Thursday, September 18, 2014

Camp Avocet 2014 - Days Five & Six

    Join me on my adventures at 2014 Camp Avocet. Click here to read my write-up from days one & two of the week and here for days three & four.

   Day Five: Of all the days I was to spend at Camp Avocet, I was looking forward to day five the most! Today we went to bird-famous Cape May, New Jersey, by taking the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Along the way we saw several Wilson's Storm-Petrels, which was a lifer for the vast majority of the campers, and several leaping Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins, among other species. 
    Our first birding stop was at Higbee Beach where we split up into two groups to bird the trails. We came across small groups of warblers including several energetic American Redstarts, and a few Black-and-White and Yellow Warblers. At the observation platform we briefly observed an uncooperative yet vocal Alder Flycatcher, a Prairie Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, a Gray Catbird, and more. We retraced our steps and took a different path near an overgrown field. A couple Northern Waterthrushes "chinked" from the treelines, and a nice group of Eastern Kingbirds fluttered across the trail.
   We met up with the other group of campers and finally headed to the Cape May Point State Park. Once again we split up and looped around the pond and through the woods. Flycatchers were the highlight here; we found Great Crested, Alder, Least, and Willow Flycatchers, plus Eastern Kingbird! But the best bird was an Olive-sided Flycatcher spotted by instructor Bill Stewart as it perched on an open snag. Olive-sided Flycatcher was my 317th lifebird and my final lifer of 2014 Camp Avocet.

Olive-sided Flycatcher - digiscoped photo by Andrew Marden

    We saw large numbers of Black Scoters throughout the week, fifty-seven of which were observed here in Cape May County. There were also two Surf Scoters hanging out with the Blacks. These scoters were incredibly cooperative, allowing all of us to take close-ups.

  Female Black Scoter

A couple of the many Black Scoters we saw.

   Dinner was held at Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis' home, and we had an awesome time cracking jokes and even watching our fellow camper Claire Wayner feed a Ruby-throated Hummingbird! A huge thanks to Michael and Louise for opening their house to us wild bird-enthusiasts.   ;)

   Day Six: Today, we were all thrilled about participating in Camp Avocet's "Big Green Hour," which is basically like a big day smashed into an hour, but it's on foot, and we could only count species that we actually saw (no heard-onlys). The counting took place near Gordon's Pond at Cape Henlopen State Park.  Our group placed first with a total of 47 species seen.
   Bill Stewart informed us that we would be going to the Fractured Prune next, and I immediately thought "What on earth is the Fractured Prune?!?!?" I assumed it was just another birding place; after all, we had previously been scheduled to visit a place called Taylor's Gut earlier this week. So the Fractured Prune as a birding location wasn't totally out of the question. Well, I was pretty much shocked when we pulled into the parking lot of a bright purple and green donut shop. The Fractured Prune - of all the names in the world - was a donut shop!!! And the donuts were good too! Definitely check it out if you ever visit Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. 
   We finished birding early today, and we spent the afternoon at the beach. The weather was perfect, with bright, sunny blue skies and a slight breeze. Most of us swam (except me and I think a couple others), and after a while, many played Kanjam. 
   Back at the Virden Center it was more Frisbee, S'mores, and fun - all temporary remedies to help forget that tomorrow was to be our last day!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camp Avocet 2014 - Days Three & Four

Click here for the post for days one and two of my adventures
at 2014 Camp Avocet.

   Day Three: We were up very early for the third day of Camp Avocet - a day in which we would spend birding at Chincoteauge NWR in Virginia. It was at least a two-hour ride from Lewes, Delaware to the National Wildlife Refuge, but the entertaining conversations in the van made the time seem half that much!
   We stopped at the visitor's center for a quick break before we officially began. In the parking lot, we saw the rare Delmarva Fox Squirrel. 

Delmarva Fox Squirrel carrying some sort of snack. Photo by Chloe Walker.

   As we traveled we could see hundreds of shorebirds resting and feeding on our left, so we parked to get a better look at them. It was here that I (finally!) got my lifer Red Knot. At first there was only one, but later we saw at least a dozen more. We all had wonderful views of several shorebird species, including Black-bellied, Piping, and Semipalmated Plovers; Killdeer; both "Eastern" and "Western" subspecies of Willets; Spotted Sandpiper; Ruddy Turnstone; Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs; Marbled Godwit; Stilt and Semipalmated Sandpipers; and Short-billed Dowitcher. There were also many Royal Terns, a few Black Skimmers, and a lone Sandwich Tern lounging on the sand.
View #1 of the shorebirds, gulls, and terns at Chincoteauge.

View #2 at Chincoteague.

Ruddy Turnstone (on ground, left edge of photo);
Semipalmated Sandpiper (in front of farthest left Royal Tern); Royal Terns (on mud flat); Laughing Gull (mud flat and flying); "Eastern" and "Western" Willets (back).

Red Knots (back left) with "Western" and "Eastern" Willets (back and front); Black Skimmers and Royal Terns (middle); Ring-billed Gull (far right); Semipalmated Sandpipers (front).

 Royal Tern

 Royal Terns with peeps (Semipalmated or Least near back) and Ruddy Turnstones (front).

Which one is the Sandwhich Tern? Click the image to enlarge it.

 We drove around the loop next and were treated to lots of wading birds. Arguably, the best were the two night-herons: one juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and one adult Black-crowned Night-Heron both in the same pool of water. Cattle, Great, and Snowy Egrets; Little Blue, Tricolored, and Great Blue Herons; and Glossy and White Ibises were also numerous.
      Brown-headed Nuthatches often frequent the pine woods within this National Wildlife Refuge, so we stopped to try and locate a few. Pishing worked well; it attracted an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a couple Carolina Chickadees, and finally, three Brown-headed Nuthatches. Unfortunately they weren't very cooperative!

    Day Four: Today we went to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware, but on our way we stopped at the DuPont Nature Center. Here, I got the world's best photo of the world's largest Red Knot! 

    Just before we entered Bombay Hook NWR, we passed a set of potato fields filled with shorebirds (and potatoes). Our only Pectoral Sandpipers of the week were here, along with Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Plovers.
    Sedge Wrens had been previously reported in a field within the refuge, so the counselors decided that it was best that we checked there first. Well, we did hear a Sedge Wren, and we did see it flying, but other than that, we had no decent views. Sedge Wren was actually a lifer for the majority of the group. In this area, we also saw and heard fly-over Bobolinks and watched a young Black Vulture being fed on the chimney of an old house!

Black Vultures. The baby is the center bird.

   One of the joys of birding is not just the birds that you encounter but the other wildlife as well. Butterflies were very abundant throughout the refuge, including the Pearl Crescent below. There were also many wildflowers, my favorite of which was Chicory.

Pearl Crescent


    Now the fun part began. We slowly traveled along the refuge loop and stopped several times to scan the shorebird flocks. Our stop at the first pond was timed perfectly; we arrived just when the tide was high and the shorebirds were pouring in over the road. It was a spectacular, unforgettable sight!
     Pool after pool we scanned. Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers were overly abundant. Several Lesser Yellowlegs fed close to the road as well. A Bonaparte's Gull was a big surprise as it rested on a mudflat with other gulls and terns. As we rounded a corner, three very large white birds resting on the water's edge caught our eye. There were two Mute Swans, one Great Egret, one Snow Goose, and my 316th lifer, Tundra Swan.
      On our way out we re-checked the potato field and found our first and only three Western Sandpipers of the week. Unfortunately they were gone before I had a chance to look through the scope. 
      Back at the Virden Center we spent the evening playing Frisbee. I had the most fun ever! I believe from now on, Frisbee will be the official Camp Avocet game of choice!