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.

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.

Migration – It’s Starting!

US Composite for 1 August 2013.

Migration is starting all over the country. Shorebirds have been on the move the past few weeks, but now songbirds are on the move as well! I was not aware that songbird migration started this early, but it was brought to my attention that migration happens at Higbees Dike year round. Sam Galick witnessed a decent morning flight of passerines on July 30th. He had a lone Louisiana Waterthrush, five Northern Waterthrushes, four American Redstarts, and an impressive count of 53 Yellow Warblers! Be sure to check out the eBird Checklist for his count.

Yellow Warblers

Yellow Warblers in morning flight at Higbees Dike, New Jersey, on 30 July 2013. Photo by Sam Galick.

Migrants should be trickling south through the northeast and upper midwest throughout the month of August and will begin to heat up near the end of August and into September. Here’s this week’s update from BirdCast:

“Scattered precipitation begets a slow start to many areas of the region this weekend, with light movements occurring where it is dry. However, portions of the western Great Lakes show signs of more movements to come, with favorable conditions that facilitate light to moderate movements there early in the weekend building South and East to begin the week. However, as high pressure moves off the Carolina coast, precipitation returns to shut down migrants in most places, again with the exception of portions of the western Great Lakes where light movements continue. This precipitation is tracking a low moving East across Canada, and as it departs more northerly flow builds over parts of the region. As this happen late in the week, more favorable conditions are in place for light to moderate movements to occur in areas free of precipitation. Birds on the move this week include Blue-winged Teal, early Ospreys, Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers, Solitary, White-rumped, and Pectoral Sandpiper, Yellow Warbler, and American Redstart.”

American Redstart

American Redstart at Higbees Dike, New Jersey, on 30 July 2013. Photo by Sam Galick.

What have you been seeing? Semipalmated and Black-bellied Plovers have been increasing in numbers along the Delaware Bayshore. Pectoral, Solitary, and White-rumped Sandpipers have been around for a week or two now, but not in significant numbers.

For Fall Migration Updates, check out the following links:

Upper Midwest – Woodcreeper.com by David La Puma
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – The Northwoods BIRDAR by Max Henschell
New England – Tom Auer’s blog
Florida/SE – Badbirdz Reloaded by Angel and Mariel Abreu
PA/Ohio Valley – Nemesis Bird by Drew Weber
NW Ohio – Birding the Crane Creek by Kenn Kaufman
Pac NW – Birds Over Portland by Greg Haworth
Continental US – eBird BirdCast Forecast & Report by Team eBird

Lifer Red Knot, finally!

Finally, finally, finally. I finally saw my lifer Red Knot at Prime Hook NWR (eBird Checklist) two nights ago. Actually, I saw 68 of them, some in alternate plumage, but most in basic. Just seeing a handful (give or take) in alternate plumage makes me long for knot migration next spring. Anyway, the birds were distant, but I did take some Phone Skoped shots of the flock.

Red Knots at Prime Hook NWR on 8 July 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Red Knots at Prime Hook NWR on 9 July 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Red Knots at Prime Hook NWR on 9 July 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Shorebird migration is on. Get out and check those mudflats!

Hummingbird Migration – Get involved with Perky-Pet!

There’s a cool Hummingbird Migration map over at the Perky-Pet Bird Feeders website that shows monthly sightings of Anna’s, Allen’s, Costa’s, Ruby-throated, and Rufous Hummingbirds. You can observe and share your sightings as well. It is very intuitive and takes no time at all to submit a sighting! You can even upload a photo of the hummingbird you’re submitting. Super easy, super cool, DO IT!

As a bonus for submitting a sighting, you get a code for 20% off an online purchase. What are you waiting for? Start entering your hummingbird sightings!