Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Delaware Christmas Birding Trip 2016

DEC 24, 2016 

Winter birding in North East America is not exactly like birding in South America. Most of the pretty songbirds have already gone south (I don't blame them, it gets pretty cold up here) so woods are mostly quiet by now. Luckily for us, many water birds come down to spend the winter in the region. So we usually stick to coastal areas to bird during the colder times.

On Christmas Eve, we left Brooklyn around 9am to head to the Delaware seaside. After the 3.5-hour uneventful drive through dreadfully unscenic NJ Turnpike, we arrived at our destination, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, one of our favorite wildlife refuges in Delaware. 

Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the refuge was rather quiet but we saw some nice water birds there: NORTHERN PINTAILs, BUFFLEHEADs, RUDDY DUCKs, NORTHERN SHOVELERs, AMERICAN BLACKDUCKs, MALLARDs, SNOW GEESE and TUNDRA SWANs.

Well, the birds may have been scarce but we were lucky to catch a sight of this beautiful red fox.

On our way out, we checked out a group of CANADIAN GEESE on the field. You may be wondering why we were looking at geese as they are one of the most common bird species anywhere in the country. Well, there is a type of goose called Cackling Goose. It is basically a smaller yet identical version of Canadian Goose and we have been on a quest to see this mini Canadian Goose for a while. Sadly, our quest continues.

We had our early dinner at an Italian restaurant by the Dover Air Force Base. A true story. There were five or so uniformed air force officers eating at a table next to us. When they asked for their bill, we overheard the waiter tell them that the lady sitting across from us paid for their meal. The waiter said that the lady also has a daughter in the army and wanted to thank them for their service to the country.

DEC 25, 2016

Merry Christmas! After our delicious waffle breakfast at the hotel, we headed out to the Cape Henlopen State Park. This was our first time visit to the Park so we were not sure what to expect. Three minutes into the park, we heard a flock of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEEs and immediately knew that our target bird of the trip, BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, was nearby. Delaware is the northern most range for this wonderful species and we were delighted to see them. We also saw TUFTED TITMICENORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERs, SONG SPARROWs,, WHITE-THROATED SPARROWs, FOX SPARROWs, BUFFLEHEADs and, quite surprisingly, a PINE WARBLER.

We then visited a small bird refuge, Silver Lake State Bird Refuge, to see Canvasbacks as reported in the Delaware Rare Bird Alert. There were 20 or so gorgeous CANVASBACKs taking afternoon nap on the lake along with some DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTs, HOODED MERGANSERs, MALLARDs and CANADIAN GEESE.

We decided to drive further south to visit the Delaware Seashore State Park. This is the southern most region we had visited in Delaware. We saw an ever-so-pretty FIELD SPARROW, HOUSE FINCHes, and many YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERs in the park.

Now we were headed to much anticipated Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. In the past, we have caught a sight of some good rarities there including American Avocets. I think what makes this refuge so special is that visitors are able to drive through narrow channels of roads built on top of the vast wetland. When we got to the wetland part, we immediately noticed that it was much drier than past years. Less water meant less bird and, despite our high expectations, we really did not see any notable species there except for the lone BALD EAGLE seen in the distance.

The road from the refuge leads to the Slaughter Beach, renowned for being one of the best beaches to see spectacular Red Knot migration in the spring. We did come here in May and it truly was an amazing sight, seeing hundreds of Snowshoe Crabs and Red Knots among other shorebirds. However, it is indeed winter now so we really weren't expecting to see much at all at the beach. As we were getting off the car, we heard loud squawking noises coming from the beach. We grab our gears, ran off to the beach and were completely awe-struck by what we saw. The beach was covered with tens and thousands of snow geese as far as we could see. There must have been over 100,000 of them. There were times in our lives that nature just overwhelms us with its scale and greatness and this certainly was one of those moments. We just stood there watching them in utter silence for a long period of time. It had to be the most number of birds we saw standing in one spot. At one point, a few got spooked by something and everyone took off. Imagine the magnitude of 100,000+ birds taking off at the same time in one small area?

We figured that nothing could top the magical encounter with the snow geese and it was getting late in the day anyways, we swapped binoculars with rackets and hit the local high school tennis court.

I don't know if you ever tried to eat out on Christmas Day but basically everything is closed except for Chinese restaurants. So we had our customary Chinese food on Christmas and celebrated our exciting birding day in Delaware.

DEC 26, 2016

I knew I was coming down with a flu as I was feeling some pain/soreness yesterday but the flu finally hit me with the full force today. I had chills, joint pains, fever, bad headache, seriously painful sore throat, basically all the terrible things a flu can bring to our bodies. However, nothing gets in birders' way so we went on birding as usual. We drove to the Cape Henlopen State Park to have a final look at BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH, then to the Slaughter Beach. Though somewhat expected, there was not a single soul on the beach where we had a magical encounter with snow geese yesterday. The phrase, 'right place at the right time' weighs in heavily in birding. We moved on to look for a sedge wren on Big Stone Beach Road as per the Delaware Rare Bird Alert but no luck this time. We made a last stop at Bombay Hook Wildlife Refuge and saw some familiar faces.

Traffic back to New York was pretty bad but luckily for me, I slept most of the way. While in my delirious feverish state, I was replaying the scenes from the Slaughter Beach with the snow geese over and over.

Happy Holiday Birding!

No comments:

Post a Comment