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.


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.

Video: Birding the Delaware Bayshore

Before this fall and winter, I have only birded the Delaware Bayshore one time. Since September, I have had the opportunity to explore places such as Bombay Hook NWR and Prime Hook NWR and have found an array of wildlife and beautiful scenery. I urge every naturalist to scope out the Delaware Bayshore in the future. Here is what DNREC has to say about the Delaware Bayshore:

Extending from Pea Patch Island in New Castle County to the City of Lewes in Sussex County, the Delaware Bay shoreline is widely recognized as an area of global ecological significance. Its expansive coastal marshes, shoreline, agricultural lands and forests provide diverse habitat to many species, including migratory shorebirds. Birders and biologists from around the world come to central Delaware to witness the annual spring spectacle of more than a half million shorebirds taking a rest stop to dine on eggs laid by spawning horseshoe crabs.”

DNREC is inviting current and potential recreational users of public lands along the Delaware Bayshore to participate in a survey. Survey responses will assist DNREC’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative Team with planning and implementing investments in the Bayshore region. Take the Bayshore Initiative Survey

All content used with permission from DNREC. 

The Brant continue at Battery Park!

For some time now, there has been a flock of 13 Brant at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware. I needed Brant for my Delaware Year List, so I decided to take the short drive from Newark yesterday evening. I arrived shortly after 3:00 pm and walked towards the river scanning the grassy areas for the Brant. There were a ton of people at the park having picnics, playing sports, riding bikes, and exercising. I wasn’t sure where to begin so I walked to the southern end to scan the Delaware River for the Brant and any gulls or waterfowl that happened to be occupying the river at the time. There I found numerous Ring-billed Gulls and Canada Geese, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Ring-billed Gull perched along the Delaware River at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware on 1 December 2012.

I then slowly moved upriver, scanning for the Brant, but also giving every gull careful inspection for anything noteworthy or uncommon. As I was walking I noticed a duck flying quickly upriver that looked long-bodied and quickly scoped it to find a Red-breasted Merganser! I needed this for my Delaware Year List as well and I was surprised to see one here.

Another 100 meters of careful observation yielded nothing out of the ordinary, but I finally stumbled upon the flock of Brant near the northern limits of the park.

Brant feeding on the lawn at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware on 1 December 2012.

The flock was very active and were interacting with each other consistently and ignored any human that walked near or far. The birds were acting “tame” as one would say and did not fear anything or anyone, which could be bad for the birds.

I set up 30 meters from the birds for 10 or 15 minutes photographing them with my Samsung Stratosphere and Vortex Skyline 80 PhoneSkoping Rig. Even though the birds were constantly moving, I obtained several decent shots, including the ones above.

I let the celebrities alone after the photo shoot and continued walking to the northern tip of the park to scan for gulls and waterfowl. Two Mallards flew upriver as I was walking and many Ring-billed Gulls were coming in to roost for the night. Scanning from the northern portion of Battery Park yielded several Rock Pigeons, Fish Crows, more Ring-billed Gulls, several Herring Gulls, and at least five Great Black-backed Gulls.

Great Black-backed Gull perched along the Delaware River at Battery Park in New Castle, Delaware on 1 December 2012.

By this time, the sun was setting and gulls and Fish Crows were flying south out of the nearby city of Wilmington in search of a roosting location for the night. Flocks of 50 to 100 Fish Crows were streaming by, calling as they went. It was getting dark and I decided that I should head home. On the way to the car, I noticed the Brant made there way to the river to roost for the night, but were still interacting actively as the sun was setting. This provided another prime opportunity for a Brant Photo Shoot!

Daylight was fading fast and I headed home with a tally of 14 species (eBird Checklist), including two state birds, from my hour long stay at Battery Park. I will be frequenting the park over the next several weeks in search of rare or uncommon gulls flying in to roost.

All photos were taken with a Samsung Stratosphere on a Vortex Skyline 80 Spotting Scope using the Phone Skope Universal Adapter set up.

Phone Skope makes custom adapters for any smartphone and spotting scope combination. Be sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

RBA: Birdline Delaware, November 9th, 2012

UPDATE – The previously reported Ruby-throated Hummingbird in Newark is a first state record of Anna’s Hummingbird.

Here is the weekly RBA compiled by Andy Ednie that includes photos of birds mentioned. Thanks for all of the photo contributions! If you would like to have your photos of birds mentioned below added, feel free to email them to timschreckengost AT gmail DOT com.

* Delaware
* Statewide
* November 9, 2012
* DEST1211.09

Hotline: Birdline Delaware
Date: November 9, 2012
Number: 302-658-2747
To Report: Andy Ednie 302-792-9591 (VOICE)
Compiler: Andy Ednie (
Coverage: Delaware, Delmarva Peninsula, nearby Delaware Valley, Southern
New Jersey, Maryland
Transcriber: Andy Ednie (

For Friday, November 9th, this is Birdline Delaware from the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Greenville. Two new species was added this week, but more may be coming as ID’s are pending. The 2012 Delaware state annual list increased to 323 species this week.

This has been a week of unusual HUMMINGBIRDS being found in Delaware. At least five different birds have been reported this week with 3 in New Castle County and 2 in Kent County. A new bird that showed up on Saturday after the storm is being seen near Newark. That bird has been tentatively identified as an immature female Anna’s HUMMINGBIRD, but that still being debated. That bird is being seen at the home of Diane and Steve Freebury at 257 Delaplane Ave., in Middle Run Manor off Kirkwood Highway. If you want to see this bird, call Diane at 302-368-9003, there are two feeders in the backyard and you’re welcome to sit on the back deck.

Anna’s Hummingbird in Newark on 8 November 2012, Photo by Hank Davis

Two other hummingbirds are being seen in a private yard in Wilmington. One of those birds has been identified as a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, while the other is an identified SELASPHORUS species. Another unidentified SELASPHORUS species is being seen in Lincoln, Delaware in Kent County, while a female RUFOUS still coming to a yard in Camden-Wyoming. That location is along Bryant’s Corner Road opposite the intersection with Quail Run. To find this take Westville Road off Rt. 13 below Dover towards Quail Hollow Golf Course. You can call Brian McCaffery at 302-359-0294 if you’re interested in seeing this bird.

Rufous Hummingbird in Wilmington on 9 November 2012, Photo by Hank Davis

Rufous Hummingbird in Camden-Wyoming on 9 November 2012, Photo by Brian McCaffrey

CROSSBILLS arrived in Delaware this last week with WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS being seen at Cape Henlopen State Park. Four were seen on Sunday near the Swimming Beach parking lot, while 20 were seen at the Hawk Watch yesterday and 40 were counted flying over today. A flock of 10 RED CROSSBILLS was also reported today. Three RED CROSSBILLS were seen at White Clay Creek State Park near Newark, at the Walter Carpenter Recreational Area off of Route 896 (New London Rd). RED CROSSBILL was also reported at Bombay Hook this last week.

EVENING GROSBEAKS were seen at three different sites in northern Delaware. Four were seen at a feeder near Carousel Farm off Limestone Road in northwestern Delaware. Eight were seen near the old Hercules Country Club, south of Hockessin. Four more EVENING GROSBEAKS were reported in a yard in Chalfonte, Brandywine Hundred. PURPLE FINCHES are still be reported in several areas including Cape Henlopen State Park and in Arden. PINE SISKINS were reported at Mount Cuba, Augustine Beach Wildlife Area, and at Red Mill Pond.

Also seen at Augustine Beach Wildlife Area this last weekend were two CAVE SWALLOWS along with 20 BARN SWALLOWS sitting on the wire near the parking lot. Another unusual bird reported this week was a YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER coming to a feeder in Milford. A CATTLE EGRET was seen flying over Fox Point State Park.

Cave Swallow at Augustine Beach on 4 November 2012, Photo by Mike Moore

A bonanza of birds was reported at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge near Smyrna over the weekend. Highlights included CACKLING GOOSE, TUNDRA SWAN, COMMON TERN, BLUE-HEADED VIREO along the Bear Swamp Tower Trail, and a GRASSHOPPER SPARROW seen along the dike at Sheerness Pool. Also been reported were over 300 AMERICAN AVOCET, plus 2-3 MARBLED GODWIT, and over 100 LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS. Also seen was BLACK NECKED STILT, 2 WILLET, and LEAST and WESTERN SANDPIPER. AMERICAN BITTERN and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON were also seen along with three late SNOWY EGRETS and a LITTLE BLUE HERON. A peak count of 22 PIED-BILLED GREBES were found in the refuge on Sunday along with AMERICAN COOT. A flock of 12 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS were seen opposite the visitor center.

Grasshopper Sparrow at Bombay Hook NWR on 4 November 2012, Photo by Howard Eskin

American Avocets at Bombay Hook NWR on 9 November 2012, Photo by Brian McCaffrey

High water at Woodland Beach Wildlife Area has made for good waterfowl spotting. BRANT, LESSER SCAUP, RUDDY DUCK, and 2 HOODED MERGANSERS were seen from the tower this last weekend. RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS were seen at Port Mahon on this past week along with 50 ROYAL TERNS sitting on the bulkheads. Land birds seen along the Port Mahon Road included WINTER WREN, WHITE-CROWNED, and FOX SPARROW. There were 30 GREAT EGRETS at the Port Mahon impoundments. NORTHERN GANNETS were reported off Kitts Hummock.

The first SNOW BUNTINGS of the season were also reported this past week along the Port Mahon Road. SNOW BUNTINGS were also seen along the dike road at Sheerness Pool and at Summit Bridge in the C&D Canal Wildlife Area.

There were still 55 BLACK SKIMMERS at Fowler’s Beach this past week along with 6 BONAPARTE’S GULL and LEAST SANDPIPER. SALTMARSH and SEASIDE SPARROW reported along the marsh edges there and a BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER was seen in the woodlot at the edge the marsh.

An immature GOLDEN EAGLE was seen flying over the Rehoboth Golf Park off Country Club Road. CANVASBACK and HOODED MERGANSER were seen this week on Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach. RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS were found at Love Creek along Route 24 in Rehoboth and at Canal Pointe Condominiums off Holland Glade Road. WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH was seen at Bay Vista, completing the nuthatch trifecta there. SNOW GEESE were seen in big flocks over Rehoboth.

There was an unconfirmed report of an immature PURPLE GALLINULE found in the parking lot at McDonald’s in South Bethany Beach this week. That might be a storm related bird, it was recovered and taken to Tristate Bird Rescue. Stay tuned, further details will come out later.

Some more birds from Newark this past week included HORNED GREBE at the Newark Reservoir and EASTERN PHOEBE along Creek Road in White Clay Creek State Park. A BRANT was seen at Kirk Road near Greenville this week. Waterfowl on Hoopes Reservoir included 22 RING-NECKED DUCK, plus BLACK, WOOD, and RUDDY DUCK. Also seen were 11 PIED-BILLED GREBES and a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT.

Harry’s Pond in the Brandywine Town Center had a surprising number of waterfowl, including RING-NECKED and RUDDY DUCK, BUFFLEHEAD, HOODED MERGANSER, and 8 AMERICAN COOT. Also seen this past week was both HORNED GREBE and 2 PIED-BILLED GREBES at the pond.

There was a massive flight of RED-TAILED HAWKS this past weekend over northern Delaware. A record count of 620 RED-TAILS was reported from the Ashland Nature Center on Sunday. Also seen were an immature GOLDEN EAGLE and 4 BALD EAGLES that day. Other birds seen included 43 RED-SHOULDERED, 55 SHARP-SHINNED, and 18 COOPER’S HAWKS. The first NORTHERN GOSHAWK of the year was seen on Monday along with another GOLDEN EAGLE, plus another GOLDEN EAGLE later on this week. Other birds reported included COMMON LOON, WOOD DUCK, NORTHERN PINTAIL and RUSTY BLACKBIRDS. A LINCOLN’S SPARROW was reported at Burrows Run Nature Preserve near Ashland.

A big flight of accipiters was reported at Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch on Sunday. That flight included 170 SHARP-SHINNED and 28 COOPER’S HAWKS. The highlight of the day was a SHORT-EARED OWL seen flying around hawk watch in the afternoon. Huge numbers of waterfowl are now being seen flying offshore from the Cape Henlopen. Reported this week were a total of 12 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, plus 600 BLACK and 250 SURF SCOTER. Also reported was over 1000 NORTHERN GANNETS, plus COMMON and RED-THROATED LOONS and a few remaining BROWN PELICAN. Eight NORTHERN BOBWHITES were also reported along with RUSTY BLACKBIRD and a remaining CLAY-COLORED SPARROW.

There was an extralimital report of a NORTHERN LAPWING seen yesterday near Trenton, New Jersey. That bird was last seen flying east, and may be heading our way. There are been reports of at least six LAPWINGS on the East Coast after Sandy, so be on the lookout.

Northern Lapwing in Allentown, NJ on 8 November 2012, Photo by Sam Galick

Many thanks to those people that helped put together the Birdline this week including: Hank Davis, Tim Schreckengost, Mike Moore, Chris Bennett, David Bridge, Anthony Gonzon, Tom Clarke, Amy O’Neil, Kelly Nunn, Dane Houser, Lorraine Logan, John Janowski, Dick Bell, Colin Campbell, Derek Stoner, Joe Sebastiani, Ian Stewart, Brian McCaffrey, Ken Bass, Lynn Smith, Ann Dinkel, Sue Gruver, Armas Hill, and Howard Eskin. Also, special thanks to our two hawk-counters, Tonya Mommone and Jennifer Ottinger for their excellent work. Please call your reports to me at 302-792-9591 or email to Until next time, good birding!

-end transcript

Butterbutt Bonanza!

There were hundreds, maybe even thousands, of Butterbutts, or Myrtle Warblers, canvasing the University of Delaware campus in Lewes all day today. They have been trickling into southern Delaware for the last week or two now, but with a moderate northeast wind last night they arrived with a vengeance. Kyle Horton and I went out this evening to snag any photo opportunities the birds presented us with (eBird Checklist). Here are our best shots:

Myrtle Warbler, photo by Kyle Horton

Myrtle Warbler, photo by Kyle Horton

Here’s one for the road!

Did you see an influx of Butterbutts today? Let us know in the comments! Also, check back each morning for birding/migration predictions!