Author Archives: David M.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, September 4, 2019

On Wednesday, September 4, the tide was falling as we began our outing. So, we took our caravan down Water Street to Joppa Park, where from the boat ramp we could view the flats as they were revealed. There was a good variety of shorebirds and gulls visible from there, and hundreds if not thousands more shorebirds way out toward Plum Island. There are definite areas on the flats that attract particular species such as Black-bellied Plovers, which prefer the outer edges. We saw Greater Yellowlegs patrolling the shallows in the pool that forms close to shore, and a large contingent of Bonaparte’s Gulls in the water near the upstream edges of the flats. Oh, how we wish we could be transported to the inaccessible far edges to seek the rarities we know must be there beyond our scopes’ reach!

Double-crested Cormorant – Stan Deutsch

MaryMargaret Halsey kindly sent us texts telling of unusual birds at parking lot # 7 on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, so we made the long trek down Plum Island with little stopping. It was nice to see the beginning of the winter waterbird crowd with a Common Loon and a couple of Common Eiders, but the rarer species had moved on. The South Marsh area near Stage Island was dotted with Great Egrets, which are done with nesting and dispersed throughout the Great Marsh. The roost that has been seen at Bill Forward Pool in past years is not forming this year, but lots of birds are being seen at Stage Island Pool and at Perkins Park in town. I am told that if you go to the ball field on Beacon Avenue at dusk, you can see egrets arrive, and up to two dozen night-herons leaving for their evening meal.

Sanderlings – Bob Minton
Great Black-backed Gulls – John Linn

Our next stop was on Hellcat Dike, where despite the tide there were lots of shorebirds and waterfowl to sift through. A nice moment was when a Blue-winged Teal dashed across the dike into Bill Forward Pool, with baby-blue wing-coverts flashing. The male American Avocet that has been at Bill Forward Pool for some time foraged near the point on the west side of the pool. Dowitchers were assumed to be Short-billed, and none proved otherwise. Lesser Yellowlegs sat contrasting with Greater Yellowlegs at some points. Gene Dogget spied a suspicious plover way down on the dry parts of the flats near the south end of Bill Forward Pool, and we started feeling optimistic that it was an American Golden-Plover – until it flew and displayed black axillaries (wing-pits).

American Avocet and others – Bob Minton
Greater Yellowlegs – John Linn

So it is in late-summer/fall migration, depending on tides and who comes through when. It will be nice to see if we can hear Long-billed Dowitchers talking to each other, or spy a dry-footed shorebird of some sort next week, when we will once again enjoy the long southward migration period in the Great Marsh.

Red-tailed Hawk kiting – Tom Schreffler

Joppa Park —
Black-bellied Plover (~ 50)
Semipalmated Plover – common.
Greater Yellowlegs – common.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common.
Least Sandpiper (1)
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 12)
Bonaparte’s Gull (~ 50)
Ring-billed Gull (~ 30)
Herring Gull (~ 25)
Rock Pigeon
Plum Island —
Canada Goose (~ 35) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (5) – continuing hen with 3 young; 1, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Mallard – many; BFP.
Blue-winged Teal (3) – BFP.
Green-winged Teal (4) – BFP.
Common Eider (2) – Emerson Rocks.
Common Loon (1) – seven ocean.
Double-crested Cormorant – common.
Great Blue Heron (2) – 1, marsh n. Main Panne; 1, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Great Egret (~ 15) – various, throughout marsh.
Osprey (3) – 1, Pines Trail pole.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – kiting just east of BFP.
[Red-tailed Hawk (1) – atop utility pole, Plum Island Turnpike.]
American Avocet (1) – BFP.
Black-bellied Plover (1) – BFP.
Semipalmated Plover – common; BFP.
Greater Yellowlegs – common; BFP & North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Lesser Yellowlegs (5) – North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Sanderling (~ 20) – seven beach.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (~ 20) – BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (1) – BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 25) – BFP & North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Ring-billed Gull (5) – seven beach.
Herring Gull (2) – seven beach.
Great Black-backed Gull (5) – seven beach.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove (~ 10) – n. refuge gate house.
Eastern Kingbird (1)
Tree Swallow (1,000s)
Barn Swallow (1)
Gray Catbird (3) – roadside.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – seven boardwalk.
Brown Thrasher (1) – seven boardwalk.
European Starling – not the usual numbers.
Cedar Waxwing (3) – vicinity of lot #7.
Song Sparrow (~ 5) – roadside.
House Finch (4) – lot #7.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, August 14, 2019

On August 14, Dave Weaver and I led the Wednesday Morning Birders to Plum Island, where the high tide had pushed shorebirds to roosts where they could rest and forage. The first thing we noticed after passing through the gatehouse was a swarm of Tree Swallows that sashayed back and forth across the road from the Middens on the right to the patchy thickets on the left. The most impressive flocks we saw yesterday were there at the north end of the refuge road, but in all, with big numbers in the Phragmites stands of North Pool and in North Field, we estimated the hordes at somewhere near 10,000 swallows, now staging for the southward migration. Those numbers are likely to peak at some point above 100,000.

Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers – Tom Shreffler

Our first shorebird encounter was at the Main Panne, where we pulled off the road and enjoyed looking through scores of peeps. The many Semipalmated Sandpipers were joined by a couple of Least Sandpipers, a White-rumped Sandpiper, and at least a few Semipalmated Plovers. A couple of Least Terns foraged where the water was open. The shorebirds were foraging on the mats of algae that are covered noticeably by large black fly-like insects. Managers at the Refuge have opened channels that let a more natural flow of tidal water enter and exit the Main Panne, and it appears that the water level has dropped. We certainly are enjoying the common sights and sounds of shorebirds close to the road.

White-rumped vs Semipalmated Sandpipers – Patti Wood

From there we went to see the many birds at Stage Island Pool, where the water level has been dropped to expose sizable mudflats. A couple of groups of five or more Greater Yellowlegs were scattered on the shoreline and in the shallows, and we got some short views of cooperative feeding. A small number of Great and Snowy Egrets and Double-crested Cormorants roosted in the middle distance, as they usually do when exposed mud is available. Shorebirds were scattered along the shoreline and in the distance, including one Pectoral Sandpiper and a Baird’s Sandpiper that unfortunately was only visible through a narrow window when it was close. Some Short-billed Dowitchers roosted near the road with yellowlegs, mostly Greaters.

Tree-Swallow over Sandpiper – John Linn
Short-billed Dowitcher – Mike Densmore

It had been a long time since we could go to the platform at parking lot #7, so we took a quick look up there. On the way up the ramp, one of us noticed below us a bright orange bird, which turned out to be an older adult female Baltimore Oriole. Female Baltimore Orioles attain brighter plumage with age, sometimes approaching that of males. Cedar Waxwing juveniles called from the shrubs, and both adult and young Eastern Kingbirds cavorted about. The ocean was fairly empty, as Emerson Rocks were covered by the tide, but some juvenile Common Eiders loafed right off the beach. They were so dark, we first thought they were scoters. These motley birds are now in juvenile plumage, which they will lose most of as winter approaches to become the “immatures” we recognize.

Baltimore Oriole tricky plumage – David Moon
Tree Swallows fill the air – John Linn

We saved Hellcat for last, as we often do, particularly in order to maximize the chances of seeing shorebirds that roost there at high tide. There were hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers sitting quietly in the short vegetation on the flat in Bill Forward Pool. Hundreds of Semipalmated Sandpipers did the same thing further south on the flats there. Plenty of these birds and other less abundant ones foraged around for us to pick through, giving the group good views of the set of small shorebirds we expect to see. Another Pectoral Sandpiper was easier to see, as were dowitchers, yellowlegs, and Cedar Waxwings, which forage in an odd but regular way on those flats. Scores of Tree Swallows flew over the dike and dipped for drinks in North Pool. Two families of Gadwalls charmed everybody with their fluffy young.

Barn Swallow – Tom Schreffler

A note about Wednesday Evening Birding: The tide was low during our late-day outing, but we enjoyed a nice variety of birds at Hellcat Dike, including a juvenile Sora, which poked out of the reeds in North Pool for a while. We had been drawn to look that way by a couple of dowitchers, and, sharp-eyed as ever, co-leader Linda Hunnewell spotted that surprise. We also enjoyed a spectacular display of a Northern Harrier’s acrobatic foraging flight over the reeds in Bill Forward Pool. That is the first Northern Harrier we’ve seen since they departed in spring.

Great Egret and Great Blue Heron – Mike Densmore

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 17) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (10) – 2 broods of 3 & 5, 2 hens; BFP.
American Black Duck (2) – Main Panne.
Mallard (~ 10) – various.
Common Eider (~ 12) – seven ocean.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 25) – mostly BFP.
Great Blue Heron (2) – 1, Stage Island Pool (SIP); 1, BFP.
Great Egret – common; various.
Snowy Egret (~ 10) – SIP & BFP.
Osprey (2) – Pines platform/pole.
Black-bellied Plover (~ 25) – BFP.
Semipalmated Plover – common; mostly BFP.
Spotted Sandpiper (1) – SIP.
Greater Yellowlegs (~ 15) – SIP & BFP.
Lesser Yellowlegs (3) – SIP.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common; various.
Least Sandpiper (6) – 2, Main Panne; 4, BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (5) – 1, Main Panne; 4, BFP.
Baird’s Sandpiper (1) – SIP.
Pectoral Sandpiper (2) – 1, SIP; 1, BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 20) – ~ 10, SIP; ~ 10, BFP.
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (2) – seven beach.
Least Tern (4) – 2, Main Panne; 2, BFP.
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Kingbird (~ 5) – various.
Tree Swallow (10K +/-)
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – S-curves.
American Robin (1)
Gray Catbird (4)
Brown Thrasher (1) – lot #7 boardwalk.
European Starling – common.
Cedar Waxwing – many; various.
Common Yellowthroat (1) – Hellcat dike.
Yellow Warbler (3)
Song Sparrow (2)
Bobolink (3) – Hellcat dike.
Baltimore Oriole (1) – lot #7 boardwalk.
Purple Finch (1) – Hellcat.
[House Finch (1) – Joppa.]

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, August 7, 2019

It was exciting to restart Wednesday Morning Birding this week with Dave Weaver! This year’s Joppa Flats hiatus from birding felt especially long due to five July Wednesdays in the calendar. This first week in August, we had a low tide during WMB, so as expected, shorebirds were not numerous on the high tide roosts we visit on Parker River NWR.

Purple Martins at parking lot #1, Parker River NWR – David Moon

We enjoyed seeing many Purple Martins around the gourd array near parking lot #1 on the refuge, and as we parked in the pull-off at the Main Panne, we found a nice group of shorebirds to sift through. It was obvious, with not much more than a glance, that there was a Least Sandpiper out on the algae mats with a group of 25 or so Semipalmated Sandpipers. With more searching, we found a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers mixed in.

Starlings avoid Red-tailed Hawk – Mike Densmore
Least Sandpiper – Tom Schreffler

One of the birds stood out as browner, darker, and a bit smaller than we expect in Least Sandpipers, and it seemed to have darker legs. After staring at photos for a while, we now see that it was a Least Sandpiper, as the leg color was a bit off from the dark gray that Semi’s have; the legs just weren’t as yellow as most Leasts’ legs are. It was strange, though, how much more I seemed to be able to see in the bird’s “differences” while I tried to imagine it was a Little Stint! I’ll probably have to get to know some actual Little Stints more personally before making one up out of a poor little Least with dull legs.

Least Sandpiper with darkish legs – Mike Densmore

The big algae mats on the Main Panne and other pannes have been causing some concern over past years. The refuge staff’s efforts to restore a more natural tidal flow there may or may not change that situation. However, I have noticed a brief apparent benefit to the algae, which is the avid feeding, especially at high tide, that peeps engage in on those mats during migration. Even Least Sandpipers, which much prefer drier mud, are out there finding something to eat. If only we knew what it was. Who wants to spend hours watching them closely to see if those black fly-like things are the main menu item?

Common Tern – Barbara Merrill

After enjoying up-close observation of little shorebirds for some time, along with a healthy contingent of Least Terns and a couple of Common Terns, we moved on to have our first dose of “lots of Tree Swallows” for the season. Dave Weaver and I decided that the number we encountered on Plum Island, from the gate to Hellcat, was somewhere between 1000 and 5000. While standing at North Pool Overlook, we observed that the tops of the stands of Phragmites all around North Pool were laden with swallows. Quantities of the birds were gusting back and forth, occasionally taking drinks from the pool. Someone found an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron in the cedar on the little island in the pool. Jane Hucks identified a mother Gadwall and ducklings, so we had the opportunity to practice seeing that species without the male’s obvious field marks. The young Gadwalls looked small enough to make us wonder if they were a late second brood.

Tree Swallows staging for migration, and an immature Black-crowned Night-Heron for you to find! – Tom Schreffler
Eastern Kingbird juvenile – Barbara Merrill

At Hellcat, we found few shorebirds, as the tide was almost low. Later in the day, though, when the Wednesday Evening Shorebirding group returned at high tide, hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers were roosting on the vegetated flats in Bill Forward Pool, while a smattering of sandpipers and Short-billed Dowitchers foraged in the shallows at the edge of the pool. We’ll hope for such a show some upcoming Wednesday morning. This morning, we looked hard for a Least Bittern that had been reported recently, but it did not appear. A Bobolink in basic plumage came and went noisily, using an insistent, nasal call. Lots of Tree Swallows came and went over the pools and dike, but while the numbers are rising steadily, it certainly was pre-peak, which is what we expect this early in the season.

Killdeer – John Linn
Red-Eyed Vireo – John Linn

With time to spare, we took a walk along the main road at Hellcat, observing flattened snakes (watch your speed out there, and keep a lookout for creatures!), but few birds. Plenty of passerines called from the thickets. Most of us got a good look at a Red-eyed Vireo, and Barbara Merrill sent a shot of a very molty male American Redstart, but there is still a lot of behavior I would term “sneaking around feeding young in the cover,” which makes most passerines hard to detect visually. Thus ended our first shorebird foray of the season, with many more to come, and certainly more diversity and numbers to anticipate with the imminent surge in migration. More favorable tides on another day will also increase our chances of seeing these wonderful birds.

Tree Swallows staging for migration – Tom Schreffler

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 35) – N. Pool Overlook (NPO) & Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (5) – hen + 4 young; NPO.
Mallard (~ 15) – various.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 20) – mostly BFP.
Great Blue Heron (1) – BFP.
Great Egret (~ 15) – various.
Snowy Egret (1)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (1) – immature; island cedar, NPO.
Turkey Vulture (6) – kettling over lot #1.
Osprey (2)
Red-tailed Hawk (2) – 1 perched e. PI Bridge; 1 flying over BFP.
Semipalmated Plover (1) – BFP.
Killdeer (2) – BFP.
Spotted Sandpiper (1) – North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Lesser Yellowlegs (2) – 1, Main Panne; 1, North Pool from Hellcat dike.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (~ 25) – algae mat, Main Panne .
Least Sandpiper (1) – algae mat, Main Panne .
White-rumped Sandpiper (2) – algae mat, Main Panne .
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (3)
Least Tern (5) – Main Panne & BFP.
Common Tern (2) – Main Panne .
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Kingbird (1)
Red-eyed Vireo (2) – roadside, Hellcat.
Blue Jay (3)
Purple Martin (~ 25) – lot #1 gourds.
Tree Swallow (~ 2,000) – flocking early.
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – roadside, Hellcat.
American Robin (6)
Gray Catbird (~ 6)
Northern Mockingbird (2)
European Starling (100s)
Cedar Waxwing (~ 10)
Eastern Towhee (1) – heard.
Song Sparrow (4) – heard.
Bobolink (2) – Hellcat dike.
Red-winged Blackbird (2)
Common Grackle (2)
American Goldfinch (1) – Hellcat.