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Posts Tagged ‘Maryland’

Last summer, my time in New York ended with 93 species on my state list and I wanted to get that number to 100.  Derek and I decided to go for it when I discovered that you can get to Staten Island without driving through Manhattan.  Our destination on Tuesday, July 14, was Wolfe’s Pond Park, less than three hours away, which had a species list in eBird making it appear that I could get seven new birds without even trying.  We should have known that nothing would be easy in the hot July weather, but we did accomplish our goal.  I now have 102 species of birds for my New York list, including the birds in the two photos below.

Mute Swan at Staten Island's Wolfe's Pond Park

Mute Swan at Staten Island’s Wolfe’s Pond Park

I’ve never liked Mute Swans.  They are non-native and aggressive towards our native waterfowl.  This particular swan, though, appeared to have become gentle and tame due to handouts from picnickers at the park.  This Snowy Egret had more self-respect and flew every time we got near, making me work to get a decent photo.

Snowy Egret at Wolfe's Pond Park

Snowy Egret at Wolfe’s Pond Park

We alternated big days and easier days, so it was off to nearby District of Columbia on Wednesday.  Derek has assured me that birders who care about lists consider it the same as a state and he wanted to see me get to 50 species.  We saw several birds at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens that were still on their wintering grounds when we visited the park on my visit in April 2019.  My favorite was this Green Heron, a species that I’ve seen many times.  However, I’ve never been closer and I couldn’t take my eyes off this bird as he stalked his prey and didn’t seem to care at all about our presence.

Green Heron at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Green Heron at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

The gardens at Kenilworth are very pretty.  There were more visitors here than most of the places that we visited, but we felt safe.  We were impressed by the consideration and social-distancing displayed by park visitors.  Everywhere in DC people seemed to take appropriate actions to stay safe from the spread of coronavirus.  Many wore masks outside and we even saw young children wearing masks.

Derek at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Derek at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Edwin B. Forsythe NWR in New Jersey had a lot of birds that I wanted to see – Gull-billed Tern, Willet, Seaside and Saltmarsh Sparrows – and I was excited about our visit there, but we had been putting it off waiting for the right day.  We were rewarded for our patience.  The daily temps had been hitting the high 80’s, but a high of 77 was forecast for Thursday, so we took advantage of the break from the heat and spent several hours at Forsythe NWR.  Flies bit us again, as at Bombay Hook, but otherwise the day was perfect.

One of two beautiful American Avocets at Forsythe NWR, flagged by eBird as rare

One of two beautiful American Avocets at Forsythe NWR, flagged by eBird as rare

I have seen hundreds of Willets, but this species has both a western and an eastern subspecies.  It’s expected that they will be split into two separate species sometime in the next few years.  Western Willets winter in Florida and on the East Coast and can arrive as early as June, so I did not have a single sighting that I could be absolutely certain was an Eastern Willet.  My quest was finally accomplished at Forsythe NWR where Eastern Willets breed in the saltmarsh.

Eastern Willets

Eastern Willets

We saw several species of terns – Gull-billed, Least, Caspian, Common, and Forster’s.

Common Tern

Common Tern

Black Skimmers are in the same family as gulls and terns, but their feeding style is distinct.  These graceful birds fly low over the water and literally skim the surface with their long lower mandible.  When it strikes a small fish, the upper mandible snaps shut, capturing the fish.

Black Skimmer, one of the world's three skimmer species

Black Skimmer, one of the world’s three skimmer species

Marsh Wrens were difficult to see, but there were probably dozens of them in the saltmarsh.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

We saw many Osprey during my trip.  They appear to be as common along the Atlantic coast as they are in Florida.

Osprey nest in the marsh

Osprey nest in the marsh

We spent a few minutes walking Jen’s Trail (in a wooded part of the NWR) after the wildlife drive and added a gnatcatcher and a phoebe to my New Jersey list, but I still had only 99 species when we left Forsythe NWR.  Number 100 ended up being Rock Pigeon on a highway overpass just before dark.

A Great Egret stands out due to its size and color, but the saltmarsh is teeming with unseen wildlife.

A Great Egret stands out due to its size and color, but the saltmarsh is teeming with unseen wildlife.

After our day at Forsythe NWR, it got really hot with daily highs hitting the mid-90s and limiting our birding to morning and late afternoon.  With our other goals accomplished, Derek was on a mission to help me get my Maryland list to 100.  He promised (threatened?) that I could get an injured Snow Goose, but I declined the opportunity to list a bird that would have been farther north on breeding grounds were it not for an injury leaving it unable to fly.

Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

On Friday, we found a Yellow Warbler and a Willow Flycatcher at a retention pond.  We looked for Horned Larks at a known location and were successful on our second try.  Derek is participating in the Maryland breeding bird atlas surveys so we were thrilled to find recently fledged juveniles, proof of breeding.  Later, we looked for Grasshopper Sparrows at the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park.  It was a confusing place and by the time we figured out where the sparrows had probably been seen by others, it was nearly dark.  Singing Eastern Meadowlarks were a nice consolation prize.

A Ring-billed Gull flies overhead at Ferry Point Park

A Ring-billed Gull flies overhead at Ferry Point Park

Saturday was my last day in Maryland and I still needed nine new birds if I were to reach 100 species.  We decided that the Eastern Shore of Maryland would provide our best opportunity.  At the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center, I added Red-headed Woodpecker and Brown-headed Nuthatch to my growing list along with Great and Snowy Egrets.  Now we needed gulls.  We joked that neither of us had ever had to work to find gulls before, especially common species like Laughing and Ring-billed Gull.  On to Jackson Creek Landing where we picked up Laughing Gull.  Next to Ferry Point Park where it took more effort than expected, but we finally found Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls.  My Maryland list was then at 99, but it was hot and we needed a break.

A Grasshopper Sparrow singing atop a post in the goat pen

A Grasshopper Sparrow singing atop a post in the goat pen

Late that afternoon, we tried for Grasshopper Sparrows for the third time. The first time, a few days earlier, mowers were cutting the sparrow field as we arrived.  Our second try had been at a different location, Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, the previous evening.  We headed there again and walked directly to the field where we thought the sparrows were breeding.  There is a nice path around the field, but you can’t even see it from the parking area.  Derek’s hearing is much better than mine and it wasn’t long before he heard the sparrows.  We saw one on a post in the goat pen adjacent to the field that the sparrows must have used for their nesting territory.  What a nice bird for my Maryland #100 and a lovely end to my visit.

Goats at Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

Goats at Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park

I was very happy that Derek got new birds for his lists, too, 21 state birds and 132 county ticks (birds seen for the first time in a county) including county birds in all eight states we visited.  The focus on our state and county lists gave us direction and enabled us to see new wildlife and landscape.  While it’s currently not safe to travel many places for birding, I am very grateful for this experience.

 

 

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Plan A was hatched last fall when the world was still normal.  I would drive to Michigan in late May to see Kirtland’s Warblers on their breeding grounds, continue north into Canada and drive the northern shore of Lake Superior, and then spend some time in Sax Zim Bog in Minnesota before returning home.  I had scheduled Erik Bruhnke to guide me one day at Sax Zim and I hoped that Diane could join us.  Derek might also be able to share part of the adventure with me.  When the coronavirus didn’t “just disappear,” that plan became not just inadvisable, but impossible as Canada closed its border.

Plan B was that Derek and I would do an abbreviated version of the trip, perhaps getting as far as South Dakota, where we could both meet some geographical birding targets and perhaps even get a few life birds.  But, as the coronavirus got worse instead of better, we didn’t want to stay in hotels.

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

A large pond of American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park in Havre de Grace, MD

In a last ditch effort to find something both safe and interesting, Derek invited me to Maryland.  We could base our travels around his home outside Baltimore, which would put us within two to three hours of several mid-Atlantic states and some excellent birding spots.  I left home in North Carolina on July 8, a day earlier than planned, when a Ruff showed up in Virginia.  We planned to meet there, but that plan, too, changed when Derek called me mid-morning and said that the Ruff was gone.  I reset my GPS for Derek’s home and continued my drive.

We set out for Bombay Hook NWR on our first day of birding, one of the places that I most wanted to go.  I hoped to see Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows, both species that I have seen only a few times.  Saltmarsh Sparrows declined to make an appearance for us, however, we enjoyed cute Marsh Wrens singing in the reeds and this Seaside Sparrow made me very happy.

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Seaside Sparrow along the Saltmarsh Boardwalk at Bombay Hook NWR

Gulls, terns, shorebirds, herons, and others made for wonderful birding.  The only thing keeping the day from perfection was the constant biting flies.  They bit so hard that I had blood running down my legs in a few spots and we wondered if they wanted a chunk of flesh to go with our blood.  Later, Derek found the explanation on the Assateague Island National Seashore Facebook page, “Why are greenheads just so nasty?”  The short answer to why the bites hurt so badly is that the female greenhead “will probe the surface area to find a place packed with multiple capillaries to feed from a large pool. Then she will use her scissor-like mouth parts to bite and begin sucking blood. As she continues to draw your blood, other mouth parts begin to work her deeper and deeper into your skin.”  It was well worth it, though, to see these beautiful birds!

Least Sandpiper on Delaware's Slaughter Beach

Least Sandpiper on Delaware’s Slaughter Beach

After we completed the wildlife drive at Bombay Hook, we drove to nearby Slaughter Beach.  We were surprised to see Northern Mockingbirds on the actual beach.  After watching a few minutes, we saw the mockingbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds feeding on horseshoe crabs that had washed up and were scattered all along the water’s edge.  Across the road at the saltmarsh, Derek’s sharp eyes caught a brief look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow that I missed and we both saw more Seaside Sparrows.

We worked our way back into Maryland and finished the day with a stop at Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a nice end to a big day of birding.

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

At Daniel Crouse Memorial Park, a female Blue Grosbeak with a grasshopper for her babies

Friday started with a hike at Soldiers Delight Natural Environment Area, 1,900 acres of the largest serpentine barrens in Maryland and one of the few surviving examples on the east coast of this rare environment.  Our targets were Prairie Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Summer Tanager, all of which breed in the scrub habitat.  We found Prairie Warblers on the trail through the barrens and Yellow-breasted Chats at a nearly overlook, but we didn’t find any Summer Tanagers.  During my entire visit, we had very little luck with passerines in the hot July days.

We had time for several more birding forays that afternoon, including a stop to see a Peregrine Falcon on a water tower.  My favorite spot was North Point State Park where we found seven Little Blue Herons around the marshy edges of the lake – three dark blue adults, two white juveniles, and two immature birds sporting calico or pied plumage.  Little Blue Herons are white when they leave the nest, helping them blend into flocks of aggressive Snowy Egrets more easily.  It takes two years to achieve the full adult plumage.  For a short time during the transition from white to blue, one-year-old Little Blue Herons look like the beautiful bird below.

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

Little Blue Heron at North Point SP

We headed to West Virginia on Saturday with the goal of upping my state list from 34 to 50.  It was more challenging without beaches, but I ended the day with exactly 50 species on my WV bird list.  My favorite spot was Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve.  In addition to a few nice birds, we saw this beautiful Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer's Marsh Nature Preserve

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth at Stauffer’s Marsh Nature Preserve

Our West Virginia day ended with some fun and relaxing time at Baker Park in Frederick, Maryland, where we enjoyed observing a breeding colony of Black-crowned Night-Herons.  This was only the second time that I have ever seen tame night-herons.  The following photos were taken just a few feet away from the birds.

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Adult Black-crowned Night-Heron at Baker Park

Susquehanna State Park is the premier birding destination in northeastern Maryland and that’s where we headed on Sunday.  Again, passerines (perching birds) were more scarce than we expected.  Where were the warblers foraging with their youngsters?  But, we found a Kentucky Warbler right away and I had a very satisfying experience with this species that I don’t see often.  This gorgeous bird was still singing when we left and we probably could have watched him for as long as we liked.

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

Kentucky Warbler at Susquehanna State Park

It wasn’t a warbler, but at least the Gray Catbirds were out with just fledged juveniles in the picnic area.

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

Juvenile Gray Catbird at Susquehanna State Park

After leaving Susquehanna SP, we went to Swan Harbor Farm Park and added a few more birds to my growing Maryland list.  Here’s a close-up of American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea, that covered a pond there and was shown in the first photo in this post.

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

American Lotus at Swan Harbor Farm Park

We spent most of Monday in Pennsylvania, first at William H. Kain County Park and then at Richard M. Nixon County Park.  I had been to these spots in previous trips and it was nice to visit again.

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

A Great Egret in the beautiful, but horrible non-native invasive Purple Loosestrife at Kain County Park

One warbler that we did see and hear nearly everywhere was Common Yellowthroat.

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

Male Common Yellowthroat at Richard M. Nixon County Park

We saw many beautiful birds in just five days and my visit was only half over!  Watch for Part 2.

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