Date: 1/14/20 9:24 am
From: Harry Armistead <harryarmistead...>
Subject: [MDBirding] Ferry Neck, Blackwater, Hooper's Island, Jan. 7-9, 2020 et al.
FERRY NECK, HOOPER’S ISLAND, BLACKWATER, JANUARY 7-9, 2020. Cape Charles CBC results. Philadelphia scenes. In short, a miscellany, a potpourri if not pauvrete.

JANUARY 7, TUESDAY. Philadelphia: a bald eagle flies right across I-95 and into the Navy Yard. SW of Middletown, DE, single red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks on the wires. Route 301, MD, two A-10 Warthogs fly across. Route 481: 3 bald eagles (one on its nest in the sycamore near Routes 309 X 481, 2 others nearby), 1 immature red-shouldered hawk, and a spectacular, adult female peregrine falcon swoops right in front of the car and lands in an oak. Route 33 W of Easton: 12 wild turkeys in their favorite field across from Town & Country. In one of John Swaine’s fields 1,475 Canada geese, the first geese or swans seen today.

Arrive at Rigby’s Folly 2:37 P.M., overcast, rain, calm, 41-38 degrees F., the fields a sodden mass, the ponds and ditches full, the way I like it. Walk across Field 1 in boots with an umbrella out to Lucy Point at sunset, the southwestern sky a pale, diffuse pink low down, auguring well for a nice day tomorrow, but not much on the Choptank River mouth. horned grebe 4, ruddy duck 40, tundra swan 38, bufflehead 75, Canada goose 165 (75 in Field 2), and surf scoter 3. A male red-bellied woodpecker in the yard. A subdued visit this time because of a head and chest cold (virus). Feeling wousy. ugh!

JANUARY 8, WEDNESDAY. clear, NW15-20, 38-44. Spend most of the day reading a review book Blood ties: a story of falconry and fatherhood ** by Ben Crane (U. Chicago Pr., due out March 2020, 320pp., $18, unillustrated). C. Albert Matthew$ services the geothermal system, 10:45-12:15. They always seem to find something that needs fixing or replacement. Wish I’d stuck with gas. Same thing happens at Nissan dealerships when I go for some one, simple, need. I’ve had better results at Pep Boys, trust them more.

BELLEVUE, 2 P.M. a pied-billed grebe right in the marina enclosure, a bald eagle, a pileated woodpecker. DEEP NECK, 3 P.M., mallard 20, Canada goose 2,000, tundra swan 40, most of these on the edge of Broad Creek. RIGBY’S FOLLY, a smart-looking fox sparrow along the drive hedgerow, nice, extended look. 65 redheads, 1,310 Canada geese.

JANUARY 9, THURSDAY. clear or fair, 28 at start, NW5+. In Poplar Cove, 55 ruddy ducks accompanied by 2 redheads. The near full moon plus the NW winds push the tide way out past the end of our dock. 2 deer, 2 gray squirrels. FERRY NECK ROAD, 24 wild turkeys.

EGYPT ROAD: bald eagle 2, tundra swan 16 (in a field), starling 95, sika deer 1 buck.

BLACKWATER N.W.R. My original intention is just a random drive through on the way to Hooper’s Island. When I run into Ron Ketter, who is doing one of the regular waterbird counts today, that intention is only reinforced. 100s of pintails. Pool 3 is loaded with swans and geese. Also see an adult male northern harrier, 1 American white pelican, 25 common mergansers, 1 red-tailed hawk, 16 bald eagles, and a fox squirrel. Fresh waters high, tidal waters low.

HOOPER’S ISLAND but also including Swan Harbor, Great Marsh, and environs, 1:30-5, NW5+ becoming nice and calm, 35-40-34, high tide falling fast to a very low low tide. Good numbers of some ducks. Run into Charles Hopkins here and we bird together some.

COMPLETE LIST: WATERFOWL (15 species): Canada goose 1,350. tundra swan 95 (low). American black duck 13. mallard 2. northern shoveler 3 (strange seeing them sitting out in the middle of Honga River). northern pintail 575 (rafted up well offshore in upper Honga River as if they are pochards or other diving ducks). canvasback 5. redhead, oh, 500 or so (started to despair of seeing the almost traditional big redhead numbers on Hoopers until Charles pointed these out a bit south of Hoopersville, on Honga River). lesser scaup 2. surf scoter 70. black scoter 20 (close views of several males with their knobby, bright orange bill processes; “sea prothonotaries”). long-tailed duck 0 (almost always a few one can look down on [and hear!] from the top of Ferry Narrows Bridge). bufflehead 410. common goldeneye 13. red-breasted merganser 2. ruddy duck 4.

EVERYONE ELSE: red-throated loon 2 (good, close looks). common loon 6. horned grebe 5. great blue heron 5. bald eagle 6. northern harrier 1 (at sunset). red-tailed hawk 1. American kestrel 2. clapper rail 2 (1 well-seen at length sitting on the sod bank, surveying its domain, E of Cat Cove; when I move forward with the car it scuttles off into the Juncus roemerianus). killdeer 4. dunlin 3 (on the artificial jetties S of Ferry Narrows Bridge). sanderling 0 (seldom miss them at Swan Harbor but the long sandbars there are much diminished). Bonaparte’s gull 2 (Tar Bay). ring-billed, herring & great black-backed gulls, low numbers. mourning dove 6. northern mockingbird 3. European starling 460 (glomming onto the remains of a huge old pile of discarded crab shells). red-winged blackbird 45. house sparrow 11 (foraging in last year’s crab pots’ incidental catch at Hoopersville). song sparrow 1 (out of place offshore a ways on the rocks of one of the experimental jetties).

To be at Hooper’s Island at sunset and day’s end is a tremendous experience, especially when it is clear and dead calm. Out across the Bay with this good visibility the bridge across Patuxent River shows up pretty well. If there had been pelicans, cormorants, or gannets out there they would have been easily visible.

Good news is that Denny’s country fried steak is back up to par, after a dismal showing my previous visit. Thus fortified, Liz is sick, needs me at home, but doesn’t say so, so I head back, am home at exactly midnight. Unrelatedly, I once drove through the town of Rorschach, Austria, at exactly midnight.

** Falconry books. There have been several fairly recent falconry books that are sometimes intensely autobiographical, as is Blood ties. Coincidentally, they are all about the same dimensions. A rage for falcons by Stephen Bodio (Nick Lyons Books, 1984), Falcon fever: a falconer in the twenty-first century by Tim Gallagher (Houghton Mifflin, 2008), and H is for hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, 2014).

** This last title, although highly acclaimed in many quarters, I would say would be more appropriately entitled M is for me. Several people I know, some of them non-birders, couldn’t stand it. There seems to be something about falconry that often leads to its practitioners being quite introspective.

Having read some of my meanderings above, perhaps Rick Blom’s “definition” of LISTSERV might be appropriate here: “An e-mail discussion group in which every random, irrelevant thought of every participant is automatically dumped onto your computer. One out of fifty messages contains useful information.” - Maryland Birdlife, fall 2019, p. 52. In Rick’s wry, irreverent, way a bit overstated, but the gist of what he says has a kernel of truth. There IS quite a bit of chaff.

JANUARY 12, SUNDAY. PHILADELPHIA. George gives me a whirlwind tour of some of the best birding spots in Philadelphia along the Delaware River: the Navy Yard, FDR Park, Pulaski Park, Pennypack-on-the-Delaware, a sewage treatment plant, Betsy Ross Bridge. Shovelers, lesser scaup, greater scaup, ruddy ducks, a pied-billed grebe, 2 mute swans, ring-necked ducks, canvasbacks. We see two bald eagle nests and last year’s osprey nest.

At the sewage pond c. 100 northern rough-winged swallows overwinter, subsisting on midges. On Jan. 11 an extremely aseasonal bank swallow is seen there. Sandwiched in between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, this seemingly unpromising area, chockfull of ghastly scenes of urban decay, often has more “good” birds than the pristine areas of the Delmarva Peninsula I favor. And there are extensive parks, some ponds, woodlands, scrubby areas, and good views of open waters on Delaware River. On Jan. 11 four orange-crowned warblers were found on Keith Russell’s January Philadelphia bird count.


This count was December 30, 2019, a Monday, with 26 participants finding 148 species. Of most interest: two birds new to the count, a yellow-throated vireo (photographed) and a white-winged dove. After more than half-a-century new species are not found every year.

Notable are record highs of 15 orange-crowned warblers (seen by 5 parties) and 9 blue-headed vireos (seen by 2). A high tide helped produce good numbers of the three reclusive marsh sparrow species and 2 wrens: 36 saltmarsh, 19 Nelson’s and 17 seaside sparrows plus 11 sedge and 7 marsh wrens. Twenty Ipswich sparrows are also a good total.

Other higher-than-normal totals are 7 peregrine falcons, 207 brown pelicans, 14 red-shouldered hawks, 1,847 black-bellied plovers, 9,009 dunlin, 52 clapper rails, and 374 double-crested cormorants. Nice but not that unusual totals include 36 bald eagles, 4 whimbrel, 387 willets, 21 red knots, and 61 American woodcock. In most years this count achieves the national high for woodcock.

Semi-rare: cackling goose 1, blue-gray gnatcatcher 1, greater white-fronted goose 3, and common eider 1. A few of the totals may later be slightly downsized in an attempt to compensate for possible duplicate sightings of large, conspicuous, wide-ranging species, such as pelicans and eagles.

This area at the end of the long Delmarva Peninsula both concentrates some species and makes others at times unusually scarce. We are still learning its salient features. Since only two active birders live here, the count is dependent on observers from elsewhere. Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory sponsors the count, helps in a big way to fund the fee for the all-important boat party, that finds the lion’s share of shorebirds.

A larger-than-usual number of species were either absent or in very low numbers this time. Notably American goldfinch 2, rusty blackbird 0, purple finch 0, horned lark 0, snow goose 0, wood duck 0, American coot 0, northern bobwhite 0 (in precipitous decline all over the Mid-Atlantic region), black-crowned night heron 0, lesser yellowlegs 0, red-headed woodpecker 0, northern pintail 1, white-winged scoter 0.

PARTICIPANTS: Bob Ake, George Armistead (co-compiler), Harry Armistead, Pam Barton, Arun Bose, Dana Bradshaw, Ned Brinkley (co-compiler), Jack Carroll, Dan Cristol, Doug Davis, Kit Fechtig, Todd Fellenbaum, Teta Kain, Kathy Louthan, Grazina & Michael McClure, Chris Monahan, Rich Moncrief, Ellison Orcutt, Napier Shelton, Wes Teets, Sarah Trachy, Michael Walter, Bryan Watts, Bill Williams, Gary Williamson. Thanks to Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge for permitting access to restricted areas and to Greg Cridlin for likewise letting our observers onto his farming property.

Cape Charles count is December 30 every year. All are welcome. - Harry Armistead (compiler 1968-2016) on behalf of compilers George Armistead and Ned Brinkley.

Best to all. - Harry Armistead, Philadelphia.

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