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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Steve Kacir

September 5, 2009
Johnson Sod Farm Field Trip

Eleven participants met me at the Pole Tavern Circle Wawa on the morning of September 5, 2009. We were briefly joined by a Wawa employee, who was informing us of the details or her last evening’s work and her status with the local biker gangs. We explained our goals for the day, and she told us of a favorite encounter with a Bald Eagle in the area, then left presumably to get some much-needed sleep. We left the Wawa promptly at 7:30AM, arriving at Grier’s Lane soon afterwards. We made our first stop near the intersection of Route 77 and Grier’s Lane, mainly to determine if all the participants in our caravan had made it to the Johnson Sod Farm. At this stop, we found some BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, and about half of the trip’s participants saw an AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER before it flew off. This field featured plowed up dirt without any vegetation, and we examined it carefully for additional grasspipers. Unfortunately, no other birds made themselves known. The next field over was planted in corn, and the field after that had healthy sod. A few birds on the sod got us hopeful, but all we could find were KILLDEER and some more BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS. Swallows were staging in the area, and we saw three AMERICAN KESTRELS all around the same barn. Adding to the avifauna were migrating BOBOLINKS and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS, some of which gave us excellent close views as they landed in a nearby soybean field.

I hoped that Olivet Rd would provide us with our target birds, but a first pass only revealed dozens of HORNED LARKS and KILLDEER along with a distant GREAT EGRET. A NORTHERN HARRIER flew around a distant cornfield, but we couldn’t locate any of the migrant upland shorebirds we’d hoped to find. We worked some wet areas, but only HORNED LARKS were favoring them. A leaky hose up by the greenhouses provided some pooled water, and we enjoyed some close looks at LEAST SANDPIPERS that were feeding at the puddles. Then we ran around to Grier’s Lane again.

Grier’s still had few birds showing, and I resolved to check out a flooded field on Burlington Rd just past Olivet Lane, where others had seen Baird’s Sandpiper earlier in the week. Parking at that flooded field would have been impossible considering all the cars, so we parked at the first field on Olivet. From there, we would walk down the road and examine the flooded field. As we were gearing up for the hike, Martin Selzer found a molting adult AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER in the field between Olivet and the flooded field. Everyone had excellent views of this bird before it flew off towards Route 77, which, at least, gave everyone a chance to examine the axillaries for their absence of black feathering. Also in this area were a few SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS.

The hike to the flooded field provided us with our most specious area of the trip. Here we enjoyed close looks at SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, LEAST SANDPIPERS, LESSER YELLOWLEGS and the aforementioned GREAT EGRET. We gave Johnson Sod one last look, and then we headed off to East Coast Sod and Seed (formerly DeLea Sod Farm) to try our luck there, though advance reports from other birders indicated a general lack of birds there as well. On our way to East Coast Sod, we caught a little traffic due to the Cowtown Rodeo and the Bluegrass Festival, and we made a stop at Richman’s Ice Cream for some ice-cold refreshments. The area of East Coast Sod at Pointers-Auburn Rd and Route 40 had very few birds, but most of the participants got to see a MERLIN patrolling the fields across Route 40. The bent grass sod fields on Forest Lane had more birds, but they were mainly SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, PECTORAL SANDPIPERS and a few distant peeps. A birder said he’d seen a Baird’s Sandpiper in the field twenty minutes ago, but that the bird slipped away into high vegetation. We looked for this prized grasspiper for some time, but the heat and the fact that the sod farms were just generally unproductive soon had the group breaking up. You never know how a sod farm trip is going to turn out, and it seemed like most of the birds had taken advantage of the break in the weather to move out of the region with few birds flying in to replace them. Of course, the recent rains probably also meant that the grasspipers were not starved for choice in terms of feeding habitat, so the birds could have been at some lesser visited sites around the county too. We were happy to have seen the cooperative AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER at Olivet. And how many times do you get to see Solitary Sandpipers on a sod farm trip?