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.

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.

Delaware: A Twitcher’s Playground

I had just gotten back to Newark, DE after a 500-mile marathon drive from Charlotte, NC. I was on the downside of a 5-hour energy and the audiobook voices of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow were running rampant through my head.

Staggering into my room to lay down and rest my frazzled bum, I heard my housemate Taj Schottland screaming from down the hallway. Oh no, I thought.

Was there a rodent loose in the basement? Were there scantily clad babes at the door?

No and…no.

Instead, Taj alerted me that there was a King Eider in southern Delaware at the Mispillion River Inlet. Bzoink. My first reaction was NO. I WON’T. My second, involuntary brain calculation ran as follows a.) King Eider = state bird b.) must go now.

An 1.5 hour later we were standing on the deck of the Dupont Nature Center overlooking the Mispillion River flow into Delaware Bay. After moments of bird-less anxiety, we leaped into the air as a young male eider swam out from its sandbar recluse. The bird was visible for only ten seconds before it swam behind a wall of phragmites. Check out Tim Schreckengost’s account of this bird by clicking here.

Mission accomplished. Delaware year bird #260.

After the momentary elation, a tiny pang of guilt hit us. The come down. 1.5 hours of driving to watch a bird for ten seconds, only to turn around again? What’s wrong with us??

To solve this moral quandary, we drove another thirty minutes south to meet up with Tim Schreckengost and Ben Zyla at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Rehoboth.

What’s the moral of the King Eider Story? The moral is that in Delaware, even after 5 p.m., you can drive to the other end of the state, get a state bird and a couple beers, and get home by 9 p.m.

Okay, now let’s rewind a few months, back when I didn’t care about state and county lists.

That’s the attitude I brought with me when I moved to Delaware for graduate school in January. Although I’m a very serious birder, it took me a month to drive five minutes to see the 1st state record Anna’s Hummingbird. At the same time, I turned a blind eye to countless other nearby vagrants, whether it was a woodstar, fieldfare, or godwit. Rather than mooch off others discoveries, I’d always found greater thrill in the search for the unfound… or… maybe I just saw it as a waste of gas and time.

Then why did I drive down for a King Eider? A bird I’ve seen a bunch of?

Things change.

How?

You just have to move to Delaware. If, for whatever sadistic reason, you wanted to convert a sane person into a twitching lister, just tell them to pack their bags and move to The First State.

For state and county lists, nowhere is the playing field more level, the terrain more accessible. 3 counties. 1 state.  90 miles north to south, 30 miles east to west. Hilly and deciduous in the north, flat as a pancake marsh, pine, and agriculture to the south. It’s that simple. Highest elevation? A paltry 450 feet. There is nothing standing between you and running circles around this state.

Newark Reservoir, one of my new favorite haunts in Delaware. Best bird at the reservoir so far this year? Red-necked Phalarope.

It doesn’t hurt that packed within Delaware’s 2,500 square miles are some of the premier birding hotspots on the east coast, including Delaware Bay, Bombay Hook and Prime Hook NWR. The tiny state boasts around 405 recorded species, including mega rarities like Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern (three at one time) and European Golden-Plover.

I’ve now lived in Delaware eight months, and have become a compulsive state lister. Whereas I still scoff at breaking it down to counties, I’m not sure about anything anymore. I’m obsessed.

Anyways, I’d tell you more but I’ve got to go… I need to add Black Tern to my fledgling state list. And yes, I’m willing to mooch.

More stories to come.