Loggerhead Shrike, 13 curves style!

As I drive around Sussex County, I’m always looking for vagrants/rarities. Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Mississippi Kite, you name it and I’m looking for it. One species I never seek out, but is always in the back of my mind, is Loggerhead Shrike. Loggerhead Shrike is an uncommon vagrant/migrant in Delaware with only 10 previously accepted records for Delaware.

Bobby Wilcox and I were driving down Thirteen Curves Rd. when I noticed a bird with bold whit wing patches flush off a tree and I yelled, “Shrike!” I immediately pulled the car over and started telling Bobby about how rare to uncommon shrikes are in Delaware.I thought here were more records, but as it turns out there are only ten accepted records. Why not add another to it?

As you can see, there are only TEN previously accepted records by DOS, so this represents the 11th state record, pending acceptance of course. I think this photo, as well as epic shots from Chuck Fullmer (see below), will get the record accepted.

Loggerhead Shrike - Delaware

It looks like a Loggerhead Shrike, or LOSH, right? The records committee should accept it, right? I hope so! I mean, I know my photo is nothing EPIC, but Chuck Fullmer laid down this crushing shot.

That’s what a 600mm lens can do. Some day, some day, I will have something that will produce a photo like this. Chuck is awesome. Everyone should hang out with him! Also, if you have a boat and need it wrapped and stored, check out Pontoon Express!

Everyone likes boats, right?

Connecticut Warbler at McCabe Nature Preserve

Early this afternoon I found a Connecticut Warbler at McCabe Nature Preserve (eBird checklist). I think this is the first record for the preserve, which is located just outside of Milton, Delaware. I had high hopes of landing a Nashville Warbler or Blue-headed Vireo for my Delaware year list, but had no expectation of finding a Connecticut Warbler (CONW). The bird wasn’t acting like a textbook CONW (you know, skulky and hard to see), but was straight up chillin’ on bare branches in a young hardwood stand. Who goes out to find a Nashville Warbler and finds a Connecticut Warbler? Anyway, I don’t have much time to write so here are the photos.

The next three photos are a bit overexposed, but still get the job done.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Cape Henlopen SP

Taj Schottland and I spent Saturday morning at Cape Henlopen Sate Park scouring the veg for migrants. We found a Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and two Red-eyed Vireos. Pretty lame, right? It got better as soon as we walked out to the beach near the hawk watch. We found a decent-sized flock of gulls resting on the beach containing Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There were five Lesser Black-backed Gulls mixed in with the flock. We later had two flyovers.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are relatively common along the Delaware coast in fall and winter, but can be found year round.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls records for August through March. Credit – eBird.org

I cannot remember the ages of all five gulls, but I have photos of at least three different birds. Two adults and one immature bird. I don’t have much experience with ageing, but I think the immature bird is a second or third winter bird. Suggestions or corrections are greatly appreciated.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Second or third winter Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

The four bottom photos were digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter.

Again, let me know in the comments what you think about the ageing of these gulls. Thanks!

Until next time, bird hard my friends.

World’s Best Birdwatching Shirts!

Everyone know’s about Punk Rock Big Year and Paul Riss. Well, he’s back with a new indiegogo campaign for the World’s Best Birdwatching Shirts!

Paul is trying to raise $3,000 to fund the campaign and is almost half way there. He’s starting with one shirt design, the Red-winged Blackbird, and if the campaign gets 100% funded, then he’ll expand with more shirt designs, coffee mugs, and other cool bird stuff. So, if you want to look rad while birding, then help Paul fund his campaign! Click on the image above to see what it’s all about!

A Week to Remember

It’s right around September that the lines get drawn in Delaware. For the past month and half you’ve been driving to Kent and Sussex counties to scour mudflats, impoundments, and potato fields. Maybe you’ve taken a break and looked for roosting terns at Prime Hook and Port Mahon. You’ve seen an amazing array of birds – grass-pipers, golden-plovers, pelicans, and ibis. Your car is covered in a fine layer of gravel dust, your legs have bloody red smears on them, and you still haven’t seen a Curlew Sandpiper. You’ve had a great time but it’s starting to get a bit repetitive.

Maybe its time for a change of scenery, you think.

Thankfully, you don’t have to go far. Drive north an hour to the Piedmont, to the land of steep hills and sinuous roads, to the land of broad-wings and mixed-species flocks.

September is prime time for birding in northern Delaware. It’s the one time of year that birders flock from the south to the north. The pendulum, at least for a while, shifts. For us who live in Newark and Wilmington, it also means it’s the one time of year when our birding commute is a short one. No more carpooling on the way to Sussex, wracked with guilt as we watch our odometers spiral higher and higher.

Instead, I’m fifteen minutes from home, perched on a grassy hill at Ashland Nature Center in Hockessin watching raptors zip by, waiting in anticipation for the big broad-winged push. I’m waking up at the crack of dawn to drive one mile to Middle Run Natural Area in Newark to sift through migrants dripping from the trees.

This past week in northern Delaware has been a spectacular one. Bouncing between Ashland and Middle Run, I’ve tallied around 110 species, including 26 species of warbler. The species highlights have certainly been the rare migrant warblers at Middle Run, including Connecticut and Golden-winged. People go many years without seeing these species, and I’ve been lucky to see both within a week.

Golden-winged Warbler at Middle Run Natural Area on 13 September 2013. Photo by Derek Stoner.

But that isn’t it. It’s more than the species list that’s got me going. It’s been the surreal spectacle of it all – feelings that are hard to put into words.

The first moment that comes to mind occurred at Middle Run on September 6th and 7th, after the passage of a cold front. Dawn on the 6th revealed dozens of warblers streaming from tree line to tree line, concentrating in the trees illuminated by the first rays of sun. The sky was filled with their flight calls. Soon, the birds settled into the forest edge and scrub, and the next few hours passed in a birding-crazed blur. Here is a link to the ebird checklist from the morning of the 6th.

At dusk that same day, several of us were standing in front of the tree island in the tall grass meadow, birding as the sun went down. As we stood transfixed beneath them, dozens of warblers bounced around the treetop in a frenzy of zugunruhe. There was no need to spot a particular bird, just scan the tree, and you would have a whole new set of individuals to identify. As darkness finally fell and the birds disappeared, we all just stood there laughing in elation. It was truly amazing.

The second highlight of the week took place at the Ashland Hawk Watch. As my friend Taj wisely said, what makes or breaks a hawk watch are the people. I couldn’t agree more. Thankfully, the people at the Ashland Hawk Watch are exactly what you want: knowledgeable, easy-going, and full of good stories.

Of course, having lots of raptors doesn’t hurt either, and September 13th-15th didn’t disappoint. Anticipation was in the air as the weekend started out, after several days of southerly flow were broken by a strong front. The expected numbers didn’t materialize however, as winds remained strong and the weather somewhat unsettled. Although several hundred birds were seen on the 13th and 14th, there was still a sense of discontent. We wanted thousands.

I decided to sleep in on the 15th, exhausted after a few days of binge birding. My first mistake.

Second mistake? Leaving my phone on silent. As I finally woke, I saw I had seven new text messages.

“A kettle of 1,000 Broad-wings is over the hawk watch.” Oh God.

“Everyone get to Ashland now.” Bzoink. 5 minutes later I was out the door.

I arrived just as the tally hit 4,000 Broad-wings, and before the day was over it was to surpass 7,000. I lay on my back watching kettles circle overhead in the cloudless sky. It was dreamland. And of course, wonder is best served with good company… and that was certainly the case. Here is a video of a large kettle of Broad-winged Hawks over Ashland on the 15th.

Aside from the birds in New Castle County this week, I’ve spent time with great friends and made a lot of new ones. I got to witness the great hordes of an enthusiastic next generation at the ABA Young Birder Conference at Ashland. I got to hear a young birder correct his Dad as he asked his son if he had seen the bird species called a “Kettle.” The response? “Gosh, Dad. A kettle’s not a bird.” Late that night, surrounded by friends old and new, I rolled around in laughter at Pish & Twitch. Mad respect to my fellow rappers.

From left to right, Tim Schreckengost, Alan Kneidel, Ben Zyla, and Taj Schottland

All in all, I’ve got to say, September has solidified its position as the best month around. How do I know? Saturday night I kneed a hole in the drywall I was so excited. And September’s only half over! So… see you out there. There’s a front coming through.

Follow Migration with the Bird Migration App for iOS!

A while ago, an app surfaced called Bird Migration (for iOS only), developed by AppArchitect. The app gives you access to iOS friendly views of the National, Northeast, Southeast, Central Great Lakes, South Mississippi Valley, Upper Mississippi Valley, Great Plains, North Rockies, South Rockies, Northwest, and Southwest radars, but more specifically the reflectivity. With the a of the screen, you can see migration in real time. It’s that easy!

The app also gives you real-time winds from Weather Underground and links/access to radar predictions and analyses from various bird blogs. Bird Migration is free in the app store.

On a side note, I wrote up a summary of all the bird migration resources available online – The Ultimate Guide to Migration Online. Check it out!

Bar-tailed Godwit at Chinc – Twice!

During the month of August, I made the hour and a half drive to Chincoteague NWR, twice. The reason for both trips was to see the MEGA – Bar-tailed Godwit. The first trip took place on August 5th, where I met up with studs like Alex Lamoreaux and Tom Johnson as well as a dude doing a Big Year (you’ve all seen the movie, right?) and several other folks I’ve never met before.

Before I started the drive, Alex texted me that the bird was not refound, yet. I decided to make the drive anyway, just to meet up and bird with friends I only get to see every couple of months. When I rolled into the parking area at the Tom’s Cove Visitor’s Center, I saw Alex and proceeded to shoot the you know what for about fifteen minutes. I then suggested we walk across the road to look in Swan Cove as I saw several large shorebirds in the pool when I drove in. We walked over and started scanning through the birds – “Willet. Dowitcher. Marbled Godwit. Hey, wait, what is that dowitcher-type bird with a bicolored bill? Oh man, that’s it!” We jumped for joy as we drooled at the sight of this European rarity. OK, so maybe we didn’t drool, but I know Alex was close. We watched the bird for over an hour and got exceptional scope looks.

Bar-tailed Godwit (ssp. lapponica) - Virginia

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 5 August 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

The second round ensued on August 24th. After a morning of bird surveys, Ben Zyla and I made the trek down to Chinc. Ben was looking to add the bird to his growing ABA year list. Again, we rolled up to the Tom’s Cove Visitor’s Center and started scanning Swan Cove. A few other birders were there and had already spent several hours searching for the bird. Discouraged and having no luck with the MEGA, Ben did what any sensible birder would do – look through flocks other than the flock of Marbled Godwits we stared at for what seemed like hours. Boom. He found it. The Bar-tailed Godwit was mixed in with a nice, tidy flock of Willets.

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 24 August 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Epic. Ben was stoked, as were the the rest of the bird nerds present. We watched the bird for an hour or so. It took flight several times and flew over to Tom’s Cove, then came right back. Eventually it decided to chill with it’s own kind – Marbled Godwits, and that’s when we hit the road back to Milton.

Bar-tailed Godwit (ssp. lapponica) - Virginia

‘European’ Bar-tailed Godwit and Willet at Chincoteague NWR, Virginia on 24 August 2013. Photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Two for two. I consider that a success. Until next time, bird hard my friends.