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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Martin Selzer

February 28, 2004 (Saturday)
Indian River Inlet North, DE

For me, a late February field trip to southern Delaware is supposed to yield the last remnants of wintering visitors especially waterfowl, gulls and other seabirds as well as the first signs of spring. While gulls and seabirds were in small numbers, we certainly had some wonderful sights and a beautiful spring-like day to enjoy them. We started at the south jetty of the Indian River Inlet. True to form, it was rather windy at the inlet. While the timing of our visit was between tides and therefore less than optimal for finding flocks of gulls feeding in the rips we still had some good birds. Perched on the channel markers were three Great Cormorants and on the jetty were a few Purple Sandpipers and Sanderlings. In the waves just off the jetties were Common and Red-throated Loons, Surf Scoter and Long-tailed Ducks. Try as we might, we couldn’t find any alcids or gannets in the distance. In the more sheltered bay were Horned Grebes, Buffleheads, and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Our next stop was at the marina on the south side on the inlet to see if we could find the Red-necked Grebe that had been frequenting here for a few weeks. The grebe was most accommodating as it swam and fed in the near-empty marina. Not only was this a year-bird for many on the trip (quite a difference from last year when the huge invasion of these birds reached our area) but it was a lifer for several participants as well. After thoroughly studying this bird we headed off to Silver Lake in Rehoboth. Long known for its wintering flock of Canvasbacks and small colony of Monk Parakeets, this is a must stop on your return trip north. Several hundred Canvasbacks were on the lake along with a small number of Mallards, Ruddy and Black Ducks. We hadn’t even all gotten out of the cars when we had spotted a drake Redhead in the flock of Canvasbacks. While a female Redhead had been reported the previous weekend, finding this drake was a prize. He was easily picked out by all the trip participants, as was the female he was often seen with. The lake also held a Red-throated Loon, small group of Red-Breasted Mergansers and one Greater Scaup. A quick drive around the lake produced great study views of the Monk Parakeet’s nest but no birds.

Cape Henlopen State Park was our next stop and because it was approaching lunch, the plan was to first go to the nature center for a lunch and bio-break. This would maximize our time there to watch the feeders for Brown-headed Nuthatches. No sooner than we had come to a stop, heck maybe as we were coming to a stop, we spotted a Brown-headed Nuthatch on one of the feeders. Good planning and LOTS of dumb luck paid off once again. We stuck to the plan and enjoyed our lunch while watching the activity at the feeders which besides the Brown-headed nuthatch included a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Fox Sparrow. We made two quick stops in the park. One stop was at Herring Point and the other stop was at the Point lookout. The stops were quick because it was rather quiet bird-wise and we since we had ground to cover we figured it was better to keep moving.

We continued moving north with Broadkill Beach being next on the agenda. As we neared the left-hand turn that brings you to the impoundments at Broadkill beach, I could see that the south impoundment was almost completely white. There were 1000s and 1000s; actually there were 10,000s and 10,000s of Snow Geese in the impoundment. Were there 50,000 geese? 100,000 geese? I don’t know how to begin to estimate a flock this size and couldn’t find any survey numbers at either Prime Hook or Bombay Hook when we stopped. Regardless of the actual number, it was a breath taking sight and lost in the wonder of the moment was the daunting task of trying to find a Ross’ Goose in this horde. Actually, we had two other challenges find the Common Teal and Greater White-fronted Goose that had been seen the week before. I wish I could say that we were successful in meeting these challenges but we weren’t. We had lots of Ross’ Geese candidates and a possible glimpse at the teal but nothing anyone was comfortable stating that they had. Still it was a sight. Lost in the amazement of all these Snow Geese were a few pairs of Northern Pintails and American Wigeon and quite a few Green-winged Teal swimming at the far edge of the Snow Goose flock.

We then moved on to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Prime Hook continued the theme of being quite although we did have a small flock of Eastern Meadowlarks in one of the fields on the road into the headquarters. However, there were no groups of sparrows or blackbirds as can be found here. We did have an Eastern Bluebird on the electric lines as we left the refuge. From here we head to Cartanza Road just outside Little Creek in hopes of Horned Larks, Snow Buntings and maybe a longspur.

If seeing the nuthatch so easily was a result of good planning teaming up with dumb luck, our visit to Cartanza Road was an example of when good planning meets bad luck. We were able to drive up to the small graveyard and the refurbished home next to it, when we came to a barrier in the road indicating it was closed. So one by one, all eleven cars in the caravan turned around. One report of a flock of birds coming up out of the fields was reported. While the person didn’t get a good look, they probably were the larks and buntings we were looking for; as these fields usually are home to flock of these birds in the winter. Our next and last stop was Bombay Hook NWR.

Bombay Hook is a great place to bird as we all know and as we also all know, a tough place to bird in the late afternoon because all the pools are best viewed from their eastern edges looking into the sun. A rather quick spin around the auto tour added the following species to the trip list: Common and Hooded Mergansers, Dunlin’ Belted Kingfisher, White-crowned Sparrows, American Coot, Eastern Screech-owl and a Red Fox. In fairness, only the lead car saw the screech owl as it pulled its head back into the box as we tried to tell the rest of the caravan that it was there.

I’d like to thank everyone for joining me on this trip and for helping make it a fun and successful day!

Martin Selzer



Images by Kate Somerville, Bert Filemyr