Saturday, February 03, 2007

Winter Birding at the Beach

Today I went out to Ocean City on a DC Audubon Society field trip. We began the morning at the Ocean City inlet, where we quickly found common and red-throated loons, surf scoters, red-breasted mergansers, and lots of the usual gulls. The jetty on the far side was crowded with American oystercatchers, which occasionally took off as a flock to resettle on another part of the jetty. The near jetty had sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, purple sandpipers, and at least one dunlin. As we stood to watch these birds, a flock of Bonaparte's gulls flew past. Careful looking revealed two northern gannets cruising over the ocean. The stop at Ocean City included the traditional break for fries at Thrasher's.

On the drive to the next stop, we could see thousands of snow geese floating on one of the many coves to the west of the road. At Indian River Inlet we were greeted by the sight of a great cormorant flying out towards the ocean. Following the pattern from Ocean City, there was less waterfowl diversity than last year, with fewer numbers of the species that we did see. A small flock of long-tailed ducks patrolled the entrance to the inlet. Other than that we saw the same scoters, loons, and shorebirds as before.

Silver Lake in Rehobeth, the third stop, had its usual raft of canvasbacks. Alongside the canvasbacks was a large flock of ruddy ducks. Smaller numbers of black ducks, northern shovelers, and coots were also on the water here. A great blue heron worked the edges. This pond, nestled in the midst of housing developments, is a rather unremarkable location at first glance. Somehow it manages to be a waterfowl magnet year after year.

We capped off the day with two stops at Cape Henlopen State Park. Gordon's Pond, on the south side of the park, had more waterfowl, including tundra swans and northern pintail. A great egret and a half-dozen greater yellowlegs braved the winter cold. Two adult bald eagles were sitting on a log in the middle of the marsh. Bushes along the side of the trail held a hermit thrush and some yellow-rumped warblers.

From there we went to the north side of the park, the point of Cape Henlopen. The nature center feeders were sparsely populated by the time we arrived, with only chickadees, titmice, and juncos, plus a red-breasted nuthatch that I missed. Venturing out to the point, we found that the day had grown much colder and windier, made more obvious by the lack of protection from the northwest winds. Going out onto the beach was worth braving the wind chill, however, because we were rewarded with a flock of snow buntings that flew in and out of the dunes.

The list below reports the species I saw today. More images from today's trip are available here.


Red-throated Loon
Common Loon
Northern Gannet
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Mute Swan
Tundra Swan
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Long-tailed Duck
Surf Scoter
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
American Oystercatcher
Greater Yellowlegs
Ruddy Turnstone
Purple Sandpiper
Ring-billed Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
American Herring Gull
Bonaparte's Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Eastern Bluebird
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Fish Crow
European Starling
House Sparrow
American Goldfinch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Snow Bunting
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Boat-tailed Grackle