Date: 12/20/17 10:31 am
From: Harry Armistead via va-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [Va-bird] December 15-18, lower Eastern Shore MD & VA. Nassawadox Christmas count.
DECEMBER 15-18, 2017: Ocean City, Maryland. Gargatha Landing, Cedar Island (Wachapreague Christmas Bird Count), Hog Island (Nassawadox C.B.C.), Willis Wharf, Virginia.

DEDICATION: in memory of John (“Bud”) W. Taylor, artist, book collector, and gentle person.

DECEMBER 15, 2017, FRIDAY: OCEAN CITY, MD, INLET, 1-1:45, low tide, E 10, 40 degrees F. Sometimes brief visits to a place are the most productive.: common eider 14, harlequin duck 2 (a pair), KING EIDER 1 female, black scoter 8, long-tailed duck 7, RED-NECKED GREBE 1, white-winged scoter 1, surf scoter 9, common loon 6, red-throated loon 3, Forster’s tern 81, rock pigeon 55, Bonaparte’s gull 1, double-crested cormorant 1, red-breasted merganser 1, brant 35, unIDd scoters 45, and boat-tailed grackle 6.

SKIMMER ISLAND as seen from Route 50 near Hooper’s: lots of sand flats, hardly any vegetation left, 2 P.M.: American oystercatcher 16, brant 210, dunlin 40, common loon 7, red-breasted merganser 3, great blue heron 1, belted kingfisher 1, and Forster’s tern 80.

WEST OCEAN CITY POND (Golf Course Road), 2:15. Good variety but numbers rather low: ring-necked duck 40, canvasback 40, tundra swan 8, mallard 50, northern pintail 55 (a good fall for them in places I’ve haunted), ruddy duck 8, American coot 6, American wigeon 2, hooded merganser 2, bufflehead 8, Canada goose 18, northern shoveler 4, American black duck 2, green-winged teal 6, and pied-billed grebe 2. Gray Squirrel 1. How John Dennis loved these freshwater ponds adjacent to the coast.


GARGATHA LANDING, ACCOMACK COUNTY, VIRGINIA. 3:45-4:40, 42-37, overcast, SE10, visibility about as good as it ever gets, easy to see the tower on the north end of distant Cedar Island, and the NASA towers much closer on Wallops Island. SHORT-EARED OWL 1 (at 4:08 P.M. EST), peregrine falcon 1, American black duck 28, boat-tailed grackle 19, northern harrier 1 adult female, Canada goose 32, red-winged blackbird 210, bufflehead 2, bald eagle 2, dunlin 85, belted kingfisher 1, great blue heron 1. Moseying on in there at 3:45 there are 41 deer in the usual field, the easternmost one on the south of the road.

LOCUSTVILLE. As I get set up in the Reigers’ guest house, marshaling my armamentarium for an active day tomorrow, thousands, and I mean thousands, of Snow Geese come in from the east low and right over their house on Finney Creek. I’ll see them tomorrow, Saturday, a few miles away.

DECEMBER 16, SATURDAY, WACHAPREAGUE CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT. Now don’t get me wrong … this list DOES include some stuff, especially the landbirds, seen at or in the vicinity of the Reigers’ property, but it’s mostly meant to show what we see from the boat and on Cedar Island offshore. Ruth Boettcher and Jeremy Tarwater operate the boat for Bob Toner, Jackie Howard, Heath Guyette, and me. They course through the marshes while the 4 of us walk the 3-4 miles of the south end of Cedar Island. No big bellringers, but here’s the list, 68 species:

snow goose 2,600. blue goose 2. brant 80. Canada goose 2,000. American black duck 256. mallard 4. green-winged teal 18. surf scoter 145. black scoter 4. long-tailed duck 21. bufflehead 288. common goldeneye 1 presumed female. hooded merganser 2. red-breasted merganser 20. red-throated loon 8. common loon 9. horned grebe 35. double-crested cormorant 4. great blue heron 9. black vulture 1. turkey vulture 4.

bald eagle 18 (never used to see ANY back when I first participated in this count, in 1977, when I wore a younger man’s hip waders). northern harrier 6. American kestrel 3. peregrine falcon 1. black-bellied plover 347. killdeer 18. American oystercatcher 88 (Ruth & Jeremy able to read the numbers/letters on several marked birds, continuing their long-term studies of these birds). greater yellowlegs 40. willet 51. WHIMBREL 1. ruddy turnstone 3. RED KNOT 4. sanderling 24. dunlin 1,150. ring-billed gull 26. herring gull 220. great black-backed gull 10 (Pete Dunne’s Great Imperial Landfill Buzzard). Forster’s tern 39.

mourning dove 2. belted kingfisher 1. yellow-bellied sapsucker 1. downy woodpecker 1. American crow 6. fish crow 4. horned lark 1 (heard over Cedar I. by Jackie). Carolina chickadee 6. tufted titmouse 3. Carolina wren 2. ruby-crowned kinglet 2. eastern bluebird 30. hermit thrush 5 (how they love woods with a big American holly understory!).

American robin 65 (and the robins, too). northern mockingbird 2. European starling 1,100 (if you want to chase these they’re mostly in the town of Wachapreague). myrtle warbler 25. pine warbler 1 (suckers for the screech-owl on my iPod). song sparrow 1. swamp sparrow 1. white-throated sparrow 1. slate-colored junco (twitterkins) 10, northern cardinal 2. red-winged blackbird 255. eastern meadowlark 14. common grackle 100. boat-tailed grackle 140. brown-headed cowbird 22 (boo. hiss). American goldfinch 1.

12th NASSAWADOX, VIRGINIA, CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT, December 17, 2017. 115 species. 27 participants in 8 sectors. The grand totals:

*** = species seen only by the boat party.

WATERFOWL: snow goose 0. brant 2,400 ***. cackling goose 1 (CMc). Canada goose 1,134. tundra swan 45. wood duck 6 (2 sectors). gadwall 73 (2 sectors). American black duck 268. mallard 117. mallard X American black duck hybrid 2. ring-necked duck 14 (3 sectors). KING EIDER 1 female (***, NW end of Cobb Island, seen through bins & scope, c. 100 yards; new for this count; RLAn, TT & HTA; one of the 1st birds seen after we disembark from the boat [which is not a bark]; if you WANT to see Poe’s “Nicene barks of yore”, well, you’re a little late). surf scoter 155 ***. white-winged scoter 10 ***. black scoter 120 ***. unIDd scoters 365 ***. long-tailed duck 6 ***. bufflehead 743. hooded merganser 167 (all 8 sectors). red-breasted merganser 23. ruddy duck 50.

northern bobwhite 1 (continues on the way to oblivion). wild turkey 0. red-throated loon 2,050 (***, big offshore flight going north; we probably missed many before noticing it). common loon 52. pied-billed grebe 5 (3 sectors). horned grebe 41 ***. northern gannet 3 (***, WAY offshore). double-crested cormorant 13. great blue heron 26. great egret 1. black-crowned night heron 1.

black vulture 105. turkey vulture 107. bald eagle 23. northern harrier 6. sharp-shinned hawk 7. Cooper’s hawk 4. red-shouldered hawk 4. red-tailed hawk 9. American kestrel 10. merlin 5 (new high). peregrine falcon 2 males (***, N end, Hog I.). SANDHILL CRANE 2 (new for the count; Hare Valley; MMc, WE). clapper rail 1. Virginia rail 2. American coot 1.

SHOREBIRDS: black-bellied plover 526 (3 sectors). semipalmated plover 12 (CMcA). killdeer 70. American oystercatcher 426. greater yellowlegs 25. lesser yellowlegs 0. willet 85 (low). marbled godwit 0 (1st miss in spite of 3 sectors visiting Willis Wharf at various times; 5 of us saw none 9:15 - 11:45 A.M., Dec. 18). ruddy turnstone 34. sanderling 18 ***. western sandpiper 4 ***. dunlin 10,521 (most of this total the result of RLAn examining in excruciating detail, after the fact, a series of photographs he took; yes, excruciating). short-billed dowitcher 35 ***. Wilson’s snipe 3. American woodcock 2.

LARIDS: Bonaparte’s gull 16 (***, Revels Island). ring-billed gull 258. herring gull 139. great black-backed gull 20 ***. Forster’s tern 32 (***, Revels Island).

rock pigeon 32 (4 sectors). mourning dove 45. eastern screech-owl 4. great horned owl 5 (3 sectors). belted kingfisher 22. red-bellied woodpecker 30. yellow-bellied sapsucker 6. downy woodpecker 11. hairy woodpecker 6. northern flicker 71. pileated woodpecker 14. eastern phoebe 10. blue jay 39. American crow 358. fish crow 46. unIDd crow 60. horned lark 28.

LI’L SPRITES: Carolina chickadee 39. tufted titmouse 44. brown-headed nuthatch 21 (2 sectors). brown creeper 0. Carolina wren 56. house wren 3. winter wren 6. sedge wren 1. marsh wren 1. golden-crowned kinglet 16. ruby-crowned kinglet 8.

THRUSH TYPES: eastern bluebird 104. hermit thrush 18. American robin 2,727. gray catbird 23. northern mockingbird 36. brown thrasher 0.

European starling 984. American pipit 0. cedar waxwing 16 (3 sectors). myrtle warbler 1,575 (all sectors). pine warbler 5. palm warbler 40.

SPARROW TYPES: eastern towhee 2 (declining). chipping sparrow 154 (this is a good CBC for them). field sparrow 13. Savannah sparrow 29. Ipswich sparrow 0. saltmarsh sparrow 1. fox sparrow 7. song sparrow 95. swamp sparrow 38. white-throated sparrow 70. unIDd sparrow 6. slate-colored junco 57. northern cardinal 46.

BLACKBIRDS: red-winged blackbird 4,136. eastern meadowlark 55. rusty blackbird 0. common grackle 1,455. boat-tailed grackle 0. brown-headed cowbird 151.

END GAMERS: purple finch 0. house finch 32. American goldfinch 46. house sparrow 10 (4 sectors).

*** BOAT PARTY. About half the years it is too windy for the boat (Hog Island) party. This year conditions were perfect, dead calm most of the day, sunny until early afternoon, and warmish. The best winter boat trip I’ve ever been on. To highlight the importance of the boat party for this count, this year it found 14 unique species, as indicated above.

PARTICIPANTS: PARTY ASSIGNMENTS (asterisk * indicates party leader):

BROWNSVILLE & RED BANK area: Bob Ake*. David Clark. Zak Poulton*. Jen Davis. Jack Looney.

BOAT (Hog Island): Bob Anderson, Marcus Killmon, Thuy Tran, Harry Armistead*.

the one, true, CIRCUIT RIDER, kayak route on the seaside, Parting Creek, and to some extent Willis Wharf: Colin McAllister*.

MACHIPONGO, Webb’s Island, Red Bank, Box Tree Road: Dot Field*, Richard Ayres, Bob Toner, Bill & Kathy Bender & Laurie Jones.

WILLIS WHARF & town of EXMORE: Curtis* & Lynn Badger, and, in part, Colin McAllister, Bob Ake & David Clark. The Badgers’ primary coverage: Bell and Upshur Necks.

FRANKTOWN (central west) & UPPERSHIRE: Roberta Kellam*.

SOUTHWEST & BRICKHOUSE NECK SOUTH (Route 621): Marv Rubin*, Margaret Andrews, Bill & Jane Hill.

NORTHWEST & BRICKHOUSE NECK NORTH (Route 620): Grazina & Michael* McClure, Sue & Wes Earp.

NON-AVIAN TAXA: gray squirrel is the winner, as usual, with 17, then muskrat 1, deer just 1, raccoon 1, monarch 2 (1 on Hog Island), dolphin 3 (way offshore), big brown marsh grasshopper 1 (don’t know the proper name). No herps.

WEATHER: just about perfect. 30-50 degrees F., some ice in the fields and ditches initially, winds calm most of the day, sometimes SW or SE at 5 m.p.h., fair and sunny becoming overcast by 1 P.M. Tide low most of the day. The dead calm made it so nice and easy to see any birds sitting on the waters’ surface, to hear any vocalizations. Tides (high then low): Revel’s I. (N. end of Hog I.): 7:12, 1:33. Great Machipongo Inlet (S. end of Hog I.) 7:42, 2:02. Upshur Neck S. end: 7:46, 2:20. Sunrise 7:12. Sunset 4:46.

EFFORT: 25 miles on foot, 130 miles by car, 20 miles by motorized boat, 5 miles by kayak. 56 hours on foot, 21 hours by car, 3 hours by motorized boat, 3.25 hours by kayak. 6 A.M. - 5 P.M.

I ain’t gonna repeat the species our boat party found that were unique (indicated by *** above), but here are the other birds we found: Canada goose 80, tundra swan 28, gadwall 3, American black duck 195, bufflehead 620, hooded merganser 16, red-breasted merganser 22, common loon 46, double-crested cormorant 12, great blue heron all of 1, bald eagle 8, northern harrier 2, red-tailed hawk 1, merlin 1, black-bellied plover 450, American oystercatcher 425, greater yellowlegs only 1, willet 2, dunlin 10,478, ring-billed gull 4, herring gull 110, belted kingfisher 1, northern flicker 1, gray catbird 3, and myrtle warbler 85.

COUNT PERIOD REPORTS. The count period extends 3 days before & 3 days after count day. Kit Fechtig reports an unIDd hummingbird Dec. 19 and a golden eagle Dec. 20.

DECEMBER 18, MONDAY. WILLIS WHARF. It’s almost a tradition now for some of us to gather, apres Nassawadox C.B.C., on the platform here to shoot the breeze a little and enjoy the hundreds of Marbled Godwits. But, the garbled modwits are still not here. What Grazina & Michael McClure and Sue & Wes Earp and I DO see include a nice immature LITTLE BLUE HERON. With her big rig Sue gets some photographs. Also here: willet 35, bald eagle 4, tundra swans (heard but not seen), Canada goose 420, fish crow 17, greater yellowlegs 2, Cooper’s hawk 1 (distant), rock pigeon 6, red-tailed hawk 1, ruddy turnstone 30, common loon 4, double-crested cormorant 1 imm., hooded merganser 4, red-winged blackbird 325, and dunlin 1. 9:15 - 11:45 A.M., sunny, SW10, 45-47. High tide gradually letting out so there’s a lot of exposed mud by the time I leave.

ISLAND IMPRESSIONS. The S end of Cedar I. used to be rolling typography with high dunes, good sand vegetation, several hundred yards wide, where we used to find Short-eared Owls with some regularity. There were also some trees and a winding road/trail through this area. Most all of that disappeared a few years ago due to nor’easters so that now it is most a flat, open, sandy area. The trawler Laura X (I forget what Laura’s letter designation was), up on the sand due to one of those storms a few years ago, is now 100 yards out to sea as the island has shifted west and is a rusty, remnant hulk of its former self. Cedar has what I call a “depauperate, bland coquillage” but there is a near carpet of millions of shells, mostly oysters, clams, and whelks, and with a lot of medium-sized, dead horseshoe crabs.

The N end of Cobb I. is quite different, very wide, jutting out Avalon-like into the sea so that S-bound birds are close to being intercepted by the island’s NE side. There are far fewer shells than on Cedar, but by contrast we saw a number of sand dollars, razor clams, and one large jellyfish circa 1 foot across. Going down the sea side a ways there are huge tangles of wax myrtles that have been eroded away and are dead, large enough so that it is sometimes hard to encompass their circumference with my 2 hands. Sandbanks due to erosion stand 5 feet high with various dark bands striating them. Back inland a ways is a morass of lovely, live wax myrtles loaded with berries and attracting as one would expect Myrtle Warblers. On both islands we were impressed with the almost total lack of trash. These splendid places are a world apart.

ON THE WAY BACK to PA: an adult bald eagle over Melfa. Next to the big Tyson chicken plant: Canada goose 340. Those long, smelly, huge chicken houses are springing up all over the Virginia Eastern Shore.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. Big thanks to Barbara & George Reiger for their as usual inimitable hospitality. The terrific boating trips guided by Marcus Killmon and Ruth Boettcher and Jeremy Tarwater make this one of the highlights of my year, every time. Every time. Bob Anderson (Captain Video) & Thuy Tran shared their ginger snaps, chocolates, and other snacks out on Hog I., and Bob took some vital photographs of the big shorebird flocks. Bob Ake gave me some fine bird monographs, life histories. It was nice of Quality Inn & Suites of Exmore to let us use their continental breakfast area for the Nassawadox compilation. My thanks to the participants who help to chronicle the splendid birdlife of this unique area.

MOST NOTABLE BUMPER STICKER THIS TIME: “I miss Ike. Hell, I even miss Harry.”

Merry Christmas counts. Happy hollandaise. Have a totally awesome solstice. Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.
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