Coastal Delaware Birding Blitz – November 15th, 2014

A Search for Rarities and Fall Migrants along the Delaware Bay and Seashore!

Ruddy Turnstone (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Ruddy Turnstone (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

The Coastal Delaware Birding Blitz (CDBB) will be held on November 15th, 2014. The main target area for the count is coastal habitat between Fowler Beach Road and Fenwick Island, with primary focus on scrub and marsh habitat, but the bay and ocean will not be neglected. This post will act as a running bulletin board of information for and about the blitz. If you haven’t yet signed up to help with this event, please contact Alan Kneidel at akneidel AT gmail DOT com.

This event is similar to the broad-scale, multi-team searching that is typically associated with Christmas Bird Counts, but in this case our primary goal is to find and document rare and notable species. Of course, we would also like to document ALL species that can be found during the day of the count, and all participants are urged to report their sightings during the day to eBird.


TEAM APPROACH: The more eyes the better. We are forming 3 – 4 person teams, with one or two leaders per team. Leaders will be knowledgeable of the areas they’re in and will be keeping accurate lists of bird sightings. It is encouraged for all parties to eBird their sightings. If you have the Birdseye Birdlog app you can do it as you go, or keep a written list and enter it at the end of the day. Team leaders may split the group up if their area is expansive.

REGIONS: Below are the main areas we hope to search for birds during the Blitz. You can also explore these areas on the map above, and exact details about sightings at eBird hotspots can be found here.

Prime Hook NWR – Fowler Beach Road
Captain: Holly Merker
Fowler Beach offers a tremendous diversity of birds, ranging from open-country, scrub and woodland songbirds to freshwater impoundment and saltwater species.

Prime Hook NWR – Prime Hook Beach Road and Bayshore
Captain: Sharon Lynn
The shallow impoundments along Prime Hook Beach Road are excellent for shorebirds and waterbirds. The Prime Hook Beach community and adjacent bayshore offer land-birding and sheltered bay specialities.

Prime Hook NWR – Headquarters
Captain: Christopher Rowe
The headquarters area of Prime Hook is a supreme land-birding location, with many thickets and scrubby fields. The two trails leaving from the HQ offer access to impoundments visited by thousands of waterfowl.

Prime Hook NWR – Broadkill Road and Bayshore
Captain: Taj Schottland
The Broadkill impoundments support a wide variety of waterbirds, and the bayshore neighborhood is a haven for vagrant songbirds. The dunes and shoreline of Delaware Bay are perfect for buntings, longspurs, and who knows, maybe even a wheatear.

Oyster Rocks Road and Deep Branch Road
Captain: Desiree Narango
Oyster Rocks Road provides access to low stature saltmarsh, pine forest, and scrub habitat. Deep Branch Road is well known as one of the best spots for rare sparrows and other thicket specialties.

Cape Henlopen SP – The Point and Gordon’s Pond
Captain: Alex Lamoreaux
The point at Cape Henlopen is a magnet for birds of the open ocean and coastal dunes. The dunes and adjacent scrub are always loaded with birds. The trail to Gordon’s Pond offers some of the diversity of forest, forest edge, and waterbirds species.

Cape Henlopen SP
Captain: Rachael Shapiro
The unique pine forest and open dunes of Cape Henlopen feature large mixed flocks of songbirds, often with many goodies mixed in. There is diversity of habitat here that should be checked thoroughly.

Cape Henlopen SP Hawk Watch
Captains: Susan Gruver and Jennifer Ottinger
Anything is possible at the hawk watch and it’s prime season for Golden Eagles, Northern Goshawks, and Rough-legged Hawks, as well as keeping an eye on the sea.

Indian River Inlet Sea Watch
Captains: Chris Bennett and Anthony Gonzon
The productive Indian River Inlet is a great location to sea watch. Large numbers of migrating seabirds are expected, as well as the possibility for more unusual sea duck and gull species.

Seashore from Fenwick Island to Silver Lake
Captains: Tim Schreckengost and Alan Kneidel
The outer seashore is the front line for rarities in Delaware. Songbirds are funneled down the coastal strand while Indian River and Rehoboth Bay accumulate waterfowl and seabirds. The open ocean is always a few feet away.

TARGET SPECIES: We are obviously interested in trying to find as many species as possible during the blitz, whether they are dirt common or a first state record! But, let’s be honest – who doesn’t want to see a rare bird! We have purposely chosen to hold this event in November because it is the ideal time of year for vagrants and rarities to turn up in the mid-Atlantic, and our hope is that with enough birders out beating the bushes, we might turn up something really cool! Below is a break-down of some of our ‘target’ rarities that we think could possibly be found in coastal Delaware during this time – all listed species have occurred as rarities in the region, many have been seen at least once in Delaware, some are even found with regularity. Although many of these species would be total long-shots, it never hurts to think positively and keep an open mind!


Harlequin Duck (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Harlequin Duck – adult male (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Greater White-fronted Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, ‘Common’ Green-winged Teal, Tufted Duck, Common Eider, King Eider, Harlequin Duck

November is waterfowl season, and there are certainly a lot of ducks and geese in the area right now! Watch for rarer species mixed in with other waterfowl floating or flying overhead. Greater White-fronted Goose is the ‘likeliest’ uncommon species to be found at this time and can be among Canada and Snow Geese. Eurasian Wigeon is an increasing visitor to Delaware, almost always with American Wigeon. The ‘Eurasian/Common’ Teal is the Eurasian subspecies of our Green-winged Teal; the females are almost identical to the American subspecies, but the males lack the vertical white stripe on each side of the bird’s breast, and the green pattern on their face often has a thin, white border. Tufted Duck mixes with scaup and Ring-necked Ducks, and looks similar to them, but has a shaggy tuft on the back of it’s head. The two eiders and Harlequin Duck are most likely to be found mixed with scoters migrating along the coast, or foraging around stone jetties. Many other interesting and rare waterfowl are possible, so be open to anything!

Other waterbirds

Western Grebe (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Western Grebe (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Pacific Loon, Eared Grebe, Western Grebe, American White Pelican

Pacific Loon and Western Grebe are most likely to be found floating along the coastline. Pacific Loon is slightly smaller and duskier than Common Loon, but careful study would be needed to properly ID. Eared Grebe is most likely to be found foraging in sheltered water, possibly with Horned Grebes – they are overall darker than Horned Grebes, with a grayish face, and peaked head shape. American White Pelican is a massive, unmistakable bird likely to be foraging on fresh water, or soaring overhead. There is currently one American White Pelican at Prime Hook NWR.

Wading Birds

Sandhill Cranes (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Sandhill Cranes (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Little Egret, Gray Heron, White-faced Ibis, Sandhill Crane

Little Egret and Gray Heron are vagrants from Europe, and would most likely be found alone or with other waders in fresh water areas. Little Egret is very similar to Snowy Egret, but has a darker face and shaggier appearance. Gray Heron is incredibly similar in appearance to Great Blue Heron. Careful study and photos would be needed to confirm these two species. Sandhill Crane could be found in cornfields, freshwater marshes, or as a flyover. White-faced Ibis is similar to Glossy Ibis, and has similar habits – carefully study is needed to separate the two species; White-faced has red eyes.


Swainson's Hawk - immature (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Swainson’s Hawk – immature (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Swainson’s Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Crested Caracara

The western Swainson’s Hawk could potentially be found soaring overhead, and is most similar to a Broad-winged Hawk or Red-tailed Hawk although can look quite similar to a Northern Harrier as well. Overall they are longer-winged than Broad-winged or Red-tailed, and the wingtips come to a point. They have rather long tails for Buteos. Immature birds like the one shown at right are most likely to be found as vagrants in the east. Rough-legged Hawk is an annual visitor to Delaware, but always in low numbers and generally quite rare. Rough-legs are long-winged and usually quite striking in color. They are likely to be found soaring overhead or hunting low over fields or marsh. Crested Caracara sightings in the east during late fall and winter are on the increase – look for this unmistakable raptor in flight or eating roadkill.


Northern Lapwing (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Northern Lapwing (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Northern Lapwing, Long-billed Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper

Most shorebirds have migrated south of Delaware by now, but good numbers of Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Sanderling, Killdeer, Black-bellied Plovers, and American Avocet are still present as well as smaller numbers of Ruddy Turnstones, Western Sandpipers, and the first Purple Sandpipers of the winter. Look for rarer species foraging or flying alongside the expected species. Northern Lapwing would be most likely foraging with Killdeer in farm fields, Long-billed Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit with other large shorebirds, and Curlew Sandpiper with Dunlin. Be open to other possibilities as well – anything is possible!


California Gull - 3rd winter (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

California Gull – 3rd winter (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Black-legged Kittiwake, Black-headed Gull, Little Gull, Franklin’s Gull, California Gull, Elegant Tern

Many uncommon species such as Iceland Gull, Thayer’s Gull, and Glaucous Gull are possible at this time of the year, as well as more rare species like the ones listed above. Kittiwake is similar to a smaller Ring-billed Gull in it’s adult plumage, and similar to an immature Bonaparte’s Gull in it’s immature plumage. This pelagic species is fairly common far offshore, but rarely seen from land. Black-headed Gull often associates with Ring-billed Gulls or Bonaparte’s Gulls, and is intermediate in size between those species. Adults have bright red legs and bills, and black towards the end of underwings. Immatures have a bolder black pattern on their uppersides than an immature Bonaparte’s Gull. Little Gull is essentially a smaller Bonaparte’s Gull, with and all-black underwing on the adults and a bolder black M pattern on the uppersides of immatures. Franklin’s Gull is very similar to Laughing Gull, and is likely to be found among large flocks of Laughing or Ring-billed Gulls. California Gull is essentially intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, and is long and lanky overall. Elegant Tern is like a slimmer, thinner-billed Royal Tern and is likely to be found roosting among Royal Terns.


White-winged Dove (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

White-winged Dove (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Eurasian Collared-Dove, White-winged Dove, Common Ground-Dove

The two large dove species are likely to be found foraging alongside Mourning Doves, or perched on telephones wires along the coast. Both are larger than Mourning Dove – Eurasian Collared being pale grayish overall, with a broad tail; and White-winged being brown with obvious white bars on it’s wings. Watch for them in flight as well! The Common Ground-Dove is a very small, pale brown dove that feeds on the ground, and is often fond of dune forests. All species are also very willing to visit bird feeders and are often associated with urban landscapes.


Ash-throated Flycatcher (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Ash-throated Flycatcher (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Say’s Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Western Kingbird, various Empids

A number of rare flycatcher species are possible along the coast in winter. Say’s Phoebe and Vermilion Flycatchers have similar habits to Eastern Phoebe, and prefers open landscapes with low perches. Vagrant Ash-throated Flycatchers are often found in dense tangles, or brushy hedgerows. Scissor- and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, as well as many possible species of kingbirds are likely to be found perched on wires, fences, or other low perches in fairly open habitat. Any of them could be spotted as flyovers as well. Various species of western Empidonax flycatchers, for instance Dusky Flycatcher, are sometimes found as vagrants in the east. They would likely be seen flycatching in brushy areas.

Warblers and Vireos

Bell's Vireo (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Bell’s Vireo (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Bell’s Vireo, “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and any late ‘normal’ warbler and vireo species

Any flash of color should be investigated, since a rare western warbler or vireo species could be lurking in hedgerows along the coast! Many vagrant warblers are found at suet feeders, but can also mix with Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers or any other mixed songbird flock. Listen for unusual ‘chip’ call notes!


Cave Swallow, Violet-Green Swallow

Both of these rare species could be found among Tree Swallows. Cave is darker and stouter-looking than Tree; basically like a Cliff Swallow but with a red forehead. Violet-Green is very similar to Tree, but is a bit smaller and has a white face and an almost entirely white rump!

Cave Swallow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Cave Swallow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)


Le Conte's Sparrow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Le Conte’s Sparrow (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Green-tailed Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Clay-colored Sparrow, Le Conte’s Sparrow. “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco, “Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow, Lark Sparrow

Carefully scan through sparrow flocks for anything out of the ordinary, such as Clay-colored Sparrows among Chipping Sparrows, “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco among our typical “Slate-colored” Juncos, “Gambel’s” White-crowned Sparrow with our ‘Eastern” White-crowns, and Lark Sparrow. Clay-colored and Lark Sparrows could be in barren areas with scattered weeds or bushes. Green-tailed Towhee and Spotted Towhee are most likely to be discovered at bird feeders, but could also be scratching around some brushy understory out there somewhere! Le Conte’s Sparrow is an Ammodramus species, and is likely to be found hiding in cattails and other wetland vegetation.


Brewer's Blackbird (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Brewer’s Blackbird (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Brewer’s Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Shiny Cowbird, Western Meadowlark

There are literally thousands and thousands of Common Grackles moving around through farmland and patches of forest along the coast right now, as well as many scattered flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Look for rarer species among them such as Brewer’s Blackbird, Yellow-headed Blackbird, and Shiny Cowbird. Brewer’s is similar to Rusty Blackbird, but the males are glossier overall, with yellowish eyes. Females are like a larger female cowbird. Brewer’s Blackbirds often walk around in a very upright posture, as shown in this photo. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are often mixed with Red-winged Blackbirds. Also – make sure any meadowlark you see is definitely an Eastern!

Other Songbirds

Painted Bunting - female or immature male, aka 'Greenie' (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Painted Bunting – female or immature male, aka ‘Greenie’ (Photo by Alex Lamoreaux)

Northern Wheatear, Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Varied Thrush, Western Tanager, Dickcissel, Painted Bunting

Many other rare songbirds are possible, and the list above is just a starting place. Northern Wheatear could be found in the dunes along the coast, or abandoned lots with low perches. Townsend’s Solitaire is likely to be seen perched prominently on a snag or cedar, and is superficially similar to Northern Mockingbird. Western and Mountain Bluebirds could easily be mixed with small groups of Eastern Bluebirds. Varied Thrush, Western Tanager, Dickcissel, and Painted Bunting are most likely to be discovered at a bird feeder but could also turn up in any brushy area where other birds, like sparrows, are foraging and gathering. The key is just to study every bird you see carefully, and try to definitively ID everything you can – eventually one could be something rare or unusual!