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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir

May 8-9, 2009
Rail Field Trip to Turkey Point and Jake’s Landing

I don’t know what it is about the Wawa at Routes 47 and 347, but I always seem to spend more time there than I would’ve thought. The evening of May 8 was no different, and I was getting antsy about making it to the field trip meeting location at 7:15PM. Presently I was on the road, missing the turn for Maple Ave, because I was trying not to hit the kamikaze American Robin. I looped back, made all my other turns and reached the observation deck at the end of Turkey Point. Despite my best efforts and early arrival, I found Chuck Pierce already present and birding. I did my best to juggle hoagie-duty, list preparation, bird-locating and light conversation. Soon, I had at least one hand free for fulltime binocular use. Chuck and I were witnesses to the mass Black-crowned Night-heron exodus that can be seen nightly from Turkey Point. At least 50 Black-crowned Night-herons swept by us: singly and in groups of two to three or up to six birds. Their jealousy inflamed, the Boat-tailed Grackles did their best to drown out any attention we might have focused on other singing and calling species. Nonetheless, a few songsters managed to get a note or two in edgewise: Seaside Sparrows, Marsh Wrens, Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird and of course the raucous Clapper Rails. The tide looked high, and I was comforted that we would have the same tide conditions I’d had when I heard Yellow Rail here a few weeks ago. The wind was dying down, and I was cautiously optimistic about our chances for some good rails.

Chuck and I had already ticked off a fair number of specialties before Dennis Vollmar drove up. We soon got him up to speed with Marsh Wren, Seaside Sparrow, Clapper Rail and, after very careful listening, Boat-tailed Grackle. John Harding pulled up soon afterwards, and we decided to move up the road to try to hear something besides Boat-tailed Grackle. We soon caught John up with our list of evening singers as we walked to “the Yellow Rail spot,” conveniently located 0.7 miles from the intersection of Turkey Point Rd and Maple Ave. Here, we waited for Whip-poor-will to call, though we didn’t need to wait long. Soon enough, we had a Whip-poor-will calling like a champ. We went up the road for a closer listen and watched the tree line in hopes of the bird flying a sortie to catch insects. After awhile we went back to “the Yellow Rail spot,” and I tapped some rocks together, “Tap tap tap-tap-tap. Tap tap tap-tap-tap. Tap tap tap-tap-tap.” We waited. Seaside Sparrow sang, and Clapper Rail called. Whip-poor-wills went back and forth, but no reply tapping. This went on for some time, and we decided to try our luck at the bridge.

Back at the bridge at the end of Turkey Point Rd, you could now hear something besides Boat-tailed Grackles. Unfortunately, we weren’t adding any new nightbirds to the list. There were Clapper Rails calling with abandon. Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Wrens chimed in. Willets, both Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitchers and Dunlins added a little texture to the symphony. We still didn’t have Black Rail, Yellow Rail or Sedge Wren, though.

What followed were multiple hikes along Turkey Point Rd, largely without success. What I had mistaken for high tide had actually been low tide. Now the water levels were quite high as the high tide started to peak. Very little appropriate Yellow Rail habitat remained. Whip-poor-wills were going crazy, though. Their insistent calls made going out of the way to listen for them at dusk seem like overkill. We finally caught a break with a Virginia Rail that called twice, to everyone’s satisfaction. Try as we might, though, we couldn’t get a Yellow Rail to call back to our tapping. Between the tides, the recent rains and the full moon there seemed to be no Yellow Rail habitat left at Turkey Point.

We made a last journey to the bridge. There we sat, listening to the abundance of Clapper Rails, straining our ears to pick out a “Kiki-doo” or series of nonmelodic taps. Red-winged Blackbird called once, but we heard no small rails. At 11:30PM, we decided to take our show on the road. After a brief Wawa caffeine fix, John headed home while the rest of us adjourned to Jake’s Landing, where we found the Ridin’ Birdy WSB bicycle team just heading down Jake’s Landing Rd. The combination of their reflective tape, bike lamps and just the whole group of them bicycling around at midnight made for one of the most interesting sightings of the trip.

Jake’s Landing had a slightly different environment than Turkey Point. The moon was out completely here, and there was no wind. Almost immediately, we heard Virginia Rail, which called almost constantly the whole time we were there. Clapper Rails called, as did the Seaside Sparrows and Marsh Wrens. I tapped some stones, which immediately called in Tony Croasdale and his crew, who were trying to confirm that the tapping was not a Yellow Rail. Tap as we might, we never got a Yellow Rail to respond, and there seemed to be little good Yellow Rail habitat at Jake’s Landing that night as well. At one point a Sora called, creating some excitement for Tony and I with its emphatic “Sor-a!” Unfortunately, neither Dennis nor Chuck heard it, and despite my best Sora impressions, that small rail wouldn’t call again the entire time we were there. By 1:30AM, I was feeling a little tired, and we decided to call it quits since Chuck had to be in north Jersey for early morning birding, and I had to drive home. Dennis had the best idea, spending the rest of the evening sleeping at Jake’s Landing. One last stop at Wawa, and I was on my way home, arriving at 3:30AM, finishing up the trip list and sleeping late into the next morning.