Date: 8/26/17 10:47 am
From: Harry Armistead via va-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [Va-bird] South Point Marsh, Blackwater, Ferry Neck, August 21-23, 2017. pelican banding.
SOUTH POINT MARSH, BLACKWATER, FERRY NECK, AUGUST 21-23, 2017. Pelican banding. Musings on Smith Island & environs.


AUGUST 21, MONDAY. RIGBY’S FOLLY, Ferry Neck, Talbot County, Maryland. hot, humid, 87, SW10, high tide, clear, 0.6” in the rain gauge since August 16. All of the following are seen during the ECLIPSE, 1:50 (I started late) - 4:03, but no special behavior is noted because of it. There is a strange light and feel going on but not much dimming of brightness. I sneak 3 furtive looks at the sun. w/o those glasses, of c. 1 second each, but it is so blinding it just looks like an average sun does. 23 species, complete list:


least sandpiper 1 & lesser yellowlegs 1, both in Field 4. royal tern 3, Forster’s tern 1, common tern 1, ring-billed gull 1, laughing gull 7, mourning dove 6, osprey 12 (6 carrying fish), turkey vulture 8, yellow-billed cuckoo 1, American crow 3, tufted titmouse 1 (bathing in the Varmint Pool ), brown thrasher 1, northern mockingbird 1, Carolina wren 1, ruby-throated hummingbird 1, European starling 6, barn swallow 7, purple martin 11, double-crested cormorant 1, and snowy egret 2.


NON-AVIAN TAXA (also seen during the eclipse): bluet 33 (damselflies). BUTTERFLIES, 7 species: red-spotted purple 1, monarch 2, cloudless sulphur 2, sulphur unIDd 1, small skipper unIDd 2, pearl crescent 2, hackberry emperor 4. HERPTILES: A 3” skink on the porch, a female box turtle near the front porch. MAMMALS: eastern cottontail 2, gray squirrel 4 (together in the same area of the lawn NW of the house), 2 spotted fawns in Field 4. None of the squirreleepoohs are recognizeable individuals seen earlier in the summer: snowshoes, half-tail, or tail half-red.


Apres eclipse some additional birds: wood duck 5, Carolina chickadee 2, bald eagle 1, great blue heron 1, green heron 5, red-winged blackbird 16, common grackle 1, and 4 diamondback terrapin.


YET ANOTHER SCREWY CAROLINA WREN NEST SITE, the 5th this year, this one with 2 fresh eggs in a small, recessed area of John Weske’s boat, a Nautico, parked out near the garage. This on the heels, this summer, of a nest in a director’s chair on the front porch, in the dryer vent on the N side of the house, in a low planter by the back porch, and in the tilted, old osprey platform under the car port. The property late date for Carolina Wren eggs is September 13.


AUGUST 22, TUESDAY. Rigby’s Folly, 2 lesser yellowlegs in Field 4. A female box turtle on the right-of-way part of the driveway (between Woods 2 and Woods 5).


BLACKWATER N.W.R., 11:50 A.M. - 3 P.M. Part of this time I take some folks from Carroll County, MD, around Wildlife Drive. Some of the birds listed below are seen before and after that tour. DRAMATIS PERSONAE (assumes I read the varied handwriting correctly): Bernice Culver, Ron & Sharon Schmidt, Dottie McGeehan, Jeanne Morris, and Elaine Fuller. 38 species, complete list:


1 singing male DICKCISSEL (heard out front from the V.C. Butterfly Garden; a singing male was also reported August 20 from Hog Range next to Tubman State Park), mourning dove 2, ruby-throated hummingbird 4, Virginia rail 3, laughing gull 30, ring-billed gull 10, herring gull 1, great black-backed gull 7 (adults on Malkus Bridge lamp posts), Caspian tern 1, Forster’s tern 39, double-crested cormorant 12 (Sewards), AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN 3, great blue heron 3, great egret 4,


turkey vulture 12, osprey 5, bald eagle 7, red-headed woodpecker 1, American kestrel 1 (Egypt Road, early migrant), eastern wood pewee 1, eastern kingbird 2, American crow 3, purple martin 50, tree swallow 900, barn swallow 70 (most of these 3 swallow species individuals on wires near Bucktown), Carolina wren 2 (1 of them stunned after flying into the Visitor Center windows but takes off when I am about to capture it; I’ve seen other birds stunned after hitting the glass here), eastern bluebird 3, American robin 2, northern mockingbird 2, European starling 30, house sparrow 2, chipping sparrow 6, northern cardinal 2, blue grosbeak 2, indigo bunting 2, bobolink 4, red-winged blackbird 20, eastern meadowlark 1.


Face it, it is hard to get a great list on a very hot August afternoon, and, with all the water levels so high. Clear, 86-90-92, heat index 100 or so, phew!, SW 15-20.


NON-AVIAN TAXA: woodchuck 1 (a fat one), painted turtle 2, redbelly turtle 3, and these BUTTERFLIES: cloudless sulphur 26 (big influx since a few days ago), orange sulphur 14, black swallowtail 6, monarch 5, and spicebush swallowtail 2.


AUGUST 23, WEDNESDAY. SOUTH POINT MARSH, ACCOMACK COUNTY, VIRGINIA. Now, NOW, we come to the MAIN EVENT, banding of Brown Pelican chicks. Here there are over 1,000 pairs, reminiscent of the chapter ‘Cities in the Wilderness’, about colonial waterbirds in Roger Tory Peterson’s Birds over America. Ten of us launch from Somer’s Cove Marina in Crisfield, MD. On July 13 819 chicks were banded here by a crew of 34. Today, from c. 10 A.M. until 1:45 P.M. it is much cooler and more pleasant than on stifling July 13.


With only 10 folks we acquit ourselves well with 690 banded (a total of 1,509 for this summer, when combined with the 819 banded July 13). We run out of time, and to some extent energy, and there are probably several 100 birds that will remain unbanded. No nests seen that still have eggs and the cormorant breeding season is over with, finito - all the birds have left their nest areas - except for a handful of large juveniles we flush from the dense tussocks of Panicum. A few of the pelican nestlings tense up and regurgitate, almost always Menhaden, but I see one c. 10” Striped Bass and a few Spot today among the regurgitations.


“Therewith out of her mouth she spewed

a flood of poison horrible and black.

full of great lumps of flesh and gobbets raw

that stunk so viley if forced him slack

his grasping hold and from her turn him back.

her vomit full of books and papers was

and toads and frogs that eyes did lack

creeping way sought in the weedy grass,

her filthy parbreake all the place defile it has.”


Spencer, ‘the Fairie queen’. … you get the picture. ugh!!


On a much more pleasant note: DRAMATIS PERSONAE: Trevor Michaels, Mario Eusi, Carl Dunnock, Marnie Pepper, and Lisa Buhr, these 5 all from the USDA/APHIS Nutria Team based at Blackwater N.W.R. Marcia Pradines, Refuge Manager, Blackwater N.W.R. Ray McClain, USDA, Annapolis Office, Problem Wildlife Hotline. John Weske, bander extraordinaire and in charge of the banding project today. Birders and pelican wranglers at large: Bob Ake and Harry Armistead. This crew, other than Bob and me, put in unbroken hours of hard work rounding up and banding the pelicans.


Many of the young are big - “bruisers” they’re called - almost as large as adults. Bob Ake and I leave the others an hour or so before they finish, head back towards the commodious APHIS boat, and scan for birds. In our late 70s, we are the seniors present, EXCEPT, John is 81 and indefatigable. Here’s the complete list for S.P.M. Bob is especially astute at spotting and identifying the shorebirds:


SHOREBIRDS: western sandpiper 4, least sandpiper 3, semipalmated sandpiper 6, semipalmated plover 21, unIDd peep 11, American oystercatcher only 2 (an adult with its grown chick), ruddy turnstone 1, sanderling 3. HERON TYPES: yellow-crowned night heron 3, great egret 4, snowy egret 6, tricolored heron 3, great blue heron 1, glossy ibis 1. RAPTORS: bald eagle 1, osprey 2, northern harrier 1. Other goodies: BLACK TERN 3, royal tern 2, laughing gull 1, seaside sparrow 3, gadwall 1, fish crow 3, barn swallow 3, American black duck 8, and boat-tailed grackle

3. I don’t bother trying to estimate double-crested cormorants, herring and great black-backed gulls, who cares?, but not all THAT many as their nesting seems to be over here, its success or lack of it passing into history.


Also seen today: 1 diamondback terrapin, 4 cloudless sulphurs, and 2 monarchs. On July 12 I counted 290 pelican nests still with eggs in the southern two-thirds of the colony. No doubt most of the birds banded today are from those nests. WEATHER: quite comfortable, low 80s, fair at start becoming mostly overcast, SW 10+ becoming NW 15. Tide dead low (plenty of exposed mud and soggy sod banks) becoming high.


The South Point Marsh area saw the 1st nesting Brown Pelicans in 1992, building exponentially to 1,207 pairs by 2003, and 1,434 nests on May 18, 2004. The first Double-crested Cormorants nests were found here in 1993. In 2003 there were 907 pairs. Information for this paragraph is found in Virginia’s birdlife: an annotated checklist, 4th edition, by Stephen C. Rottenborn & Edward S. Brinkley, Virginia Society of Ornithology (Virginia avifauna 7), 2007, 330p.


If we’d gone farther south some the extensive sandbars would have been seen, stretching away in the shimmering distance towards Tangier Island, and consequently a lot more shorebirds, esp. oystercatchers, in all probability. Perhaps a few Mute Swans, too.


Yesterday and this morning there were 6 or more mundane issues that might have led to my being dehydrated today, but there is no trace of that in marked contrast to the medical problems I sustained July 13, landing me in the Easton, MD, ER the next day for 4+ hours, and that’s with no waiting. Consequently today I am very relieved. Very gratified. As they say: “I’m O.K., Coach; send me back in.” I suspect drinking a lot of Glaceau Smartwater with its electrolytes is the main reason all is good.


SMITH ISLAND, MD. Today we pass the 3 Smith I. villages, Ewell as we arrive, Rhodes Point & Tylerton as we leave. No stopping but on Smith we see: American black duck 31 (feeding midst the SAV on the west side of Big Thorofare), great egret 40 (most of them on the bustling, vibrant flats adjacent to Swan Island), willet 2 (Swan Island), fish crow 12, green heron 2, and little blue heron 2. If we’d stopped near Swan Island there was no doubt much else to be seen there on the flats, a couple of hundred birds in the distance, foraging and resting. When I first visited Smith I. in the 1970s there were no trees on Swan Island. Now there is a full-blown hammock there with many sizeable trees and nesting heron types. Good!


Swan Island is a segment of the Glenn L. Martin N.W.R., in the purview of Blackwater N.W.R. Glenn L. Martin, 1886-1953, was an early aviation pioneer and barnstormer who in 1954 donated most of the northern half to Smith Island, some 2,569 acres, to the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service for this refuge, now comprising 4,548 acres (according to Wikipedia). Martin’s company later merged to become Martin Marietta and, now, Lockheed Martin. He designed the Martin Bomber.


One of my favorite place names, Terrapin Sand Point, is part of the refuge. So is a large hammock, Cherry Island, that has a thriving heronry and has been the site of a Bald Eagle nest. In the period 1967 - 1978 I spent all or parts of 40-some days on the central Chesapeake Bay islands in the breeding season and NEVER saw one Bald Eagle or Brown Pelican: (cf. Maryland Birdlife, “summer birds of lower Chesapeake Bay islands in Maryland”, September 1978, vol. 34, no. 3, pages 99-151). I used to fantasize about spending an entire fall on Cherry Island, mist-netting migrant landbirds. Last night, August 25, I dreamt of Smith Island.


‘Terrapin Sand Point

and Okahanikan Cove

names alone are good.’

from “Chesapeake haiku”, a poem by What’s-his-name.


IN LITT. For a great book on this area one can do no better than Tom Horton’s An island out of time: a memoir of Smith Island in the Chesapeake, W. W. Norton & Company, 1996, 316p. “Shankses” describes the South Point Marsh area, on pages 290-291. I’ve got to start re-reading this superb book. One of my favorite phrases of Tom Horton’s is describing the Smith Island area as one of “great horizontality”. My own screwiest sighting here was of 7 Red Crossbills at Ewell on May 28, 1978, an unlikely species way out here on an unlikely date.


In February 2002 Liz and I spent a weekend on Smith Island. it was calm and unseasonably warm. We hired a fellow with a Jon Boat to take us down to the South Point Marsh area, a place full of fond memories of summer forays and bandings of some of the colonial waterbirds: pelicans, oystercatchers, gulls, skimmers, and Royal Terns (including 1,400 Royal Tern chicks banded by John and 3 others of us one day). On February 9, 2002, at South Point Marsh - I’ve misplaced the original field notes - I remember we saw over 1,000 each of Tundra Swans, American Wigeon, and Dunlin. Not bad for the “dead of winter”, a phrase that should be done away with?


William Least Heat Moon’s book Blue highways celebrates minor roadways in the United States. Part of that book is set in Smith Island where the author talks with a lady who is a sort of unofficial island historian. I forget her name, but years before the book came out I blundered onto her at her house of the south side of Ewell and east of the road to Rhodes Point. We had a nice talk. It’s not often that I scoop a major author.


Back on the mainland at Crisfield by 4 P.M., August 23, 2017, and then the 185-mile drive to home in Philadelphia. The French fries at the Bridgewater, DE, McDonalds are much better than those at the McD’s in Crisfield, but the coffee suffices at both locales. Flocks of resident Canada Geese just N of the Maryland/Delaware line and also S of Dover, DE.


JAN REESE ON OSPREYS. Recently I commented on how Ospreys locally, in the Rigby’s Folly area, have had a poor breeding season. Jan read my comments, and, based on his much-more extensive experience this year, in the Tilghman Island area, he agrees, even though his recent counts there have been unprecedentedly high, 175, 229, 213, and 188 Ospreys, no doubt greatly augmented by non-resident birds migrating through. There are loads of pound net stakes visible from Tilghman Island where many of the Ospreys can be seen perched.


Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.
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