Two Sundays ago, Alex and I, along with Chad Kaufman, Taj Schottland, Steve Brenner, and Mel Torres 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, relaxed 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.
One hour and 35 species later, we gave up our search and went to Broadkill Marsh (eBird Checklist) to look for the previously reported Wilson’s Phalarope. I saw the phalarope on two previous occasions so I knew what to look for: the bird frantically running around the mudflats scaring “up” insects. The phalarope was super easy to pick out of the flock of peeps and yellowlegs. Other than the phalarope, the only unusual find there was a group of six Ruddy Ducks.
From there, we drove south to the Indian River Inlet (eBird Checklist) which is part of the Delaware Seashore State Park. The inlet is a great place to find uncommon terns and gulls, and to see seabirds from land. We were hoping for a Sandwhich Tern as one was reported north of the inlet at Dewey Beach the week prior. No Sandwich Terns, but Brown Pelicans, Least Terns, and a decent-sized flock of Common Terns stole the show.
Cape Henlopen State Park (eBird Checklist), the location of the ABA’s Camp Avocet (August 11th-17th), was our next stop. Here, we birded the Point and Breakwater Harbor for terns, gulls, and shorebirds. As is expected this time of the year on the Delmarva terns, gulls, and shorebirds seem to be the theme of the day. With the Point roped off for Least Tern, Black Skimmer, and Piping Plover nesting we had only distant scope views at the gull and tern flock gathered out near the tip. As we were scanning, a gorgeous adult Black Tern flew in and landed in the flock – first spotted by Taj Schottland who was birding with us. We also had good, but distant, scope looks at Piping Plovers, while Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings ran around the beach right near us.
After Cape Henlopen, we hit Fowler Beach Rd. (eBird Checklist) for some early afternoon shorebirding. There were many Short-billed Dowitchers, Sanderlings, and Semipalmated Sandpipers foraging on the sand spits. We also got crushing looks at Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows. This area is the best spot for salty sparrows later in the fall (particularly October). Last year, up to five Nelson’s Sparrows were found here.
By late afternoon we finally made it to Bombay Hook NWR. We scoured the thousands of shorebirds in Raymond Pool (eBird Checklist) for an hour and a half trying to count the majority. Actually, it was rather overwhelming to try and find something unusual or uncommon in the flock. Lighting wasn’t the best and, like I said, there were thousands of shorebirds – most of which were quite distant. Even with four solid birders looking through four solid scopes, it was intense. The highlight at Raymond, for me, was my lifer Tricolored Heron! The timing was perfect. We were just about to leave Raymond when Alex yelled, “Tim, there’s a Tricolored Heron right there!”
After the excitement, we continued on to Shearness Pool (eBird Checklist). We actually hit this spot twice because it started pouring as we were scanning during our first drive-by. The second time around proved more productive than the first, but Alex and I were the only ones left after the rain since Steve and Mel had to start driving up to New York. We were looking hard for bitterns and the lingering Tundra Swan and Snow Goose to add to our day list. As we were perusing the marsh, I spotted an adult male Least Bittern fly into the reeds, and Alex eventually re-found it in his scope. A few minutes later, he found an American Bittern while searching through a flock of cowbirds for Bobolinks! Shearness proved to be a two-fer for bitterns!
We didn’t spend much time at Bear Swamp (eBird Checklist), but gave it a decent look for uncommon shorebirds. We did find an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron in the usual spot, but dipped hard on Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Eh, what can you do. We moved to the Allee House (eBird Checklist) area to try for the continuing Dickcissel. Unfortunately, no luck there either, however Northern Bobwhites were calling in all directions!
We ended our day at Port Mahon Rd. (eBird Checklist) where there were thousands of Semipalmated Sandpipers foraging along the beach. It was absolutely insane. There were so many birds. During the last bit of light, we picked through the flock for any “stint” like critters. No luck with stints, but it was a fascinating sight to see that many birds jammed into such a small area of beach.
Our total group list for the day was 119 species, but according to ABA Big Day rules, only 115 counted due to not everyone seeing a few of the birds. When we got back to my house, we realized we had beaten the previous July one-day record without even trying! I wonder what we could’ve hit if we actually planned out a Big Day and birded harder (plus had a little more luck on out side)?