Hello, Wednesday Morning Birders!
While David Moon continues to enjoy his holiday, David Larson joined me for this week’s Wednesday Morning Birding. After a bit of misting, we had a rain-free rest of the morning. Skies remained overcast, temps were in the upper 60s, and there were light winds out of the northeast. Aside from the rather thick humidity, it wasn’t a bad morning at all. In fact, when all was said and done, it was a bonanza morning!
With an 08:19 low tide, our first stop was the boat ramp at Joppa Park. Unfortunately, the tide had risen enough to cover most of the mud flats by the time we arrived on the boat ramp, so there were next to zero shorebirds, but many gulls and two rather special terns… Along with many Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, two Caspian Terns graced us with their presence. One, in particular, gave us a great show, landing out on the flats and preening, and then giving us a close flyby. This tern at 21 inches is our largest tern—in-between a Ring-billed Gull and a Herring Gull in size. Still in most of its breeding plumage, this bird’s bright red bill and black cap were very distinctive. You can see in Mike Densmore’s photo below, a little white creeping into this bird’s forehead en route to its nonbreeding (winter) plumage. Oh, there was a single Black-bellied Plover and a Greater Yellowlegs along with a flock of “peeps” flying by, but that was about it for shorebirds. A Turkey Vulture teetered and tottered right above us, and there were three Great Blue Herons up to their “ankles” in the incoming tide.
We drove slowly by the pannes on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to no avail and made our way to North Pool Overlook where it was also very light on birds. A Northern Mockingbird welcomed us to the overlook parking area perched on a sign. There were a few Tree Swallows and several Barn Swallows overhead, and a sentinel-like Great Blue Heron stood its post in the pool wary of our presence, but ever on the lookout for prey.
We spent the balance of our morning on the Hellcat and Bill Forward Pool dikes, watching, watching, and watching. There was a lot to observe. There were many Black-bellied Plovers in varying states of molt; a large number of Semipalmated Plovers; a lone Spotted Sandpiper foraging in the Bill Forward Pool very close to the Hellcat dike; Greater Yellowlegs were seen in both Bill Forward Pool and the North Pool from the Hellcat dike along with some Short-billed Dowitchers; and a few Lesser Yellowlegs were present. With patience, we sorted out a couple of Baird’s Sandpipers, and there were five White-rumped Sandpipers in the mix. About 10 Least Sandpipers and a multitude of Semipalmated Sandpipers rounded out the representative four species of “peeps,” the only peep missing being a Western Sandpiper. An honest attempt was made to try to make a Long-billed Dowitcher out of a couple of the Short-billeds, but the Daves weren’t totally convinced…
The show at Hellcat also included great looks at a juvenile Northern Harrier coursing over the Phragmites and mowed grass along Bill Forward Pool dike, actively hunting and apparently having success with an occasional drop to the ground onto some unsuspecting critter, a small rodent of one sort or another.
Also while standing on Hellcat dike, we were entertained by a bit of a feeding frenzy involving three species of birds, each species a member of a different family. These three species—Double-crested Cormorant, Snowy Egret, and Greater Yellowlegs—will oftentimes gather and work together to “terrorize prey,” chasing and herding mummichogs (aka mud minnows) into a cul-de-sac, all then partaking of these nutritious morsels. In Andrea LeBlanc’s photo below, you can see a small fish about to go down the hatch of a cormorant. Quite the scene!
On a tip offered by a passing birder, we moved from the Hellcat dike around the corner to the “Area Closed” sign on the Bill Forward Pool dike where we had better looks at birds in the south end of the pool. There, we could readily observe 100+ loafing Black-bellied Plovers, many standing on one leg with their heads tucked. Beyond the plovers in the flooded vegetation, there were a number of American Black Ducks and Mallards along with about 30 Green-winged Teal. Dr. Larson with his super-duper scope found the bird the passing birder had told us about—there in the midst of the Black-bellied Plovers was a preening Hudsonian Godwit! Oh, my, what a treasure!! Everyone got to see this large shorebird, and, of course, being as uncommon a species as it is, many were able to claim a “life bird!” While now and then losing track of this bird, in relocating it, we realized that in the background on a vegetated mudflat was an even larger shorebird—amazingly enough, a second species of godwit, a Marbled Godwit! The latter eventually moved into the flock of Black-bellieds and interacted a bit with the Hudsonian Godwit. Suffice it to say, it was a wonderful treat seeing these two large, long-recurved-billed sandpipers. Now, what do you suppose the chances are?? Two more “lifers” for most of those present.
Hudsonian Godwits nest near the southern shores of Hudson Bay and are long-range migrants, wintering in southern South America—many on Tierra del Fuego and on coastal Chile. Marbled Godwits are Canadian and US prairie nesters, who winter along southern coastal US and into northern South America.
We became so caught up in watching the godwits, we ran into overtime. Not one complaint was heard! By the by, what did I say in my Tuesday WMB reminder email?? Something like, “If you’ve been doing this long enough, you know that there is oftentimes a surprise just around the corner. Come help us find tomorrow’s prize!” Well, Dave Larson and I were only too happy to accommodate! Caspian Tern, Hudsonian Godwit, and Marbled Godwit!! Not too bad for “a surprise just around the corner!”
Please join David Moon and me next week to see what else might be in store…
Joppa Park boat ramp —
Double-crested Cormorant – a few.
Great Blue Heron (3)
Turkey Vulture (1)
Black-bellied Plover (1)
Greater Yellowlegs (1)
Bonaparte’s Gull (1)
Ring-billed Gull – many.
Herring Gull – many.
Great Black-backed Gull (3)
CASPIAN TERN (2)
Plum Island (Parker River NWR) —
American Black Duck (~ 10) – mostly Bill Forward Pool.
Mallard – common; mostly BFP.
Green-winged Teal (~ 30) – BFP.
Wild Turkey (~ 8) – roadside across fm lot #1.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 125+) – ~ 25, BFP; ~ 100+, migrating flock
Great Blue Heron (2) – 1, BFP; 1, marsh w. BFP.
Great Egret (~ 20) – various.
Snow Egret (5) – BFP.
Osprey (1) – atop Pines nesting platform.
[Northern Harrier (1) – over marsh, s. mainland side of PI bridge.]
Northern Harrier (1) – juv., hunting over BFP dike.
Black-bellied Plover (~ 100) – BFP.
Semipalmated Plover – common, BFP.
Killdeer (3) – BFP.
Spotted Sandpiper (1) – BFP, near Hellcat dike.
Greater Yellowlegs (~ 50) – BFP & N. Pool fm Hellcat dike.
Lesser Yellowlegs (3) – N. Pool fm Hellcat dike.
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (1) – s. end BFP among Black-bellied Plovers.
MARBLED GODWIT (1) – s. end BFP among Black-bellied Plovers; both
godwits at one point within same scope view.
Semipalmated Sandpiper – common; BFP.
Least Sandpiper (~ 10) – BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (5) -BFP.
Baird’s Sandpiper (2) – BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (~ 25) – BFP & N. Pool fm Hellcat dike.
Peregrine Falcon (1) – ad; first seen perched just w. of hunting shack
n. refuge entrance & then atop dead birch near BFP blind.
American Crow (3)
Tree Swallow (~ 12) – North Pool Overlook.
Barn Swallow (3) – NPO.
Northern Mockingbird (1) – NPO.
Cedar Waxwing (1)
Song Sparrow (2) – Hellcat dike.