Friday, August 14, 2015

ABA Camp Avocet 2015; Guest Blog #4

Hi birders, its Tim. Once again, I'll be sharing with you my wonderful experiences at Camp Avocet. Check out my first three posts if you haven't already.

Day 4 of camp was our long looked forward to trip to Cape May. Because we were to take the ferry from Lewes to Cape May, we had a late start for birding since the departure time for the ferry was 8:45.

Even if we had a late start, the ferry was nice and cool, compared to the rest of the week, and we saw many flocks of feeding Wilson's Storm-Petrels, Brown Pelicans, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and some of the group saw a Black Tern and a Sandwich Tern (both would have been lifers), neither of which I saw. I was starting to get  worried that I wouldn't see a Black Tern again at camp, but I knew there would be more Sandwiches at Chincoteague tomorrow. Like Gull-billed Terns, Sandwich Terns are rarities in Delaware even though in surrounding states they are regular.

Once we arrived at Cape May, We headed straight to Higbee Beach, a great songbird migration spot during fall, but sadly, it wasn't even near the peak of songbird migration. We split up into two groups, but neither of the groups were too successful. We managed to pick up American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird, and Black-and-White Warbler, but otherwise it was unpleasantly hot and quiet bird wise.

After Higbee, we headed to Cape May Point for lunch where we met Richard Crossley. We birded around after lunch, and all I could think about was how hot it was. We did find some Black Skimmers and a horde of Mute Swans though.

We then headed to the Observatory Giftshop, where Crossley gave us a talk about how to become an experienced birder (in his awesome British accent) and we bought birding books and guides. Little did we know that a Great Shearwater had washed up on a beach a couple months ago, and that we were going to be able to study it. Steve Howell taught us about feather groups, why shearwaters have tube noses, and much more while handling the handsome bird. Because the shearwater was frozen, Steve asked if we could microwave it so that it would be easier to move it's wings. I think we might have been the first people on earth to nuke a tubenose.

After studying the shearwater, we headed to The Meadows for some last minute birding at Cape May. This turned out to be the most productive of the places at Cape May, as there was a continuing American Wigeon there (very rare at this time of year). We also found a pair of Gadwall, two Pectoral Sandpipers, a load of Glossy Ibis, and a Great Egret eating an eel.

As we were scanning the pools, I decided to look on the other side of the dike and look for shorebirds there. Two small terns were heading down the channel, and I checked them to see if they were both Leasts. The one in front had oddly dark wings, but it was the same size as a Least. Then I got a glimpse of the black patch on the back of the head. I yelled; "BLACK TERN," and everyone got on it in the long prior of time that it fed and perched with the other terns on the mudflats. It was a juvenile bird, with very long, dark wings, but with a very short tail and small proportions. That Black Tern was by far the coolest bird I saw at Camp Avocet, even though it wasn't an adult.

On the ferry ride back we got looks at another Black Tern (this time I saw it), a Surf Scoter, and some of the group witnessed 6 Whimbrels fly over the boat in a flock.

After settling into our rooms at the Virden Center, Raymond (one of our instructors) saw an eastern Screech-Owl fly into one of the large trees in front of the dorms, and several people got to see it. I heard it only, along with another responding from the cedars grove.
So that was Day 4 of Camp Avocet, I'll also be blogging days 5 and 6. Goodbye until the next post!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

ABA Camp Avocet 2015; Guest Blog #3

Hi birders! It's Tim writing, and if you've missed the other posts in my guest series here is the link for the first post and here is the one for the second post.

After writing about Bombay, I realized that I totally forgot to give credit to the awesome instructors that ran the trips. It was great to spend time with local experts and just overall great birders. Our instructors were Bill Stewart (a local and the ABA Young Birder Programs director), George Armistead (ABA Events Coordinator), Holly Merker, Steve Howell (author of many ornithology books), Raymond VanBuskirk (Leica representative), and our intern Mike Hudson. Thanks so much guys and gals for a such a wonderful experience at Camp Avocet!

Anyway, after a good night's sleep, we had breakfast a little later than we did the day before, but we still got birding pretty early. Today's escapade was to Prime Hook, a more coastal place than Bombay Hook, and much closer to the Virden Center.

We started at Fowler Beach Rd., which at the start is shrubby, fieldy habitat, where we got Bank Swallow, White-eyed Vireo, and Blue Grosbeak, and near the end is a saltmarsh great for Seaside Sparrow and Clapper Rail. We had mediocre views of over 20 Seaside Sparrows, which were lifers for me, but I guess that's basically the best you can get with an Ammodramus sparrow. The Clapper Rails also were very showy, crossing the road multiple times and skulking where they thought we couldn't see them but really could. We also met David LaPuma and Mike Lanzone, two great birders from the area and they accompanied us until we went to Cape May the next day.

At some point the road became only accessible by foot, and we walked to the beach from there. The really cool birds started there. Soon after, the saltmarsh opened up to show big pools of water, filled with terns (Common, Forster's, Caspian, and Least), Laughing Gulls, Black Skimmers, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, lots of American Oystercatchers, tons of herons and egrets, both yellowlegs and both subspecies of Willet, two Whimbrels, and best of all, a Gull-billed Tern. Even though they breed farther north, Gull-bills are strangely almost absent on the Delmarva peninsula, so this was a great sighting. We also had multiple Bald Eagles and a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance. American White Pelicans had been reported here recently, but we weren't able to locate them. Here is the Fowler Beach list.

After we had scoured Fowler Beach, we headed to Prime Hook Beach Rd., where we got most of the same species plus some Long-billed Dowitchers and a flyover Cattle Egret. Our Prime Hook Beach sightings can be seen here. Most of us were getting tired of the heat, so we headed back to the Virden Center to eat lunch.

After lunch (and an intense grape fight), Steve Howell and Michael Lanzone did two great presentations, Steve's was about the 12 steps of bird identification, and Mike's was about patch birding. I learned a lot from both of the talks, especially the identification presentation.

Shortly afterwards we had dinner, another great meal, following was another late visit to Cape Henlopen, this time to Gordon's Pond and Herring Point. The Gordon's Pond trail actually goes through a piney forest before actually arriving at Gordon's Pond, and it is a great place to find Brown-headed Nuthatch. We did succeed in finding over 10 Brown-headed Nuthatches, as well as a Brown Thrasher. At Gordon's Pond there was a multitude of roosting terns and egrets, mostly Caspian Terns and Snowy Egrets, and some Black-necked Stilts, but otherwise it wasn't as filled with birds as Prime Hook.

Our second stop was Herring Point, just across the street from the Gordon's Pond Trail trailhead. A complete surprise for me was 10 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a normally rare bird in most of North America, but somewhat common in some sections of the mid-Atlantic coast. We also had an adult male Surf Scoter, a lifer for most of the inland birders. Here is the list for both Gordon's and Herring. At that point it was after 8, so we retired to the Virden Center for the night.

I hope you guys are enjoying my posts, goodbye for now!

Monday, August 10, 2015

ABA Camp Avocet 2015; Guest Blog #2

Hi birders! It's Tim again, and if you haven't read my first post here, here's the link.

Continuing from my last post, we woke up fairly early at 6 (normal for me) to get breakfast at 6:45 and get on the road at 7:45. Before breakfast, we were allowed to do a little birding around the dorms, so my roommate and I got ready quickly and witnessed the huge flocks of blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds, and starlings dispersing from their roosting sites. The number of starlings even dwarfed the number in Boston! Although considered rare in Delaware, we also witnessed flocks of White Ibis flying from their roosts. Apparently, White Ibis are undergoing a range expansion, which usually starts with a large irruption of birds farther north of their normal range. They were all juveniles, surprisingly.

Breakfast was spectacular, but if you were hoping for real syrup on your waffles, pancakes, or french toast, you're out of luck. We had much conversation, telling each other about cool birding experiences and other random topics.

We started our first full day with a bang by going to Bombay Hook, debatably the best birding hotspot in Delaware, even though it was an hour away from Lewes. We arrived at Bombay around 9, and immediately we stopped the car because someone had heard a bobwhite. We ended up seeing two feeding in someone's driveway with Mourning Doves, and it was a lifer for the majority of the western kids.

The visitor's center at Bombay had many martin boxes, allowing some close views of a species that is very common in Delaware but very local and rare in Massachusetts.

Our first stop was at Raymond Pool, by far the most productive place at Bombay Hook, and it was spectacular. Almost 250 American Avocets dotted the shallow pool, along with a couple Black-necked Stilts, tons of Short-billed Dowitchers, appreciable counts of Stilt Sandpipers, many peeps, huge numbers of Snowy and Great Egrets, 50 Glossy Ibis with a couple White Ibis, 2 Tricolored Herons, Semipalmated Plovers, and probably even more. The humungous numbers allowed for close study of the shorebirds, letting us pick out a Pectoral Sandpiper, some Western Sandpipers, and 12 Long-billed Dowitcher (a lifer for me). Our group split into 3 groups; beginner, intermediate, and advanced shorebird experience, and we learned a lot about shorebirds.

We visited a couple other pools after Raymond, but one of the highlights was hearing and seeing a Grasshopper Sparrow in one of the fields between the pools.

Another very cool stop was Finis Pool, a boggier body of water home to many Little Blue and Green Herons. We ate lunch in the forest around Finis, and were surprised to find an Acadian Flycatcher nest with nestlings and a parent (another lifer). We got brief glimpses of the parent briefly coming to the nest to feed the chicks, along with many calling Eastern Wood-Pewee, a calling Yellow-billed Cuckoo (which I didn't hear) and a calling Barred Owl (which I also didn't hear).

While driving the wildlife loop, our conversations were interrupted by someone screaming "LEAST BITTERN!!" I got a brief glimpse of the bird crossing the road, but some people in our van missed it, and the other van didn't see it at all.

After returning to Raymond Pool and experiencing the cool shorebirds again, we headed out of Bombay and explored some of the local hotspots. Here is our list.

One place we stopped, I believe it was called Stave Landing R., produced some nice marsh birds such as Marsh Wren and the local subspecies of Swamp Sparrow, the Delaware Swamp Sparrow. Delaware Swamp Sparrows have a slightly more musical and slurred song than the nominate race, kind of like a Pine Warbler but slower and more defined. Here is the list for Stave Landing.

While we were in the vans, we went over a bridge famous for it's Cliff Swallows, which have declined on the East Coast recently, and many people got to see them (except for me). We also stopped at Fort DuPont State Park, where we witnessed many herons coming and going from their roosting place on Fort DuPont Island. Strangely, around Delaware City Cattle Egret and Little Blue Heron are much more common than the other species because Fort DuPont Island is a huge breeding colony for those species. Here is the Fort DuPont list.

That afternoon, we had dinner at ABA Headquarters in Delaware City where we ordered pizza. We took a tour around the HQ and then just hung out in a large room and told stories about birds. At this point, we had an idea of what everybody's names were, but we still went around the room and told our name, our favorite bird, and where we live. There were kids from all over at this Camp, and a surprising amount were from the west. One of the boys lives in Gunnison, Colorado, and Gunnison Sage-Grouse are common there! I still can't believe it!

After dinner, we headed back to the Virden Center. Curfew was at 9:30 every night, and although some kids chatted for a little after that, we basically stuck to the rules. The early curfew was helpful though, considering how early we had to wake up each morning.

The quote of the day (from Steve Howell) was "If Long-billed Dowitchers were poisonous, and Short-billed Dowitchers were delicious, we would surely know how to tell them apart."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

ABA Camp Avocet 2015; Guest Blog #1

Now for something completely different! Last week Tim was in Delaware with ABA's Camp Avocet, and since my blog is so lame, I have begged him to spice it up to bring in more readers.  Take it away!

Hi, I’m Tim, David’s son, and I’d like to share my experience at Camp Avocet, an ABA Young Birder’s camp. These posts will be mainly for people going to Camp Avocet next summer so that they’ll know what to expect. I had an absolutely spectacular time with experienced young birders like me, and would be a great opportunity for any birder between ages 13 and 18 to become part of the young birding community. 
Camp Avocet is based at the Virden Retreat Center in Lewes, Delaware (pronounced Lewis) and we go on many field trips to local and famous hotspots around there. Delaware is a major staging place for migrating shorebirds and a great place to find breeding terns, so the camp is focused on those families. Delaware also is the northern reach of some southeastern songbirds, so we get many opportunities to see these specialties.
Campers arriving at the Philadelphia Airport have to first survive the treacherous 2-3 hour drive to Lewes, still a short drive compared to campers driving from Massachusetts (that’s me!). After a long day of traveling, some campers arriving before dinner are treated to a walk around the Virden Center, producing large numbers of Blue Grosbeak (a lifer for me) and a couple White-eyed Vireos. Oh, did I forget to mention the heat? Delaware might have no forest whatsoever, and incredibly humid days, but I felt none of it because I was having so much fun!
After dinner (the food at the center is excellent), we took the vans to Cape Henlopen State Park for a view of the sunset at “The Point.” We were lucky to find many Royal Terns (another lifer), a Common Loon (rare at this time), Spotted Sandpipers, a Black Scoter on the beach, Ruddy Turnstones, Common Nighthawks “beenz”-ing, and surprising numbers of Orchard Orioles. Here's our eBird list.
Our dorms were arranged into two buildings separate from the Virden Center and you would be paired with one or two other campers that are around your age. My roommate and I happened to both be from Massachusetts, so we shared stories about the birds we had seen before.

I believe I’ll be doing a post for the next 6 days for every day I was at Camp Avocet. So until Day 2, adios!