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."