Sunday, May 22, 2011

Delaware Bay Shore, 5/22

It was heavy overcast and drizzle, with non-migration-inducing winds on Saturday night, so I gave up on any idea of going into Central Park and went in the opposite direction to the NJ Delaware Bay shore instead.

I got a slow start, the light rain not being much of an inducement, but it was merely overcast when I made it to Belleplain State Forest at 10am. Along the usual stretch of Sunset Road I hard a distant Prothonotary Warbler, a closer (but equally elusive) Louisiana Waterthrush, and a Yellow-throated Warbler in the pines there. All were heard-only as was a Worm-eating Warbler and a probable distant Kentucky. Birds I actually did see at Belleplain were Acadian Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on its nest.

Belleplain SF was not my main target, which was instead saltmarshes and coastal ponds. I went to Jake's Landing and on getting to the parking lot the first sparrow I put my eyes on was a Saltmarsh (Sharp-tailed) Sparrow - not something I see each trip there, although this was the site of my life bird. Shortly afterwards the first of several Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Wrens doing little song flights. The species were the usual selection (Willet, heard Clapper Rail, Snowy Egret, Glossy Ibis, Osprey, Forster's Tern) and since it was both breezy and overcast I left before too long - I did see one Northern Harrier which suggests they might be nesting there again.

My main interest for the day was migrating shorebirds at the impoundments along Matt's Landing Rd at Heislerville. I got there a little before noon with a projected high tide of something like 1:30pm and there already were a lot of shorebirds in the pool. Hundreds per minute were coming in as the tide rose. There was a multi-thousand swarm of Semipalmated Sandpipers (year bird) but I was lucky enough to find the female Curlew Sandpiper within the first 30 seconds. They prefer the mud and shoreline rather than wading, so despite being similar to Dunlins (but longer-legged) they don't spend much time with them. A little later on the brick red (but still a little mottled) male was found. The female showed remarkable site fidelity and kept feeding on the same 50 yard stretch of mud. Dunlin, Semipalmated Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher were also numerous. The Black-bellied Plovers were more elusive on the other side of the pond. The Black Skimmers were also present, along with Forster's Tern and a couple of Least Terns. I spent some time sorting through sandpipers and came up with three White-rumped Sandpipers - birds I don't see in alternate plumage all that often. Large numbers but not a lot of diversity - this habitat doesn't favor the Ruddy Turnstones (I saw 1) or Red Knots (zero) that hang out along the sandy beaches of the bay. The shorebird flocks were pretty nervous, and at one point a female Purple Martin was flushing them as it dove for insects over the mud.

Although there was a little sun down on the shore, back at home it was still solid overcast. A little migration had happened - as I was doing yard work I heard a singing male Blackpoll Warbler feeding amongst my spruce trees (which along with my big oak prove to be a favorite with migrant warblers).

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