Date: 3/2/17 11:01 am
From: Harry Armistead <harryarmistead...>
Subject: [MDBirding] Ferry Neck & Blackwater N.W.R., February 23-28, 2017.
FERRY NECK & BLACKWATER N.W.R., FEBRUARY 23-28, 2017. ruddies, Redheads, big white birds. early spring vegetation. a bleak Choptank River. The first 3 days have way-above-normal temperatures. Sure could use a good soaking rain. Liz and I spend much of the time reading our respective copies of 2 massive WWII histories by Shirer and Atkinson (the latter on loan from Bob Lukens). I catch a Gray Squirrel in a crab net (February 26). Surprised not to see an early Osprey.

FEBRUARY 23, THURSDAY. On the way down from Philadelphia, a lackluster trip: Middletown, DE, a migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk, 19 non-migratory Fish Crows. Route 481, 2 Horned Larks, 1 American Kestrel. South of Cordova to the east of Route 309, 50 Tundra Swans in a field. Liz sees 3 Painted Turtles in Frog Hollow (this is just east of our property boundary).

Arrive at Rigby’s Folly, Ferry Neck, Talbot County, Armistead property, at 3 P.M. for 3 productive hours. 72 degrees F.! Things get squirrelee right away: on the driveway on the edge of Field 4 are a FOX SQUIRREL and 4 Gray Squirrels. The canoe has again been blown over and the chairs and stuff at Lucy Point are in wind-blown disarray. After unloading the car (9 trips car to house) seen from the dock c. 4 P.M. are Red-breasted Merganser 8, Bufflehead 40, Horned Grebe 5, Ruddy Duck 70, Bald Eagle 3, Canada Goose 135, and REDHEAD 1,130. To give perspective on this, previous Redhead high counts for here include: Feb. 9, 2003, 57; Feb. 16, 1975, 45; Feb. 24, 2000, 39; and Feb. 6, 2000, 26. Wow!!! I don’t know what significance there is that these are all February dates. The Redheads are massed out in the center of Irish Creek.

Out at Lucy Point, 4:35-6:10: Tundra Swan 76 (plus 3 in northward migration), Horned Grebe 6, Bufflehead 36, Bald Eagle 1 adult, Ruddy Duck 16, Ring-billed Gull 12, unIDd gull 16, Redhead 4, and NORTHERN GANNET 1 adult (early), plus a flyout of Canada Geese to the north in 21 flocks in configurations ranging from 8 to 180 and totalling c. 983 and c. 373 other CGs apparently not going anywhere. One Gray Squirrel. 67-60, SW10+, clear but the haze cuts in at about a mile out, yet a perfect sunset, blinding down to the horizon behind the trees on the western shore. No boats.

FEBRUARY 24, FRIDAY. “Sittin’ on a dock by the bay … “ Yes, sittin’ there 9:30-11:30: the REDHEADS again but in flight in 5 rapidly-moving flocks, some with hundreds, briefly, so I’ll go with yesterday’s estimate of 1,130 plus red-breasted merganser 17, bufflehead 22, red-tailed hawk 1 adult, herring gull 4, ring-billed gull 1, horned grebe 3, belted kingfisher 1, bald eagle 3 adults, black vulture 6, fish crow 2 (a sign of spring, sort of), ruddy duck 16, tundra swan 5. We also see 2 Winter Jellyfish and a small Horseshoe Crab lying on its back, flailing its legs ineffectively (in February!?). I flip it over with a long boat hook and it disappears. One unIDd butterfly. There’s one tonger out in Irish Creek and a small skiff (MD1646BH) sets two nets and tends them at the mouth of the cove, all within the space of < 1 hour. 1 other workboat.

LUCY POINT, 11:37-1:17. horned grebe 4, bufflehead 40, Canada goose 55, red-tailed hawk 2, common loon 1, herring gull 2, tundra swan 2, red-breasted merganser 20, and redhead 2. fair, 62, SW10 and dropping, haze again has cut in at about a mile offshore. See a 2.5’ fish, flailing around on the surface, looks like a small shark, periodically dives, but seems to be in extremis. 3 dredgers, MD1646BH again, 1 pleasure boat. Out at the point again, continues to be bleak, 4:30-6: tundra swan 43, Canada goose 245, surf scoter 22, red-breasted merganser 2.

FEBRUARY 25, SATURDAY. Fair but ominous purple sky developing to the N spreading from the NW at 3 P.M. with winds NW 15+ and rain coming, earlier SSE10-15+, 62-73, temps dropping to 55 by 5:15 P.M. From the dock 9:15-11:15: horned grebe 4, herring gull 1, ring-billed gull 3. turkey vulture 11, black vulture 3, bald eagle 2 adults, bufflehead 26, ruddy duck 30, red-breasted merganser 11, belted kingfisher 1, MERLIN 1 (2nd winter record; a female), American kestrel 1, tundra swan 9, Canada goose 175, cedar waxwing 14, and redhead 275.

7 Gray Squirrels. Sit out by the Big Field Noon - 12:30: 5 does, 1 killdeer, 2 green-winged teal with 4 mallard or black duck types. Pileated woodpecker in the yard 1:50 P.M. Spectacular. Three does seen running from Woods 2 to Woods 6. Over the winter a lot of rosemary has survived, usable in cooking, and some parsley.

BELLEVUE: 2:45 P.M.: ruddy duck 30, ring-billed gull 80, and horned grebe 1. At Frog Hollow a great blue heron and 4 Painted Turtles at 3:15. A wild turkey gobbling at 8:30 A.M. and 13 in Field 6.

FEBRUARY 26, SUNDAY. At BLACKWATER N.W.R. Numbers for some species that are in parentheses represent counts conducted by the Blackwater N.W.R. staff on February 23 for comparison. What a difference a few days can make. The refuge numbers are probably much more accurate than mine. 8 participants: Harry & Liz Armistead, Don Barrow, Tom Cimino, Carol Czerkies, Ann & Paul Dercyk, and Pam Smith. Windy, cold, 37-45, NW15+, fair becoming clear, tidal waters a bit low, fresh waters high. 7 A.M. - 1:30 P.M. (official guided birding tour 8 - noon). Some birds listed below found before or after the official bird tour. I haven’t seen this many Blue Geese here in many, many years.

Complete list: snow goose 1,000 (3,700), blue goose 210 (350), Canada goose 2,000, tundra swan 670 (573), wood duck 2, gadwall 10, American wigeon 2 (31), American black duck 14, mallard 90 (942), mallard X American black duck hybrid 1, northern shoveler 80 (385), northern pintail 0 (94), green-winged teal 165 (70), ring-necked duck 190 (48), Hooded Merganser 0 (35), AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN 70 [this is Walter Ellison’s count from yesterday that I’ll go with today because today’s birds, except for 2, are ALL the way over on the S side of Blackwater River], great blue heron 0 [!!], turkey vulture 24, bald eagle 20, northern harrier 1, American coot 4 (4), greater yellowlegs 12, dunlin 40 (136),

ring-billed gull 85, herring gull 20 (Cambridge), great black-backed gull 5 (Cambridge), Forster’s tern 1 (23; a remarkable winter count for here), mourning dove 6, red-headed woodpecker 1 (Tom Cimino), northern flicker 1, American crow 10, horned lark 2 (Egypt Road), tree swallow 4, Carolina wren 1, eastern bluebird 6, American robin 10 [incl. 1 in full song on top of a lamp at the Cambridge Wawa], northern mockingbird 3, European starling 12, myrtle warbler 3, Savannah sparrow 4, song sparrow 3, white-throated sparrow 1, white-crowned sparrow 1 immature [at the Visitor Center area most of this winter], northern cardinal 3, red-winged blackbird 30, common grackle 90 [most at Cambridge], and house sparrow 2.

NON-AVIAN TAXA: Several New Jersey Chorus Frogs calling, like running one’s fingers up the teeth of a comb. Eastern Cottontail 1. Muskrat 1. Yesterday Walter Ellison saw 2 AMERICAN AVOCETS on the refuge. Nice to run into Greg Inskip and Jim Stasz.

At RIGBY’S FOLLY later in the afternoon. 8 Gray Squirrels (including Santa Claws, see below). 38-47, fair becoming clear, NW15+/. Out at Lucy Point, 5:40-6:23, another perfect sunset, 44-38, NW5, visibility excellent: tundra swan 45, ruddy duck 22, horned grebe 14, red-breasted merganser 3, bufflehead 46, Canada Goose 200 (roosting WAY out on the Choptank), great blue heron 1, ring-billed gull 49 (going to roost near the geese), and bald eagle 1. No boats. Venus, clear and bright over the western post-sunset glow.

In Field 6: 21 robins and c. 400 blackbirds = red-winged blackbird c. 60%, starlings 35% & common grackles 5%. In the hedgerow between Field 6 and Field 7, SE side, find the remains of a deer including a head with 9 points, 5 tines on the left antler, put it out by the garage to cleanse some more. Liz sees the merlin again plus 330 Canada geese in the cove.

5:01 P.M. SANTA CLAWS DROPS IN FOR A VISIT. A soft landing, in the ashes. Any landing you can scamper away from is a good landing. We’d heard noises in the living room chimney for several days. Yesterday I shut the door, let down the shades, placed a lamp next to the fireplace, brought in a crab net, opened one window and the damper … and waited. Nothing.

Today the same set up. After several minutes a fat Gray Squirrel drops down into the ashes, and sits there, bewildered, as if to say “What the Hell is this?”, perhaps confused by my mother’s decor and effects, including her library. Face it, Francis Parkman’s works (17 volumes, Little, Brown & Co., 1877-) and Beaux & belles of England by James Boaden et al. (13 volumes, Grolier Society, c. 1890) can get to the best of us, be offputting. And things don’t get much better with J. L. Motley’s Rise of the Dutch Republic et sequelae (7 volumes, 1871-1875, Harper & Brothers). It might have gone more smoothly if there had been a copy of the Tale of squirrel nutkin

Be that as it may, I’d hoped whatever came down the chimney would make a break for the open window. No. No scampering away from this landing. Taking advantage of the squirrel’s understandable astonishment at its surroundings (perhaps sometimes shared occasionally by our human guests), I, thank Heaven, am easily able to scoop up the confused animal in the crab net, the top of its head missing fur and raw, and unceremoniously dump it out the northeast living room window. I rejected Meathead, Sorehead, Hothead, and Baldpate, went with Santa Claws for a moniker. Careful scrutiny of squirrels at our feed the next few days, alas, failed to find S.C. Perhaps he decided he’d had enough of this burg. Hope he gets over it, fast.

A few years ago we had a cover put on this chimney. Will have to get that checked out soon.

FEBRUARY 27, MONDAY. Never done it before, but, it’s SO dry, drive the car around the periphery of all 7 fields = a total of 3.45 miles; the fields total 58.9 acres with acreage from Field 1 (the Big Field) to Field 7 respectively as: 13.3, 10.0, 3.9, 12.3, 3.8, 12.2, and 3.4 acres. Not a single bird in any field, but the flock of 13 Wild Turkeys seen again, from Field 6 in an adjacent property. Almost got stuck once. Remove a 20 lb. rock from Field 1 that has been offending my sensibilities for years, dropped off a contractor’s truck, and heave it over the bank to add to the rip rap. Under the rock is a Black Widow. At Lucy Point, 11:42 A.M. (SW5+, 49 degrees F., fair) a brief visit: bald eagle 1, red-breasted merganser 9, bufflehead 14, tundra swan 48, and offshore 4 dredgers and 2 skipjacks. One unIDd sulphur.

From the dock briefly at 11:14: RUDDY DUCK 590, red-breasted merganser 3, horned grebe 3, Canada goose 130. On the S side of the hedgerow between Fields 3 & 4 are 3 squirrels, all adopting the Weltanschaaung attitude, 2 grays and 1 FOX SQUIRREL, sitting up on their haunches, white bellies visible at considerable distance. Today here: fair, SW5+ becoming overcast, 47-55.

FEBRUARY 28, TUESDAY. Lucy Point, 8:05-8:36, dead clam, visibility near perfect, 46-49, clear: Bufflehead 465, Surf Scoter 80, Common Loon 6, Horned Grebe 8, Tundra Swan 17, Herring Gull 6, Long-tailed Duck 7 (also hear them even though they are at a great distance, so far that it is hard to ID them even with the 32X scope), Bald Eagle 1, Common Goldeneye 6, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-breasted Merganser 1, Lesser Scaup 4, and boats: 1 skipjack, 11 dredgers, 1 sailboat.

Up Irish Creek: 290 Ruddy Ducks but the flock disappears around Edwards Point so I’m sure there are more, perhaps the full complement of 590 seen yesterday, all of them cute Gray Squirrel 7 in the yard, 2 on the driveway, and 1 d.o.r. (requiescat in pavement) opposite Frog Hollow, where there are 5 Painted Turtles basking. Leave at 9 A.M. Getaway breakfast at Denny’s in Easton: great service, generous helpings, delicious hash browns, and commodious coffee mugs with, and this is important, room for all 4 fingers around the handle. A paucity of young, live oysters on the rip rap this winter.

On the way home to PA: 20 Tundra Swans in a field W of Route 309. On Route 481 a pair of adult Bald Eagles < 0.5 mi. from a nest in the isolated Sycamore near Routes 481 X 309, one American Kestrel, 4 Tundra Swans in a field S of Ruthsburg. At milepost 117, Route 301, an imm. Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Striped Skunk, the latter d.o.r. Another dead skunk a few miles previously.

Here in Philadelphia a lot of Crocuses, Snowdrops, and some Forsythia have come out since February 23.

the SINGULAR AMERICAN PIPIT. Perhaps this sort of thing happens every year, but I find it curious that a bird often seen in flocks is only represented by one individual on these recent Christmas counts: Virginia: Chincoteague, Matthews, Cape Charles, Bannister River; Mattamuskeet, NC; Seaford-Nanticoke, DE; Macon, Georgia; Denton, MD.

GREAT FEATS/FEETS OF PREDATION. The issue of Virginia Birds with records for fall 2016 (vol. 13, no. 2) has 2 photographs (p. 27) by Charlie Plimpton of a Northern Goshawk dispatching an apparently healthy immature Great Black-backed Gull, a bird perhaps 3 or 4 times its size, weight, and bulk, at Pickett’s Harbor Natural Area Preserve, November 9, 2016. This is all the more amazing because the photograph seems to be of an immature male hawk, smaller than a female would be. Charlie was the Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory Bay Watch person, conducting a sea watch of lower Chesapeake Bay about a mile north of Kiptopeke State Park.

Great Black-backed Gull is not exactly a pushover. I remember 3 occasions when I witnessed, respectively, a GBBG killing an apparently healthy Red-breasted Merganser, American Coot, and Horned Grebe. The species has been described as ”A brute of a gull, this is the largest gull species in the world. Heavy and powerful, it is a fearless and intimidating bird … it is a bully, chasing other gulls to steal food … “ Birds of Pennsylvania (Scott & Nix, , Inc., 2015, p. 105, George L. Armistead).

Once on the Cape Charles Christmas count several of us flushed a goshawk out on Smith Island 7 or 8 times. The first few incidents it was carrying a Tricolored Heron. After that we found the heron, its entrails eaten out. We continued to flush the gos as we moved south on the island for its northern 4 or so miles, where this long segment of the island consists of just dunes, beach, and saltmarsh and is quite narrow. I think it was an immature female. At Cape May Chris Witt once saw a Peregrine Falcon strike and kill a Great Egret.

ENDANGERED “SPECIES”. It bothers me that the lay press and even most bird literature continues to refer to various subspecies, most recently the Delmarva Fox Squirrel (no longer endangered), as endangered species when they are subspecies. The Florida Panther also. In cases such as these the species per se is not endangered, the subspecies is.

BEST SIGN THIS TRIP. At a contractor’s shop: “Make your driveway great again.”

Go a few miles inland and plenty of daffodils are out. Local willows getting green. Some forsythia also out. It all seems early.

Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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