Date: 12/20/18 4:55 pm
From: Harry Armistead <harryarmistead...>
Subject: [MDBirding] December 14-17, 2018, Ocean City & (mostly) Virginia Eastern Shore.
DECEMBER 14-17, 2018, Ocean City, MD & (mostly) Eastern Shore of Virginia.


OCEAN CITY INLET 2:20-3:20, calm, overcast, 51 degrees F., visibility 1 mile or so. brant 11, green-winged teal (a female flies in off of the ocean and lands, for reasons best known to herself, RIGHT NEXT to a pair of common eiders, the 3 birds less than 100 feet from the parking lot; nice!). common eider 11 (2 of them adult males). surf scoter 3. white-winged scoter 1 (right in the inlet flying close). black scoter 4. long-tailed duck 30. bufflehead 9. unIDd scoter 30. rock pigeon 145. ruddy turnstone 2. sanderling 7. (purple sandpiper, horned grebe, northern gannet, Forster’s tern, Bonaparte’s gull, red-throated loon - all ZERO). common loon 2. double-crested cormorant 2. ring-billed gull 190. herring gull 8. great black-backed gull 6.

WEST OCEAN CITY POND (Golf Course Road). 3:45 P.M. 52, overcast, calm. Loaded during this brief look-see. Canada goose 1, gadwall 30, American wigeon 2, mallard 40, ring-necked duck 6, northern pintail 2, hooded merganser 10, lesser scaup 6, bufflehead 9, canvasback 670, ruddy duck 14. American coot 5. great blue heron 5. SKIMMER ISLAND (the little that’s left of it) bald eagle 1 adult.

WHEN I WORE a younger man’s hip waders I would have visited, today, other Ocean City spots plus Chincoteague. But, the old stamina ain’t what it used to be. Likewise on this coming Monday I would have hit a few more places than I did, perhaps Deal Island, on the way home.

A poignant time of year, what with the approaching winter solstice. Emily Dickinson said it best: “There’s a certain slant of light (on) winter afternoons. … When it comes the landscape listens./Shadows hold their breath./When it goes ’tis like the distance/On the look of death.” But, soon eno’ the days will be getting longer.

DECEMBER 15, SATURDAY. WACHAPREAGUE CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT. Locustville area, incl. George & Barbara Reigers’ property. George Reiger, Michael Male & Harry Armistead.

WATERFOWL. Ross’s goose 1 adult (gleaming white, proportionately shorter, stockier neck than the snows, stubby, equilateral-triangle-shaped bill, SO much smaller than the snowgies. Seen on the ground in good light at 100 feet, then flushed with the snows; seen by HTA & GR; previously I’ve seen Ross’s c. 12 times in the Mid-Atlantic; c. 2:30 P.M.; in the morning I’d looked over many 100s of snow geese hoping for a Ross’s, to no effect; this time, early afternoon, the 1st bird I looked at was the Ross’s (!!); right at the entrance to the Reigers’ driveway; seen well through binoculars).

WATERFOWL: snow goose 3,000. blue goose 55. Canada goose 14. American black duck 10. mallard 26. green-winged teal 2 (MM). long-tailed duck 1 male (out of place flying from upper Rattrap Creek out to the open bays area). bufflehead 16. hooded merganser 6. red-breasted merganser 22 (a “school” of them actively diving and streaming along). ruddy duck 9.

horned grebe 1. great blue heron 4. black vulture 3. turkey vulture 30. bald eagle 2 adults. black-bellied plover 14. American oystercatcher 2. greater yellowlegs 6. willet 3. marbled godwit 2 (MM, in upper Rattrap Creek). ruddy turnstone 1 (in a field). RED KNOT 1 (in the same field, seen at 100 feet, leisurely study, in company with 100 dunlin; at rest). western sandpiper 1. dunlin 285. short-billed dowitcher 1. ring-billed gull 900. herring gull 7. Forster’s tern 3.

mourning dove 13. belted kingfisher 2. red-bellied woodpecker 1. downy woodpecker 1. northern flicker 1. blue jay 12. American crow 11. red-breasted nuthatch 2. Carolina wren 5. eastern bluebird 10. American robin 12. northern mockingbird 4. brown thrasher 1. European starling 115.

American pipit 70 (a single flock; in the same field with the knot, dunlin, meadowlarks, Savannah sparrows, and palm warblers; one of the biggest AMPI flocks I’ve ever seen). palm warbler 8. eastern towhee 1. chipping sparrow 1. field sparrow 1. Savannah sparrow 5. song sparrow 1. swamp sparrow 2. white-throated sparrow 102. slate-colored junco 7. northern cardinal 3. red-winged blackbird 3. eastern meadowlark 8. American goldfinch 11. house sparrow 6.

3 observers in 2 parties. 6 hours. 7 hours on foot. 5 hours by car. 2 miles on foot. 12 miles by car. overcast all day. FOGGY. visibility 100 yards most of the day. some of the time the 3 of us worked together. very low tide at 8 A.M. 54 degrees F. and steady. some mist and light rain. high tide at mid-day. Because of the fog a boat trip to Cedar Island with Ruth Boettcher was cancelled. winds calm or east c. 5 m.p.h. Two gray squirrels. Small area covered but apart, I think, from Karen Terwilliger’s sector. We ran into Karen and her friend.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 16, NASSAWADOX CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT, boat (Hog Island party). Nancy Kinzinger, Judy Illimensee, Michael Male, Frank Renshaw, Marcus Killmon, and Harry Armistead.

WATERFOWL: brant 425. Canada goose 2. tundra swan 2. gadwall 22. American wigeon 9, American black duck 24 (low). mallard 6. northern pintail 11. surf scoter 45. black scoter 14. unIDd scoter 30. long-tailed duck 4. bufflehead 90. common goldeneye 1. hooded merganser 1 (low). red-breasted merganser 2. ruddy duck 69 (MM; in a pond on Hog I.).

red-throated loon 5. common loon 20. horned grebe 6. northern gannet 11. great blue heron 4. bald eagle 11. northern harrier 4. red-tailed hawk 1. merlin 2 (on north end of Hog; 1 female, 1 male; seen repeatedly).

black-bellied plover 45. American oystercatcher 30 (low; come to think of it, ALL the shorebird numbers were low). greater yellowlegs 2. willet 1. marbled godwit 1. sanderling 36. western sandpiper 6. dunlin 500. short-billed dowitcher 1.

herring gull 60. great black-backed gull 15. northern flicker 2. gray catbird 4. fox sparrow 2. swamp sparrow 2. white-throated sparrow 2. pine siskin 6 (how pleasantly odd that the only ones on this C.B.C. were seen here!).

MAMMALS: EASTERN COTTONTAIL 1, raccoon 1, deer 1, dolphin 3. Lots of raccoon and deer tracks. Michael showed Frank and me a mushroom, larger than a silver dollar, growing right in the sand.

5 observers in 3 parties. 8 A.M. - 1 P.M. temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s. wind SW10+ becoming west 15. low tide at start, high tide later c. 2 P.M. mostly overcast but occasional clear spots. Occasional light rain towards the end. 15 miles by boat, 6 miles on foot. 2 hours by boat. 9 hours on foot. Rough in the inlet and offshore, the tops of the waves blown off by the wind and tidal action (Quinby Inlet?).

DECEMBER 17, MONDAY. A gem of a sunny day. WILLIS WHARF, 8:30-9:35, clear, 43-44, SW15+, low tide. Canada goose 180, bufflehead 9, hooded merganser 19, common loon 3, double-crested cormorant 1, bald eagle 1, Cooper’s hawk 1 adult female, peregrine falcon 1 immature female, semipalmated plover 1, American oystercatcher 5, willet 65, marbled godwit 60, dunlin 200, rock pigeon 11, and fish crow 7.

BOX TREE ROAD, 10 A.M., greater yellowlegs 2, bufflehead 1, red-tailed hawk 1, red-shouldered hawk 1 adult, belted kingfisher 1, eastern bluebird 6, and red-bellied woodpecker 1. low tide, 47-48, SW15, clear.

GARGATHA LANDING, 11:02-12:21, 51-52, SW15+, low tide but rising, clear. brant 180, dunlin 140, boat-tailed grackle 1 male, Forster’s tern 16, bald eagle 4, turkey vulture 16, black vulture 5, sharp-shinned hawk 1, American kestrel 1, belted kingfisher 1, great blue heron 3, eastern bluebird 5, northern harrier 4, American black duck 1, greater yellowlegs 7, red-breasted merganser 3, green-winged teal 9, unIDd scoter 11, hooded merganser 21, bufflehead 1, Carolina chickadee 1, and American goldfinch 3 plus 9 deer. A nearby field is full of blooming mustard. Probably a buckeye or 2 in there.

PERDUE chicken plant near Accomac: 6 black vultures right over this monstrosity. TYSON chicken plant near Temperanceville: at THIS monstrosity 510 Canada geese at their pond plus 3 buffleheads, 2 mallards, and 6 turkey vultures. Back in MD 70 ring-billed gulls just N of the MD/VA line, 90 a couple of miles farther N. An adult bald eagle over Pocomoke City, another adult at Dover, DE, and an immature at Smyrna, DE.

HOW DID WE EVER DO IT? Back when the children were young Liz and I, after work, Friday, would drive 225 miles with the kids, to the Reigers, arrive c. 9 P.M. I’d get up early Saturday, owl (once 21 screech-owls in 2 hours; the area’s loaded with them), then walk the 6-7 mile length of Cedar Island. After the compilation Sat. we’d drive 125 miles to our Maryland place, to a house with poor heat, no running water or plumbing. Then on Sunday participate in the St. Michaels, MD, Christmas count and after its compilation drive 140 miles back to the Philadelphia home and go to work the next day (Monday).

Lately I drive down alone on Friday, as this year, do the Wachapreague count Sat., and the nearby Nassawadox count on Sunday, sleep in Monday at Exmore, then drive home. Somewhat more sensible. My first Wachapreague count was in 1977 on a day when it rained 3 inches and I had a strep throat. I’ve only missed a year or 2 since. Even in that rain George Reiger took Claudia Wilds and me out in his boat from Folly Creek. But it was hopeless and around mid-day we quit. These counts are supposed to be, at least partially, fun.

With this better schedule in recent years I still somewhat dread this drill, am a bit apprehensive. It involves driving 500 miles alone now that my close friend Jared Sparks is no longer here. Yet when it is over, accomplished one more time, I feel a great satisfaction. Get a rush, a high, from it all: the good people, the remarkable birding, and the wonderful places. I’d say Christmas bird counts are 1/3 social, 1/3 recreational, and 1/3 science, and enable one to become familiar with wonderful places.

“ …even though there are many nuggets that ornithologists can mine from this rich lode of bird information, to me and to my friends it is our way of celebrating the holidays, an ornithological ritual that has come to represent Yuletide more than Santa Claus or the Christmas tree.” Roger Tory Peterson on the Christmas counts, Birds over America (Dodd, Mead, 1948, p. 47). I share this sentiment, up to a point. Really, RTP, isn’t it a little overstated?! But in my humble, “BOA” is the best bird book ever written. I’ve been on c. 320 C.B.C.s starting in 1955 (or was it 1954?). Why stop now?

OYSTERS. And on my last day, that Monday, I buy pints of oysters from Terry’s, by the bridge at Willis Wharf. My stocking stuffers. I appreciate that Terry will sell them retail to this cash customer, fresh from watching the big willet and godwit numbers out in front of the post office.

THE PASSING SCENE. Most of the area’s cotton fields are still unharvested. A few more soy bean fields have been, but many remain unharvested. The long railroad that runs a few feet from Route 13, east of it, looks like it stretches to infinity. It seems that with some local houses just east of the RR, the people who live there must park off the road shoulder a little, then cross the RR tracks to get to their houses, perhaps having to do this for decades. ? The big Statue of Liberty mockup that used to stand on the south side of Exmore on the west side of Route 13 has been moved into downtown Exmore. There has been so much rain lately that all the fields look like a swamp, and there are big wet areas even back in the woods.

Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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