farm to Bay trail, which leads out to part of the creek. Along the way we found Eastern Wood-Pewees, woodpeckers, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and our first White-eyed Vireo (although we wouldn’t find that out until the next day). Overall we saw 33 species during our walk.

We had a really lovely morning exploring Pickering Creek Audubon Center. If you ever happen to be in Eastern Maryland and want a quiet, rural environment, Pickering Creek is the way to go. You can check out their website at pickeringcreek.audubon.org.It was the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about our birding day in Delaware!