A March Big Day in Delaware

Last Saturday, Nate Fronk, Alan Kneidel, and I made a run for the March Big Day record for Delaware. We decided that owling in the morning was pointless due to ~20mph winds, so we left Newark around 5:00 AM. After quick stops at Helen’s Sausage House and Wawa, we arrived at the Indian River Inlet shortly after sunrise. Our first bird of the day was American Robin at the good ol’ Wawa. There was a nice raft of scoters, which contained all three species, just off the jetty that kept flying into and floating back out of the inlet (eBird Checklist). Other inlet highlights included a singleRed-necked Grebe at Burton’s Island, an Eastern Phoebe that was acting like a vagrant, and a flock of 55 Brant.

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Ruddy Turstones and Purple Sandpiper at the Indian River Inlet on 22 March 2014. Photo by Tim Schreckengost.

It only took an hour to pick up all of the birds we needed at the inlet, so we worked north towards Silver Lake (eBird Checklist) earlier than anticipated. Silver Lake harbors the largest wintering flock of Canvasback in Delaware. The high count for this winter was ~1,300 individuals. There were about 1,000 Canvasback on the lake along with good numbers of Mallards, Northern Shovelers, and Ruddy Ducks. Five Laughing Gulls also made a brief appearance.

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Canvasbacks, Northern Shovelers, and Scaup at Silver Lake on 22 March 2014. Digiscoped with an iPhone 5 + Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

After a quick scan of the lake, we worked north towards Cape Henlopen State Park. As we were driving through Rehoboth, Nate and Alan spotted a flock of Cedar Waxwings flying next to the car. We found a decent-sized flock of Snow Geese along Rt. 9 and were able to pick out three Ross’s Geese.

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Ross’s and Snow Geese in Lewes, Delaware on 22 March 2014. Digiscoped with an iPhone 5 + Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

We made it to Cape Henlopen State Park (eBird Checklist) at 9:19 AM and hit it hard and fast. We picked up our only Northern Gannet from the hawk watch platform, six Pine Warblers foraging on the ground near the playground, and six Piping Plovers and six American Oystercatchers on the bay side of The Point. Other highlights included a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chipping and Fox Sparrows, and Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks.

We made a quick stop at the Lewes Ferry Terminal (eBird Checklist), but found nothing unusual, so we continued our trek north to Prime Hook NWR. Oyster Rocks Rd. (eBird Checklist) is just south of the refuge, so we decided to hit the marsh adjacent to the Broadkill River to see if we could find sharp-tailed sparrows, rails, or possibly a Sedge Wren. We walked the edge of the marsh and managed to turn up a lone Saltmarsh Sparrow, which was a lifer for Nate!

From there, we moved quickly to Broadkill Marsh (eBird Checklist). The water level was down in the north impoundment, which provided ample habitat for returning shorebirds. We ticked Least Sandpiper (early), American Avocet, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. We then moved to the Headquarters area, where we picked up Blue-winged Teal, Glossy Ibis, Dunlin, Brown Thrasher, and a horde of dabblers.

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Gadwall at Prime Hook NWR on 22 March 2014. Digiscoped with an iPhone 5 + Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Fowler Beach Rd. (eBird Checklist) was a bust, except for a small flock of Black-bellied Plovers. Prime Hook Beach Rd. (eBird Checklist) held more of both ducks and shorebirds. Highlights included Short-billed Dowitcher, American Kestrel, and Peregrine Falcon. Other shorebird species included Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, and American Avocet.

Prime Hook Beach Rd. was our last stop on the refuge, so we worked north to Little Creek Wildlife Area (eBird Checklist) to tick the continuing Eurasian Wigeon. We hit the south impoundment at 3:22 PM and starting sorting through the mass of dabblers present. We eventually found the wigeon, but only had brief looks before it disappeared. We were sitting pretty good at that point with ~109 species.

We were still missing a few easy songbirds, raptors, and ducks, so we worked north again to our final destination, Bombay Hook NWR (eBird Checklist). We got to the refuge around 4:30 and planned to bird hard until dark. We scanned Raymond and Shearness Pools, and Bear Swamp quickly and made a run for the hardwood stand at Finis Pool. We did snag a Short-eared Owl at Raymond, which was a first in the daylight for me.

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Short-eared Owl at Bombay Hook NWR on 22 March 2014. Digiscoped with an iPhone 5 + Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

The hardwoods surrounding Finis Pool were extremely productive. We picked up Downy, Hairy, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers with ease and Tufted Titmouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Brown Creeper as well. The biggest surprise at Finis was a massive flock of about 70 Rusty Blackbirds that materialized out of nowhere. Hat-tip to Nate for picking up on a singing bird.

Rusty Blackbird - Bombay Hook NWR, DE - 3/23/14

Rusty Blackbird at Bombay Hook NWR on 22 March 2014. Photo by Alan Kneidel.

It was getting late, so we drove back through the refuge to do a marsh watch from the boardwalk trail at sunset. We were treated to a nice flock of Eastern Meadowlarks flying through the marsh as well as close, crippling looks at a Short-eared Owl. No rails, wrens, or yellowthroats were calling, so we walked back to the car. As soon as we got back to the road, we heard the distinctive “peent” call of the American Woodcock. There were at least four calling at once and one bird landed right next to the car!

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American Woodcock at Bombay Hook NWR on 22 March 2014. Photo by Tim Schreckengost.

It was getting dark, but we were still missing some “easy” owls. We were driving back to the Visitor’s Center and picked up Great Horned Owl on the way, species 119 for the day. We stopped a few times to listen for other species, but nothing turned up. As soon as we got to the Visitor’s Center, we stepped out of the car and heard the distinctive screech of a Barn Owl! Barn Owl was our last species, number 120, for the day. From what I can gather, the previous March Big Day record for Delaware was 109 species, so we upped that by 11 birds. The record is definitely beatable as we missed some easy birds, such as White-breasted Nuthatch, Merlin, Cackling Goose, and a few others. In the end, it was an awesome day of birding.