On August 12th Chad Kauffman, Andy McGann, Jason Weller, and I traveled down to Delaware to check out various shorebird hotspots as well as try to boost our personal Delaware state lists. There was also quite a bit of lifer potential for Jason which always makes a trip more fun because I love helping people see a species for the first time. Click on links throughout this post to see our eBird checklists. I left Pine Grove Mills at 4:00am and met up with Chad at his house, then we drove down towards Lancaster and picked up Jason on our way. At 6:20 we arrived at Alcoa Marsh in Lancaster which was where we were going to meet up with Andy as well as check for the previously-reported Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. We couldn’t find the Yellow-crowned but had nice looks at an adult Black-crowned. After that we headed for Delaware. The day before a Black-tailed Godwit was found and photographed in Chincoteague, Virginia so our plan was to head towards Bombay Hook but we would keep close tabs on whether or not the godwit was being seen and head down to Chincoteague if it was. By 9:00am we arrived at Bombay Hook and still hadn’t heard anything about the godwit. Bombay Hook was loaded with birds, particularly shorebirds. On Raymond Pool, the first large pool you drive past on the tour loop, held an impressive number of shorebirds – at least 400 American Avocets plus 9 other species of shorebirds.
The birding at Bombay Hook was great and it took us almost three and a half hours to complete the tour loop. We were able to find 76 species in the refuge including two Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, to make up for the one we missed in PA. Next we swung through some spots to search for Upland Sandpipers without luck, and then visited Port Mahon Rd. Shorebird activity was low there, but we did add a few species for the day including Ruddy Turnstone, Spotted Sandpiper, and Royal Tern. Next up was the DuPont Nature Center, also known as Mispillion. New species for the day here including American Oystercatcher, Western Willet, Least Tern, and Seaside Sparrow. The sparrow was perched on some cement rubble right in front of the observation deck, and allowed for some great views as it preened itself.
Our next few stops were all near Prime Hook NWR. We quickly drove down Slaughter Beach and then Fowler Beach. Our target on Fowler Beach was to find the 5 American White Pelicans that have been hanging out there. Luckily, we were able to quickly spot them loafing in the distance and had good looks in our scopes. We found 10 species of shorebirds along Fowler Beach Rd, including our first Pectoral Sandpiper of the day. Clapper Rails were very active everywhere we went, but this was the first stop where we were able to see their little black chicks running around. Nearby Prime Hook Beach Rd had good shorebird and wader activity as well as our first Cooper’s Hawk sighting of the day – an adult terrorizing a shorebirds flock. We checked Broadkill Marsh and then decided to head back to Bombay Hook for the evening high tide. Throughout the day, we had been able to find 8 of the 10 expected wader species but still needed Cattle Egret and Tricolored Heron. As luck would have it, one of the first birds we saw when we got back to Bombay Hook was a stunning juvenile Tricolored Heron perched in a snag right along the tour loop road. We never ended up finding Cattle Egret though…
As the sun dropped lower and lower, we stood on the road overlooking Raymond Pool and scanning through the shorebirds. The tide continued to rise as we were there, and hundreds of shorebirds were flying in to the pool from where ever they had been foraging during low tide. Large flocks of Semipalmated Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plovers flew past us, literally within 15 feet of our heads. Short-billed Dowitchers and American Avocets cruised past, finding the perfect spot to land and take a nap. Snowy and Great Egrets flew past, landing in nearby trees and in Raymond Pool to roost for the night as well as a lone adult Little Blue Heron. Being able to watch thousands of birds of so many species all around us was a great end to a wonderful day of birding in Delaware. We ended up with 104 species!