Date: 1/4/19 1:11 pm
From: Harry Armistead via VA-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [VA-bird] Cape Hatteras - Cape Charles, the Redeye Circuit 2018, December 26-31.
CAPE HATTERAS - CAPE CHARLES, the 2018 redeye circuit, December 26-31.


A 1,000+ miles jaunt with Will Russell and in company with Michael & Grazina McClure. For the term “redeye circuit” we can thank the inimitable, late, Paul G. DuMont, a participant on these CBCs for so many years. Just wasn’t the same not having Bob Anderson, Thuy Tran, and Paul Sykes, kept away for various issues, on these counts.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to Will, Grazina, and Michael for their good company. Thanks to the boat party - Ellison Orcutt, Michael Male, Frank Renshaw, Dan Cristol, and Nick Newberry - for reimbursing me promptly for their fare $hare of the boat fee. Thanks to Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory, sponsor of Cape Charles CBC, for helping to float the boat.


Thanks to the compilers for letting me take my sloppy (and not always complete) notes home to doctor them up and produce a neater list instead of turning them in during the fog (my fog) of compilation: George Armistead, Andrew Baldelli, Ned Brinkley, Al Hooks, Jeff Lewis, and Pat Moore.


ABBREVIATION: CBC, Christmas Bird Count. d.o.r, dead on the road. NWR, National Wildlife Refuge.


DECEMBER 26, WEDNESDAY. Philadelphia to Buxton on the NC OBX. 427.1 miles. Up at 5, off by 5:55 A.M. Thousands and thousands of blackbirds streaming west south of Wilmington at 6:27 A.M. A red-shouldered hawk south of Dover, DE. 500 some Canada geese and 300 some herring gulls at the Tyson chicken plant on the VA Eastern Shore (Treherneville). Pick up Will at a motel next to the Norfolk airport at mid-day.


DECEMBER 27, THURSDAY. As part of the Cape Hatteras CBC the 4 of us work the Hatteras village area on the west end of Hatteras Island, and, in the afternoon, ride in the McClures’ nifty Rubicon jeep for 10 miles on the adjacent beaches. 57 species in Hatteras village.


We convene, as usual, at 7 A.M. at Isaac Pond, which is a disappointment today. In the past we have noted here 3 rail species, common gallinule, fulvous whistling-duck, blue-winged teal, coot, and other goodies. No goodies today, but it’s good to be there anyway. Nutria and yellow-bellied turtles, often seen here, are also not encountered this morning.


Hatteras is essentially 30 miles or so from the mainland. Consequently many “common” species are not so here. Our sector is one of the best, perhaps the best, in this CBC for the “3 stinkers”: starling, pigeon, and House Sparrow.


In the village area we form 2 sub-parties and hook up at 11 A.M. at the Burrus supermarket. Of most interest this morning: brant 1, bufflehead 78, Eurasian collared dove 36, mourning dove 44, clapper rail 1, laughing gull 85, royal tern 6, red-throated loon 61, brown pelican 277, white ibis 11, blue jay 11, American robin 87, European starling 225, unIDd sharp-tailed sparrow 1, and house sparrow 42.


In the afternoon we all ride in the McClures’ 4WD Rubicon, counting birds on the beaches of Hatteras village and Frisco, but also riding, with compiler Pat Moore’s blessing, outside our sector another 6 miles or so to near Cape Point.


At the start find a dead immature Brown Pelican with band 1238-16697. The way the band’s closure looks - good crimp, no overlap, slightly oblong - I bet it was put on by John Weske, who bands with the skill of a surgeon. [John says it was put on by a sub-permittee, July 11, 2018, at South Point Marsh, Accomack County, Virginia (this is north of Tangier I.). I was there when the boats launched from Crisfield, but felt terrible and stayed on shore.]


Some of the beach birds: red knot 94 (3 of them color-banded; I’ll submit what we saw to the Banding Lab), sanderling 56, laughing gull 61, herring gull 500, lesser black-backed gull 39, royal tern 14, northern gannet 180, double-crested cormorant 1,200, brown pelican 60. 19 species. I ain’t used to seeing this many Laughing Gulls in the 25 years or so I have worked this sector.


The by-now traditional compilation dinner with good chili, and good fellowship, and delicious desserts is at the Catholic church. I thought I heard 127 species grand total. Pat Moore sure does a great job organizing this. Brian Patteson runs the tally. Kate Sutherland writes it all down. From my sloppy notes, written in exhaustion, some of the birds others see today, unofficially, include:


redhead 5,000, ruby-throated hummingbird 4, unIDd Selasphorus hummer, sora 2, lesser black-backed gull 500+, brown pelican c. 1,000, black-and-white warbler 4, orange-crowned warbler 11, dovekie 6, razorbill 374, unIDd alcid 105, black-legged kittiwake 89, parasitic jaeger 4, king rail 1, red-necked grebe 1, common eider 1, northern waterthrush 1, yellow-throated warbler 1, and painted bunting 1.


One of my fantasies (most of them you’d not want to know of) is to spend an entire day doing a sea watch from Cape Point. Just look at those figures for the alcids and gulls and you’ll know why. But Hatteras village also has its charms.


DECEMBER 28, known to the cognoscenti as, simply, Friday. Day 2 it’s up at 5:30 for the trek to Bodie Island Lighthouse Pond, a segment of the Bodie-Pea Island CBC. Here the 4 of us split into 3 sub-parties from 6:45 until noonish. On the road in the McClures find 4 American woodcock on the shoulders.


Will does a sea watch, I stare out, somewhat vacantly, over the lighthouse pond, and Grazina and Michael walk the rough trail leading SE from the lighthouse and on out to Route 12, where I meet them at the conclusion of their bushwhacking.


Our highlights among 54 species, 17 of them waterfowl: snow goose 1,350 plus 13 bluegies (a Jared Sparksism), gadwall 165, northern pintail 156, American black duck 155, common eider 1 female (seen by Will during his early morning seawatch from Coquina Beach), pied-billed grebe 9, northern gannet 600 (thank you, Will), American bittern 1 (McClures), white ibis 73,


BLACK RAIL 1 (Grazina McClure; close range for 10 seconds or so as it skulked across the trail SE of the lighthouse area; she made a good sketch; wrote a convincing description; somewhat in denial, as happens to many of us when we see something unusual, she was reluctant to make an ID, but I presume to do so; I think she nailed it).


Virginia rail 4 (calling spontaneously), lesser black-backed gull 31, Forster’s tern 152, merlin 1, tree swallow 313, brown-headed nuthatch 8, red-breasted nuthatch 4.


Our sector often has the only count’s long-billed dowitchers and blue-winged teal, but we dip on those. Meadowlarks usually haunt the extensive grass around the lighthouse, but we don’t see them today, instead 5 killdeer.


Compilation at Pamlico Jack’s. Will treats me to one of my few martinis of 2018. I am very pleasantly surprised they have my favorite olives, stuffed with anchovies. I make note of some of the count’s other goodies (unofficial), including: prairie warbler, glaucous gull, Ross’s goose, Eurasian collared-dove, indigo bunting, king rail, 200+ avocets, some marbled godwits, 200+ white ibis, only a few white pelicans (8?), 4 black skimmers, a ruby-throated hummer. Total c. 130 species.


DECEMBER 29, SATURDAY. Oh … ugh!! it’s up at 4 A.M. for the 94-mile drive to Back Bay N.W.R., made so much easier by simply trailing along behind the McClures, stop halfway at Hardees for breakfast of sorts.


Back Bay highlights, concentrated along the east refuge dikes: mute swan 1, tundra swan 175 (low), gadwall 80, American black duck 75, hooded merganser 7, pied-billed grebe 5, cormorant 77, great egret 4, white ibis 1 adult, bald eagle 3, Cooper’s hawk 2, Virginia rail 5, sora 1, great horned owl (flies close by right in front of us across the dike road), Carolina wren 29, house wren 2, marsh wren 4,


TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE 1 (found and nicely photographed by Will; I happen along a few minutes later and see it well; perched up high in a persimmon; it vocalizes from within the shrubbery also; 4th Virginia record, i think; new for this CBC; leisurely view at close range).


gray catbird 14. myrtle warbler 687. pine warbler 1. song sparrow 60. swamp sparrow 124. rusty blackbird 1. pine siskin 2.


NON-AVIAN TAXA: cloudless sulphur 2. 2 small bright green presumed flies apparently nectaring on a blooming dandelion. 1 gray squirrel. southern leopard frogs calling. 6 yellow-bellied sliders. 1 large (bigger than the yellowbellies) redbelly turtle. The turtles are all basking. 57-64 degrees, mostly or all overcast, NW10, water levels in the impoundments higher than normal. Most of our morning is spent on foot.


We, as usual, forego the compilation, wimp out for a terrific lunch at nearby, extremely popular, and populated, Marge & Ray’s (their clam chowder makes one want [some of us, anyway] to cut loose with Latinisms such as de gustibus non est disputandum, or, as is my case, more pedestrian utterances such as: “Oh, Lordy, but ain’t this good, good, GOOD grunts … um, um UMMM”), head across the CBBT and get set up for Cape Charles CBC. Will treats me to a Marge & Ray’s baseball cap, just one of his kindnesses this trip.


DECEMBER 30, SUNDAY. Cape Charles CBC compilers: George Armistead and Ned Brinkley. After 48 years I was glad to hand it over to these 2 starting in 2016.


Will Russell and I cover, mostly on foot, the Bull’s Pond/Drive/Landing, Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve (MBNAR), the GATR Tract, Magotha Road, and Magohy Bay saltmarsh from 7 to 1.


I mostly walk the landing road, extending 1.25 mi. from the MBNAR parking area out into the beloved saltmarsh. Will covers a lot of this, too, but mainly the MBNAP dike out north along the marsh. In the afternoon, we poach, then hit the Magothy Bay saltmarsh. 73 species. Most notably:


snow goose 330, blue goose 3, brant 100, Canada goose 450, American wigeon 55, American black duck 70, green-winged teal 50, hooded merganser 21, ruddy duck 74 (all of them perky and cute), black vulture 19, American kestrel 3, Virginia rail 1 (WR), willet 185, western sandpiper 1, dunlin 91, short-billed dowitcher 6, Eurasian collared-dove 2 (Magotha Road, their favorite local haunt),


mourning dove 67, hairy woodpecker 4, red-breasted nuthatch 3, brown-headed nuthatch 5, Carolina wren 30, house wren 3, winter wren 6, sedge wren 2, marsh wren 2, chipping sparrow 35, saltmarsh sparrow 2, unIDd sharp-tailed sparrow 3, fox sparrow 9 (several singing), slate-colored junco 29, boat-tailed grackle 95, American goldfinch 40 (a good fall of them). Will spots a monarch.


Preliminary reports of other goodies. Up at the Oyster area landfill sector Ned Brinkley & Bob Ake find 271 black vultures, and, out on the tidal flats, 6,700 dunlin, 250 western sandpipers, 600 willets, and … 149 chipping sparrows elsewhere.


Dan Cristol, Ellison Orcutt et al. of the Smith Island/boat party see 11 harbor seals, an otter, 5,500 red-throated loons, 500 gannets, 471 black-bellied plovers, 173 ruddy turnstones, 4,112 dunlin, 110 western sandpipers, 356 willets, 3 Ipswich sparrows, and a razorbill. Michael Male gets some good photographs of this crew in action plus an apparently fresh bald eagle nest on the ground.


George Armistead, leader of the Ferry sector, and his minions had outstanding luck seeing 175 chipping sparrows, 415 double-crested cormorants, a northern parula (2nd count record), a western tanager (photographed; 2nd or 3rd count record), 2 black-and-white warblers, and a blue-gray gnatcatcher.


When what I call “occidentals” are seen on this CBC they are often in areas west of Route 13, or, for that matter, west of Arlington Road. In other years this has held true for such blockbusters as Townsend’s warbler, black-headed grosbeak, western kingbird, and Audubon’s warbler. These areas get the good afternoon sun, perhaps offering more insect prey.


Someone saw a Baltimore oriole today. A ruby-throated hummingbird was well-photographed on Fisherman Island, of all places. The full report, after the details have been confirmed, and compensating for duplicate counts of some conspicuous species, will be forthcoming from George.


Some other items found by Bill Williams, Doug Davis, and the rest of the Fisherman Island participants, include: 192 buffleheads, 45 hooded mergansers, an unbelievable 1 (one) dunlin, 938 red-throated loons (they consider this a conservative number), 5 great cormorants, 162 double-crested cormorants, 11 white ibis, 112 turkey vultures, 2 Ipswich sparrows, 34 gannets, and 7 tree swallows.


I’m not privy to all the lists on this count since I don’t compile it anymore, but it is possible there are record counts of chipping sparrow, double-crested cormorant, black vulture, and red-throated loon. Cape Charles CBC is always December 30.


Good diversity at the compilation with 7 varied pizzas and 3 varieties of beer. Only about 12 there, but, people have places to go, sometimes far away, and some have to get into position for a count tomorrow.


DECEMBER 31, MONDAY. Nice, leisurely breakfast (scrapple!; 3 fried eggs over medium) at Sting-Ray’s listening to Ned Brinkley, Martin Dellwo, Todd Day, and George hold forth on the state of modern birding. Then off for the 250-miles drive, homeward bound.


OYSTER: flock of tundra swans in full cry over the Anheuser-Busch Coastal Research Center. BOX TREE will get you Machipongo. 48 degrees F., overcast, light rain, excellent visibility, low tide, and not too much going on here: hooded merganser 7, bald eagle 1, American black duck 16, kingfisher 1, bluebird 9, amd a bufflehead. 10:30 A.M. NE light wind. RED BANK METHODIST CHURCH at Route 600, 30 chipping sparrows, all of them harmless and inoffensive.


WILLIS WHARF, 11:10-11:45, 50-51, mostly overcast, nice and calm, very low tide (usually not good, but many birds are here anyway): American oystercatcher 44 (the most I’ve ever seen here), marbled godwit 105 (up the river a ways from where they usually hang out), ruddy turnstone 0 (hard to find here when the tide’s out), bufflehead 20, greater yellowlegs 3, willet 9, dunlin 1, black-bellied plover 2, kingfisher 3, hooded merganser 16, great blue heron 2, bald eagle 1, red-breasted merganser 1, common loon 1, rock pigeon 13, Canada goose 220, and herring gull 45. Usually see 5 or 6 gray squirrels along Ballard Drive, but none this time, (I like commas) or when I was here December 17.


GARGATHA LANDING, 12:39-1:19, 50-49, overcast, the rain begins, low tide, NE10: greater yellowlegs 2, European starling 175, bald eagle 1, American crow 16 (you may say “who cares?”, but this is a good road for them), American goldfinch 1, common grackle 2, herring gull 16, northern harrier 1 (carrying prey), mourning dove 3, and red-winged blackbird 18 plus a d.o.r. red fox. 3 deer in their favorite field (south side, next to last field as one goes east).


TYSON chicken plant near Treherneville, VA: Canada goose 190, herring gull 200, bufflehead 5, these at 1:32 P.M., 49 degrees F. Take a much-needed 1-hour nap near Dover, DE.


Arrive home, after the long slog in the rain, the dark, and the gloom, slightly after 7, another Redeye in the bag. Good trip. Didn’t lose anything, no hair-raising highway experiences, and, in spite of my deteriorating balance issues, didn’t fall (the previous 2 Redeyes I fell once each year; Smilax and brambles the culprits). Mild vertigo. Diabetes. Stamina not what it used to be. None of these issues very grave. Very varied vittles settled in O.K. Good company, good birds, good if not always healthy food, and beautiful places.


PROMOTIONS. Elsewhere I have opined that members of the League of Fussy Flyers include just Ruddy Duck, Least Tern, and Eastern Kingbird, but not Bufflehead and Belted Kingfisher. But, after seeing the last 2 numerous times on this Redeye I’ve changed my mind. Welcome to the League butterball and kingfish. Qualifications include not just the way they fly, but also their vocalizations, especially in the case of Least Tern, kingbird, and kingfisher. Others may come to mind later. Stay tuned.


Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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