Wednesday, December 21, 2005

CBC: Eastern Neck NWR

Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, an island of 2,285 acres, juts from the eastern shore of Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay. The DC Audubon Society has traditionally covered the refuge for the Lower Kent County Christmas Bird Count, even though the refuge is about a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C. Doing this count requires leaving D.C. at about five or five-thirty in the morning so that there is enough time to cover all of the refuge. On Sunday we had about ten birders at our highest number, but most of the counting was done by six. As is normal for counts like this we split into three groups, those with scopes to cover waterfowl and those without to cover landbirds.

As it is surrounded by water, Eastern Neck features large numbers of waterfowl. Several thousand canvasbacks and scaup were the main attraction on the water. Swans of both local species, as well as goldeneye, bufflehead, mergansers, black duck, and several other species rounded out the numbers. For raptors we had plenty of bald eagles as well as several harriers.

The best bird of the day for me was a Lincoln's sparrow at the end of the Duck Trail, which is about halfway down the island from the bridge. The bird sat out in the open long enough for me to recognize its crisp streaking with a buffy background, sharp bill, buffy malars and gray eyebrow. The buffy areas were particularly bright on this bird, almost like a Carolina wren's breast; the rufous areas like the cap and wings also seemed particularly bright. The Lincoln's topped a very good day for sparrows, which included a fox sparrow and about thirty savannah sparrows.

There were plenty of good birds to go around on Sunday: pileated woodpeckers, which are unusual at the refuge; marsh wren, brown thrasher, and common yellowthroat, all very late; visible barred and great horned owls; a flock of eastern meadowlarks; and dunlin and wilson's snipe to end the day.

A full report by our sector leader, with photos and a species list, is available on the DC Audubon website.