Connecticut Warbler at McCabe Nature Preserve

Early this afternoon I found a Connecticut Warbler at McCabe Nature Preserve (eBird checklist). I think this is the first record for the preserve, which is located just outside of Milton, Delaware. I had high hopes of landing a Nashville Warbler or Blue-headed Vireo for my Delaware year list, but had no expectation of finding a Connecticut Warbler (CONW). The bird wasn’t acting like a textbook CONW (you know, skulky and hard to see), but was straight up chillin’ on bare branches in a young hardwood stand. Who goes out to find a Nashville Warbler and finds a Connecticut Warbler? Anyway, I don’t have much time to write so here are the photos.

The next three photos are a bit overexposed, but still get the job done.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Cape Henlopen SP

Taj Schottland and I spent Saturday morning at Cape Henlopen Sate Park scouring the veg for migrants. We found a Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and two Red-eyed Vireos. Pretty lame, right? It got better as soon as we walked out to the beach near the hawk watch. We found a decent-sized flock of gulls resting on the beach containing Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring, and Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There were five Lesser Black-backed Gulls mixed in with the flock. We later had two flyovers.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are relatively common along the Delaware coast in fall and winter, but can be found year round.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls records for August through March. Credit – eBird.org

I cannot remember the ages of all five gulls, but I have photos of at least three different birds. Two adults and one immature bird. I don’t have much experience with ageing, but I think the immature bird is a second or third winter bird. Suggestions or corrections are greatly appreciated.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Second or third winter Lesser Black-backed Gull at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Cape Henlopen State Park on 28 September 2013. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

The four bottom photos were digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter.

Again, let me know in the comments what you think about the ageing of these gulls. Thanks!

Until next time, bird hard my friends.

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.

King Eider at Mispillion Inlet

Last Tuesday, Chris Bennett posted that he had a King Eider at Mispillion Inlet, AKA the DuPont Nature Center. He sent the report out around 2:00 PM, but I didn’t find out until Taj Schottland messaged me about an hour later. Luckily, Mispillion Inlet is only 25 minutes from my field house and Ben Zyla and I were on spot in no time. Chris was still there when we arrived and pointed us in the direction of the bird. Although distant and wrapped in heat haze, we had decent scope looks of our lifer King Eider!

King Eider at DuPont Nature Center (Mispillion Inlet), Kent Co, DE on 13 August 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.

We think this bird is an adult male in eclipse plumage. Compare the bird pictured above (I know it’s a terrible photo, but for what it’s worth) to this immature male that Alex Lamoreaux of Nemesis Bird photographed in Cape May earlier this year.

According to eBird, this represents the first August record of King Eider for Delaware. In fact, there aren’t many records for the northeast in August. There are records from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

King Eider eBird Records for August. Credit – eBird.org

This is an exceptional sighting and is the only bird being reported in the east this month, August 2013. King Eiders breed in the arctic and winter along the northern half of the east coast and in southwest Alaska and the Bering Sea in the west. A quick look through eBird records shows about a dozen sightings, give or take, in Delaware, all-time.

It’s an unusual year for sea-dwelling waterfowl with Common Loons, Black Scoters, and Red-breasted Mergansers summering along the east coast. Some of these birds that are showing up now may have failed during the breeding season and dispersed early. Why do you think this is happening? Let us know in the comments!

Again, thanks to Chris Bennett for getting the word out quickly! Since the initial report, dozens of birders have twitched the eider. It is still being seen today, August 18.

Birding Delaware: Indian River Inlet to Bombay Hook

Two weeks ago, Alex and I, along with a few birding friends, tore it up in southern Delaware. We didn’t plan on doing a “Big Day,” but instead were planning on a full day of casual birding. After a late night of birding and hanging out at Dogfish Head, we started the morning searching for Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers at Prime Hook NWR. Turkle Pond Rd. (eBird Checklist) is the hotspot for these particular species during the breeding season. Unfortunately, the birds were not singing this particular Sunday morning.

Continue reading here…..

Ruddy Turnstone at Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware on 29 July 2013. Digiscoped with an iPhone 4S + Celestron Regal M2 80ED & Phone Skope Adapter. iPhone photo by Tim Schreckengost.Birding Delaware: Indian River Inlet to Bombay Hook