Date: 5/5/19 10:39 am From: Dan Haas <nervousbirds...> Subject: [MDBirding] Sat, May 4th - MD State Park Bird Walk at Sandy Point SP
Yesterday morning, I delighted in leading a bird walk at SANDY POINT STATE PARK, perhaps my favorite Maryland birding location. Historically-speaking, few places hold a candle in Maryland to this spot. It has consistently delivered great birds on this little sliver of land that juts out in the mid-Chesapeake Bay.
With high hopes, I arrived at 6am sharp, to enjoy the morning flight. Joe Hanfman arrived just as I was taking my first sip of coffee. Some mornings in the spring and fall, the small craft launch parking lot can be a wonderful (sometimes overwhelming), place to experience streams of vocal migrants moving overhead, as the sun rises. Yesterday morning the species most heard flying above were BOBOLINK. Their bubbly tune was present throughout the morning.
The walk 'officially' began at 7AM, so Joe and I went to search for shorebirds at the water's edge, and gulls on the beach. We did have a few shorebirds, but they were in the sky. A YELLOWLEGS called from somewhere in the clouds. I heard two notes, and Joe heard three. It was most-likely the later, but since I was out late Friday night playing loud acoustic rock and roll, we will call it a YELLOWLEGS.
A bit later a definitive KILLDEER called, and was observed overhead. The local Northern Mockingbird will do Killdeer upon request, as well as a fine collection of other birds we would've liked to have added to our list. ;-)
We returned to the parking lot while the other birders arrived for the walk. While we were near our cars, some more shorebirds were observed cruising up the bay. Joe picked out the lead bird, a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, and I got on the back three, who were about 25 yard behind the SEPL - a SANDERLING led that second group, but the trailing two birds would have to go down as PEEP SP. While they were most likely LEAST SANDPIPERS, we couldn't rule out the other candidates. Throughout the day, we had a number of silent, sometimes distant, shorebirds moving North. Seven went down on the checklist as PEEP SP. That said, we were successful in picking out one SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
Two COMMON TERNS, not always an easy find at Sandy Point, were flying out in the channel.
We began our journey through park. After a brief opening ceremony, we began our journey. I happily offered up all of my favorite approaches - how I prefer to bird this great park. We headed first for the path next to the small marsh the sits between the East and South beaches. There we were serenaded by YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, MARSH WRENS, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS, and COMMON YELLOWTHROATS. Throughout the morning, we were also sung to by dozens of CASPIAN TERNS. They have a lovely tune, although it might be a slightly acquired taste. An immature BALD EAGLE perched for a decent while on a snag overlooking the small pond.
Throughout the morning, a steady torrent of COMMON LOON quietly moved North overhead.
There were a number of the expected birds: GB HERONS, SNOWY, CATTLE, and GREAT EGRETS, and I even showed birders the tiny little pond where one might expect to find (and we did), a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON. I digress.
We proceeded to check East Beach, as well as the other marshes, for recent arrivals and expected breeders. As we made our way, PURPLE MARTINS, NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS, BARN SWALLOWS, and EASTERN KINGBIRDS darted in the skies. Most all of the BARN SWALLOWS and EAKI's were moving North out into the Bay, the others were sticking around foraging for breakfast.
At the marshes that bookend the East beach lot, we observed some great birds: YELLOW WARBLERS, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES, VIRGINIA RAILS, SORA, MARSH WRENS, BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHERS, EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, GREY CATBIRDS, GREAT CREASTED FLYCATCHERS, EASTERN TOWHEES, NORTHERN PARULAS, and a stunning, obliging PRAIRIE WARBLER. Soon after a SORA sounded off, I noticed a bird flying over the East Beach parking lot. We all quickly threw our bins up to our eyes to enjoy an adult RED HEADED WOODPECKER cruise overhead. A HUMMINGBIRD zipped past as well. Without less than a split-second look, I took a wild guess and called it a RUBY-THROATED. A calm drake WOOD DUCK perched on a log in the main pond, allowing excellent views for the entire group.
We slowly made our way back to where we'd parked our cars, taking the time to work the Blue Crab trail that runs through the marsh (past the haunted cement bunker), and explore the relatively-new path that cuts through the old containment pond. There is now a young forest of trees in that once-famous epic shorebird hot spot. Every time I bird here, I can't NOT imagine what that must have been like back in the day. On this particular day, the young grove of trees delivered two YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and a BLACKPOLL WARBLER, and a slew of other passerines.
We returned to our cars, and I let everyone know there was no hard feelings if they had to leave... but we were not nearly finished. I laid out the plan for the remainder of the day: drive to the parking lot on South beach, sort through the gulls, hopefully find an Oriole or two, and enjoy some more migrant shorebirds.
I let the group in on a little bit of trivia: this section of the park (South beach, nearest the bridge), has been very, very good to me for rarities. Over the years, I've enjoyed some amazing birds here: SNOWY OWL, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, RED-NECKED GREBE, two FRANKLIN'S GULLS, BLACK SKIMMERS, SAY'S PHOEBE, LITTLE GULL... to name just a few. If you drop by Sandy Point, this area is a must visit. Yesterday, we didn't turn up any mega-rarities, but we thoroughly enjoyed the gull flocks, a few unidentified migrant shorebirds, and yes, as predicted... one ORCHARD ORIOLE. *I have found the patch of woods between the bathrooms and the marina to be a good spot for both species of Oriole during Spring migration. Joe kindly gave us a all a welcome lesson on the gulls: aging, molt, and identification. Now hooked, attendees unanimously agreed to visit more landfills in the future. ;-)
We got back in our cars and drove to the Western side of the marina area. Joe immediately picked out a hen BUFFLEHEAD, while a pair (drake and hen) of LESSER SCAUP continued in the cove, closer to the SHA building (Rt 50). I heard several 'chib its' nearby that sounded pretty good for LEAST FLYCATCHER. But, finding the now-silent bird proved unsuccessful, so it didn't make the checklist. As promised, the aforementioned BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON was lounging in the tiny pond near the marina.
Once again, we got in our cars to travel to one last location. The Ranger and Sandy Point SP naturalist agreed to let us park at the main office. From there, we made our way through the trails that run North of the entrance road. I occasionally find WILD TURKEYS in this section of the park, but they have been missing as of late. That said, we enjoyed four BLUE GROSBEAKS, one stunning male INDIGO BUNTING, a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, and a vocal WHITE-EYED VIREO, before heading to the pines. There, we searched for an expected, but not-to-be-mentioned apex predator species, without success... but we delighted in a pair of YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS, and singing PINE WARBLERS.
Finally back at our cars, some raptors popped-up over headquarters. One RED-TAILED HAWK and three RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS, were the last two species to be added to our checklist for the day, taking our total up to 88 species.All in all, our collection of new and experienced bird-enthusiasts left tired and delighted, having learned about, seen, heard, and studied, the birds that visit and call Sandy Point home.
*On a side note, during our walk, we discussed the ever-changing ways bird information gets shared. Not to address an already well-debated subject, I merely want to say these few things: I encourage birders to take some time to write about and share their adventures. Years ago, I created the MD Birding FB group, and the MD Notable FB group. The gripes and complaints soon became too much, so I passed along the admin duties. Over the years, I have been proud to watch those groups grow (from the sidelines), as they continued to raise awareness and build interest in birds and birding in MD. That's what it's all about... if you ask me - getting people interested in and excited about birds. Can we all just give a HUGE shout out to Matt Hafner, Tim Carney, and ALL of the others, who keep a keen eye on these FB pages, and then immediately share interesting information across multiple platforms?? I would encourage others to do the same.
While eBird has made the 'alerts' of good birds immediate and detailed, I can't help but think that many other MD birders have stopped posting here because they didn't feel like being complained to, called out, or chastised, for a potentially incorrect delivery of welcome birding information. It could also be that typing an email takes up too much time.
My point is, if you don't have something nice to say... say something nice.
FInally, I for one sure miss Stan Arnold's exuberant posts, detailing his birding adventures. I know he led a walk at Swan Creek yesterday. The above post was a tip-of-the-birding-hat to Stan and his legendary write-ups.
Dan Haas St. Margaret's
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