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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Spring migration has certainly picked up in the last few weeks with Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Louisiana Waterthrush all becoming rather common in appropriate habitat. This weekend I finally got the chance to see some new spring migrants with both Pine Warbler and Palm Warbler at Rose Valley Lake.
Purple Martins have returned to their roost on County Farm Road just north of Montoursville and Spotted Sandpiper and Green Heron have appeared at Rose Valley Lake once again. I even had my first Chimney Swift, twittering high overhead of my house.
More migrants should be showing up daily throughout the state so get out and keep your eyes open! Some of the best places in Lycoming County to find spring migrants is Rose Valley Lake, Rider Park, and Canfield Island.
For the past couple of weeks, Kyle Horton and I have been searching for the perfect migrant spot in southern Delaware. We’ve tried Cape Henlopen State Park, various local parks in Lewes, Rehobeth, and Milton, the University of Delaware College of Marine Studies campus, the local Kmart parking lot, and a nice piece of Nature Conservancy land this evening. Every morning and night we are checking the radar and weather patterns (radar at Nemesis Bird) to try and predict bird movements. Also, we are occasionally listening for flight calls throughout the night and have had a few excellent nights and mornings.
Fall migration is definitely upon us in southern Delaware and may have peaked already, but we are not finding the birds. Despite our efforts, we are dipping incredibly hard on flocks of migrants. We have come across five to ten species of warblers on a few days, but our counts are usually less than five species. We’ve tried early successional habitat, scrub-shrub, edges of fields, and mixed hardwood forests and have come up with barely any noteworthy results.
Thrushes are a different story. We’ve heard several Veery and Swainson’s and Gray-cheeked Thrushes flying over throughout the night and have not found a single migrant thrush in the area. We even looked on eBird and there are almost no reports of Catharus in southern Delaware. I’ve experienced the same phenomena in central Pennsylvania with thrushes. There would be hundreds of thrush calls just before sunrise, but then we could not locate any on the ground. At least Scotia was awesome for warblers.
Where are we going wrong? What should we do? Where should we look? Are there any Delawarians out there that could provide some insight or a solution to our problem? I haven’t even grabbed a nasty shot of a warbler yet this fall. This is the best I have done:
Please post in the comments if you have any suggestions or tips for birding migration in southern Delaware. Thanks!
Last night we saw our first big push of Blackpoll Warblers into southern Delaware. I was expecting migration to be decent after looking at the radar combined with a decent north wind (radar over at Nemesis Bird). There were a lot of birds moving south, which made room for just as many coming in from the north. Kyle Horton and I birded around the University of Delaware College of Marine Sciences campus for almost three hours this evening and found at least 8 Blackpoll Warblers in the early successional habitat.
Blackpoll Warblers breed primarily in the boreal forests of Canada and is a trans-Atlantic migrant. After leaving the U.S., they make at most a 3,500 km voyage across the ocean to their wintering grounds in South America. This gives them the award of the warbler with the longest migration. Migration is truly fascinating, isn’t it?
Migration is still in full swing throughout much of the country and will continue through the next several weeks. There were quite a few migrants around this evening as we tallied seven species of warbler. Some areas are already starting to see an influx of sparrows and an irruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches and Red Crossbills.
University of Delaware–College of Marine Studies, Sussex, US-DE
Sep 11, 2012 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
38 species (+3 other taxa)
Great Blue Heron
Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted)
Yellow Warbler (Northern)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)
For more information on Blackpoll Warblers check out the species account at the Boreal Songbird Initiative!
Last Wednesday I decided to meet with some of my Penn State birding buddies for a day to catch up and go birding. I left my house at 3:30 in the morning and arrived at Scotia Barrens around 5:15 to prime my ears for nocturnal flight calls. Nate Fronk met me at the research shed around 5:30 and we picked up a couple Swainson’s Thrushes and a single Veery flying over. Needless to say, there were almost no birds flying over before sunrise. While listening for flight calls we heard two Eastern Whip-poor-wills, Wood Thrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, and the usual predawn suspects. Several other birders showed up as we started walking the road towards the shooting range to look for flocks of migrants. I tallied 43 species, while Nate had a couple more including a Blue-winged Warbler that never made it’s way into my field of view. From there, Nate, Ian, and I went to the Scotia Pond where we picked up 17 species with no real highlights.
After birding the pond, everyone else headed to class or back to sleep so I drove to the Polled Hereford Pond and picked up Least and Spotted Sandpipers and Blue-winged Teal (Polled Hereford Pond Checklist). I then went to the Duck Pond to tick a few of the summering waterfowl including Redhead and Ring-necked Duck, but dipped on a Gadwall that Alex Lamoreaux had a day or two prior (Duck Pond Checklist).
I called Drew Weber to get directions to a hot spot for Bobolinks and Grasshopper Sparrows that I visited last year when he told me about Red-headed Woodpeckers that were being seen just outside of town on Airport Rd. I got there around 10:30 and couldn’t seem to find the Red-headed Woodpeckers. I knew the task wouldn’t be easy and that the birds are usually hit and miss in the area. I ended up finding one individual near the intersection of Rt. 144 and Airport Rd (Airport Rd. Checklist).
From Airport Rd. I drove to Colyer Lake Recreation Area to check the mudflats for migrating shorebirds and to scan the close ridges for raptors. Once there, I only spotted one Spotted Sandpiper on the almost nonexistent mudflats and had an adult Bald Eagle fishing in the lake. A few minutes passed and I had a beautiful Broad-winged Hawk fly out of the trees next to the parking lot. In the half hour I spent there, I picked up 14 species and a few butterflies as well.
Before meeting my friends for lunch and beers at the local Irish Pub, I checked out the PSU Retention Pond on campus for shorebirds, rails, and waterfowl, but I only found a lone Mallard. Lame. I spent 20 minutes there and tallied 15 species. I think I had some failed attempts at photographing butterflies there as well. After lunch, I made my way to last year’s hotspot for Bobolinks and Grasshopper Sparrows. I spent a long, hot, hour hiking through the fields scouring the thistle for sparrows and anything else I could find. 21 species made their way into my bins in the hour and by the end I was ready for another beer. I spent the last of my time birding Julian Wetlands, which was a bust. There was absolutely no water in the “wet lands” for shorebirds or rails to forage (Julian Wetlands Checklist). I spent little time there before heading to Otto’s for a round to round out my day of birding in State College.