Friday, February 24, 2006

Birds at the Beach

Last Saturday I travelled with the DC Audubon Society on its annual field trip to Ocean City, MD, and the Delaware coast. This is traditionally the start of the chapter's field trip series, which is designed to make it possible for participants to see 200 species in one year. To my knowledge, this goal has not yet been achieved, but the chapter usually comes close. The winter trip to the coast visits a series of winter waterbird locations, starting in Ocean City, MD, and going up the coast as far as Cape Henlopen, DE. The image at left shows the locations of the stops mentioned below.

I saw two life birds on this trip: white-winged scoter and razorbill. While surf scoters and black scoters are fairly common along the shore in the winter, the white-winged scoter is seen less frequently. The white-winged scoter we found at the Ocean City Inlet. The razorbill came later, at the Indian River Inlet, the second stop on the trip. By that time, the sky had turned even more gray than before, and snow flurries were falling furiously, making it difficult to use optics. Two razorbills were bobbing in the water just beyond the scoter flock in the photograph below. When I first glimpsed one, a gull landed on top of it and made it dive under water. A little later I finally got a longer look. These alcids are quite beautiful in the stark contrast between their black upperparts and white underparts.

Here is a close up of some surf scoters.

And here are some shorebirds foraging on the rocks of the jetty. There are four sanderlings and one purple sandpiper.

Shortly before we left the inlet I spotted a harlequin duck. In addition to being beautiful birds, harlequins venture this far south in very few numbers. (Our harlequin was the only one reported in Maryland or Delaware for last weekend's GBBC.) Unfortunately I could not get a good photograph of this bird, just the blurry one shown below. A surf scoter is on the left, and the harlequin duck is on the right.

For much sharper pictures of harlequin ducks, see 1000birds.

The third stop, Silver Lake in Rehobeth Beach, was covered with canvasbacks and ruddy ducks; I estimated about 500 of each, but the number could have been more or less. Among that flock were two redheads, a male and a female. Despite the poor lighting we got very good views of these birds; usually when I pick out this species I cannot see the red of the head and blue of the beak as well as I could on Saturday. At the last stop, Cape Henlopen, we had close-up views of buffleheads in full late afternoon sunlight, so that the iridescent patches on their heads shone magnificently.

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