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.

How?

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.

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.

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.