The doomed farm across the street continues to surprise me with great birds. Last weekend I spent four hours exploring the weedy fields and wood edges around the perimeter of the farm property and tallied 49 bird species in addition to four mammal species (white-tailed deer, red fox, eastern chipmunk and gray squirrel). During the first hour there was a good flight of American Pipits and Horned Larks while the mid-day brought a strong hawk flight with several kettles of Red-tailed Hawks and Red-shouldered Hawks streaming southwest. A late Osprey, a Barred Owl, several Purple Finches, Pine Siskins and Red-breasted Nuthatches were additional highlights of the day!
Recent reports of rarities like Swainson's Hawk, Hudsonian Godwit, White-winged Dove, Western Kingbird, and Cave Swallows coupled with a perfect weather forecast of a massive cold front pushing down from NW after days of southern winds was too much of a temptation to resist a trip to the shores of Delaware Bay. I started at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge and made a stop along Deep Branch Rd. where a Clay-colored Sparrow had been reported a few days earlier. The roadside and forest edges were littered in sparrows, kinglets, juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and bluebirds but I could not find a Clay-colored among the many Chipping Sparrows. They mostly stayed hidden in tall grass or high up in the tree canopies whenever they got flushed by prowling Sharp-shinned Hawks. Best birds there were fly-by Pine Siskins, Purple Finch, and Palm Warblers.
Blue Jay (above) and Golden-crowned Kinglet (below)
I continued towards Fowler's Beach along Cods Rd. where I quickly relocated the juvenile Swainson's Hawk sitting in a harvested corn field. The bird stayed at the back of the field and did not allow for photos so I headed down to Fowler's Beach instead, in search of the Hudsonian Godwit. Again, the roadside was littered with tons of sparrows and yellow-rumps! As I approached the mudflats in the lagune near the beach I spotted the Godwit foraging right next to the road in a flock of Dunlins. This is just too easy!
Juvenile dark morph Swainson's Hawk!
Female Boat-tailed Grackle (above) and adult winter Forster's Tern (below)
Lesser Yellowlegs (above) and Juvenile Northern Harrier (below)
I stopped once more to watch the Swainson's Hawk on my way out but it remained partially hidden in the back of the corn stubble. So, I decided to leave it be and headed south to Lewes and Cape Henlopen State Park. The hawkwatch platform was full of visitors, likely due to the previous day's report of White-winged Dove and Western Kingbird in the park. I was told that both Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle were seen earlier in the morning, but a strong raptor flight was still ongoing. However, the now strong NW/W winds pushed the birds far out to sea as they made the jump from Cape May across the bay to the mainland and most birds landed far south of our viewpoint. It was weird seeing Bald Eagles and Northern Harriers appearing low over the ocean waves amongst the numerous Northern Gannets and Royal Terns. Flocks of Common Loons and scoters were passing by on their way south as well.
Hermit Thrush (above) and Killdeer (below)
Pine Siskin by the Nature Center
Lesser Black-backed Gull (above) and White-throated Sparrow (below)
The woods near the cape were alive with birds, thousands of birds, mostly White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumps, Song Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Phoebes, and kinglets of both species. Still, I managed to pick out a few interesting migrants amongst the hoards, like Grasshopper Sparrow, Palm Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Woodcock, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, and Eastern Meadowlarks. On the beach I also found a near-adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. By 4PM I was content with the fact that I had filled all my memory cards and headed home to Baltimore.
Later that evening I learned that others had found both LeConte's Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, and 2 Clay-colored Sparrows at Cape Henlopen SP as well as a Henslow's Sparrow at Rehoboth Beach nearby...... Good to know there is more to want in the future.
Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary, Maryland, United States
Ornithologist with a PhD in evolutionary biology. I am committed to the conservation of birds and their habitats through volunteering and citizen science projects. Currently, I am hired as a contractor to coordinate the Maryland Bird Conservation Initiative.