Previous Tours - CHINCOTEAGUE
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of
CHINCOTEAGUE & DELMARVA PENINSULA TOUR:
27-31 December 2005
1) HARLEQUIN DUCK
2) Brown-headed Nuthatch
3) Purple Sandpiper
4) Eurasian Wigeon
5) American Woodcock
6) Common Eider
7) Surf Scoter
8) American Oystercatcher
9) Northern Harrier
10) Eurasian Collared-Dove
CHINCOTEAGUE & DELMARVA PENINSULA
27-31 December 2005
Trip Report by John Puschock, Tour Leader
The first scheduled stop of the 2005 Delmarva Peninsula tour was Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, located along the western shore of Delaware Bay. We had several interesting sightings on the drive from our meeting place in Nottingham, PA - an adult Red-shouldered Hawk that flew across the highway in front of us, and a flock of Black and Turkey Vultures that we stopped to scope, but somehow they disappeared by the time we all got out of the van. But now we were getting down to business. As we arrived mid-morning, large flocks of Snow Geese were feeding in the fields along the entrance road. We also had our first Boat-tailed Grackles, a species restricted to coastal areas throughout most of its range.
Once inside, we looked through the waterfowl on the impoundments throughout the refuge. Tundra Swans, our only Common Mergansers of the tour, a fly-over Bald Eagle, and a Northern Harrier hunting right next to us were some of the highlights. Most of the dabbling duck species were there, too, but we couldn't turn up a hoped-for Eurasian Wigeon. We then headed south to our next stop, Port Mahon Road, where a flock of Dunlin put on a good show.
We made two more stops in the afternoon, both in Delaware. Silver Lake in Rehobeth Beach held a large flock of ducks close to shore. Most were Canvasbacks, but there were also good numbers of Northern Pintail and a few Lesser Scaup were also mixed in. Our final birding destination for the day was Indian River Inlet. Located on the Atlantic Coast, the inlet is lined by rock jetties. This was our first exposure to rocky shoreline habitat, and it brought a number of new species for us. A flock of Common Eider including a nice adult male was the big attraction here. Identifying eiders can sometimes be a problem: females and some immature Common and King Eiders are very similar, so it was nice to have at least one bird here that didn't require a seminar to explain its identification. We also added Red-throated Loon, Great Cormorant, Long-tailed Duck, Black and Surf Scoters, and Purple Sandpiper to the trip list.28 Dec
Chincoteague NWR, its namesake island, and the neighboring Assateague Island National Seashore were today's destinations. Interestingly, if I understand it correctly, Chincoteague NWR isn't on Chincoteague Island, though the town of Chincoteague is on the island. The refuge is located on Assateague Island, along with the seashore that bears its name. Confusing? Yes, and whenever one of the tour participants asked me if we were on Chincoteague, I played it up. It was like a "Who's on first?" routine. It sounded something like this:
Tour Participant: Are we on Chincoteague?
Me: Yes, but no. We're on the Chincoteague refuge, but we're not on Chincoteague Island, nor are we in the town of Chincoteague. We're actually on Assateague Island, but we're not on the Assateague Island National Seashore. We're on Chincoteague.
TP: Umm...what? So are we on Chincoteague or not?
Me: Yes, but no....
Well, it was funny to me. Anyway, Chincoteague is one of the best birding destinations on the Delmarva Peninsula. We saw all the expected species of puddle ducks, but numbers were low and we still weren't finding a Eurasian Wigeon. Waders also seemed to be down, but we did find an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron perched along a roadside ditch several times throughout the day. A highlight of the trip was finding a mixed-species flock in the refuge's pinewoods. The flock contained many Yellow- rumped Warblers and a few Carolina Chickadees, but the stars of the flock were the Brown-headed Nuthatches. Several of them were foraging at the ends of pine branches only six feet above our heads. This is some of the best looks that I've ever had of this species.
We also saw some Delmarva Fox Squirrels in these pinewoods. The squirrel is an endangered species that has been reintroduced to the refuge to establish another population. A couple of other non-native mammals are found on the refuge, and we saw both of them: Sika Deer, and the refuge's most famous inhabitants, Wild Ponies.29 Dec
The weather wasn't looking great today. It had rained overnight, and the clouds still looked threatening at dawn. We made several stops as we made our way to the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. Marbled Godwit was added to the trip list when a flock flew by us at Willis Wharf, and we picked up American Oystercatcher at, appropriately, the village of Oyster. One of the participants, Rich, spotted a flock of Wild Turkeys in a field as we were driving south. This was a new species never before seen on this tour.
After Oyster, we continued south on Highway 600, a lightly traveled two-lane road that goes through some agricultural areas. We found a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin in one field. We also added Eastern Meadowlark and Northern (Yellow- shafted) Flicker at this stop. Further down the road, we saw the only Semipalmated Plovers of the trip, Eastern Bluebirds, and a few Eurasian Collared-Doves, an introduced species rapidly expanding throughout the US. It's still an interesting species this far north, particularly during the winter, but time will tell if it will become as common as Rock Pigeons and European Starlings, as it has throughout the southern tier of the country.
The rain started coming down again, so we decided to head to the Sterling Bed and Breakfast in Cape Charles. Besides having a porch with a roof to keep us dry, an Allen's Hummingbird had been visiting a feeder there for about a month. We watched for an hour without catching a glimpse of the hummer, but we did get Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Hermit Thrush during the stakeout.
After the rain ended, we continued on to Kiptopeke State Spark, where we had great looks at Common Loon and Surf Scoter just offshore. We also saw Horned Grebe and Brown Pelican, though these birds weren't as close. We also took a hike through the woods and saw some more Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, and American Goldfinch, among others. I also heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, but I couldn't coax it out of the canopy and it remained unseen.30 Dec
Our day started early, about an hour before sunrise. Our first target was American Woodcock at the Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR. As the sky started to brighten, we could see their silhouettes as they flew from the brushy fields where they were foraging back into the woodland. They were also flushing from the edge of the road. We were able to spotlight a number of them and had awesome looks at several very close to our vehicle.
We then moved on to the islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I was expecting cold and windy weather out there based on the previous day's weather. However, we had quite the opposite. It turned out to be quite warm. We first stopped at Island 4. There were several hundred gulls here, but the diversity was low and we didn't get either of the white-winged gulls, Glaucous or Iceland. We did, however, get good scope views of Purple Sandpiper and Harlequin Duck. Several Northern Gannets also flew by. At Island 3, we saw Greater Scaup along with Lessers, and we had all three scoter species in the scope at once. A Harbor Seal popped its head out of the water while we were watching these ducks. We finished birding on the Bridge-Tunnel at Island 1, where we added Laughing Gull.
Lynnhaven Inlet in Virginia Beach was our stop for lunch. Everyone went into the restaurant while I paid for parking. While I was outside alone, I heard some Fish Crows calling. Luckily, they waited around for us to finish lunch so everyone could see them. After that, we drove a few miles further east to First Landing State Park, but unfortunately the warm weather brought out large numbers of people. Consequently, there was virtually no bird activity, so went back north, making stops at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR again and back to Cape Charles. We put in some time again waiting unsuccessfully for the Allen's Hummingbird and then went to a nearby pond where there were several Redheads and Ring-necked Ducks. A Cooper's Hawk buzzed by as we were watching the ducks.31 Dec
Today was the final day of the tour, so we had to return to Pennsylvania by late afternoon, but we still had time for a few more stops. We checked out Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR one final time before heading north. Here we finally had another Red- shouldered Hawk, our first since having one fly in front of us as we were driving to Bombay Hook on the first day of the tour. We also added Marsh Wren and American Pipit to the trip list.
Our final three birding locations were in Maryland. As we were making our way to Ocean City, we encountered a huge blackbird flock feeding in a field. Most of the birds were Common Grackles, an addition to the trip list. Then we went to a golf course on the outskirts of Ocean City where we finally caught up with a drake Eurasian Wigeon. In fact, we saw two males there. Afterward we stopped at Ocean City Inlet. Here we had American Oystercatchers and Purple Sandpipers practically at our feet.
Time was running out, so we had to call it a day to make sure we got back in time. But on our way back through Delaware, a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew across the road just ahead of us, the final new bird of our tour.
Favorite species of the
DELMARVA NEW YEAR'S TOUR,
conducted 28-31 December 1997,
as voted upon by the participants and leaders.
1) KING EIDER
2) Harlequin Duck
3) Saltmarsh Sparrow
4) Long-tailed Duck
5) Rough-legged Hawk
6) Common Eider
7) Northern Gannet
8) American Oystercatcher
9) Red-necked Grebe
10) Pine Warbler