Virginia’s Warbler Chase – Feb. 19

When news spread that Jim Stasz had found a Virginia’s Warbler near Easton, MD I knew I wanted to try and chase the bird, especially since it would be a first state record for Maryland as well as only a handful of records for the east coast. I have already seen Virginia’s Warbler in Arizona, but I love seeing birds in places they aren’t meant to be. Chad Kauffman, Josh Lefever, Mike Dreibelbis and myself all planned to meet up and carpool down on the morning of the 19th. Everything we had heard about the warbler so far was that it was shy and skulky, but that when it was around it was extremely vocal. There had been sightings of the bird on two occasions the day before, so we thought our chances were decent that we might catch a glimpse. At 8:10am, we pulled into the Pickering Creek Audubon Center, and walked down the path towards where other birders were standing. We were informed that the bird had been heard earlier in the morning but had not been seen yet. The best thing you can hear when you arrive at the chase bird is that the bird has in fact been seen recently that day. A close second is that the bird has at least been heard recently that day. As we stood and waited for more signs of the warblers presence, we were offered nice looks at thousands of Snow and Canada Geese (with a few Cackling Geese) passing overhead as well as a number of other waterfowl species.

A flock of Northern Pintails that passed over while we waited for the Virginia's Warbler. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

I had heard that an immature Golden Eagle had been seen briefly during the days before, so I alternated between scanning the brush for the warbler and scanning the sky for a Golden Eagle. Finally, mixed in with a group of soaring Turkey Vultures, I spotted the Golden Eagle which offered distant but satisfactory looks for a few minutes.

Very distant immature Golden Eagle. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Just as people began to get impatient and our chances of seeing the bird seemed low, I heard someone yelled ‘I hear it!’. We all turned around and behind us we could hear the loud chipping of the warbler. Suddenly the bird burst up into view, launching over our heads and landing in the brush on the other side of the trail – chipping non-stop. As the bird crawled around deep in some brush, we all got fleeting but diagnostic views of this overall gray warbler with yellow undertail coverts and yellow breast patch. The bird’s white eye-ring stood out very well. Getting photos was near impossible. The bird would honestly not sit still for more than a second, and it was never perched in plain sight – it would always be obscured by branches. The bird jumped back to the other side of the path and landed for only a brief moment on an exposed thorn branch, I was shaking so much and it was such a brief moment, that I only managed to get the terrible photo (see photo below). The bird disappeared for a few minutes and then it’s loud chipping helped us lock back on it. The bird came back near us, continuing with its very active but secretive behavior. A few times the bird perched on exposed branches in nearby trees, offering most people great looks. After the bird appeared to move far off, we decided those were probably the best looks we would get and left to go to our next birding location. We managed to find 48 species at Pickering Creek (checklist).

This is the best photo I was able to take of the bird. The warblers extremely active behavior made photographing it near impossible. Notice the very gray color, yellow undertail, and yellow breast patch, plus the very obvious white eye-ring. The lack of any red on the head means this is likely an adult female. (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After hearing that there was a Western Grebe hanging out at Cape Henlopen, we decided to drive east and visit Cape Henlopen State Park and then drive down to Indian River Inlet. We arrived at the Cape May-Lewes ferry terminal area around 1:00 and searched for the Western Grebe from the shoreline behind the Cape Shores housing development. We were able to spot some Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Bufflehead, Great Cormorants, and a few other things but there was no sign of the Western Grebe. We then drove over to the bird feeders at Cape Henlopen State Park and were offered killer up-close looks at Brown-headed Nuthatches and an interesting Dark-eyed Junco which I believe has some ‘Oregon’ Junco traits.

Brown-headed Nuthatch - Cape Henlopen SP (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

An interesting Dark-eyed Junco - Cape Henlopen SP (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

After that, we made a quick run down to the Indian River Inlet, and were offered decent looks at a flyover Razorbill as well as two floating Razorbills, multiple Great Cormorants, Bonaparte’s Gulls, both loons, and a few other species. By then it was time to start driving back home. A quick stop at Silver Lake in Rehoboth got us great looks at 210 Canvasbacks! We managed to see over 6o species for the day!

Canvasbacks at Silver Lake (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)