Date: 1/9/21 8:21 am
From: Harry Armistead <harryarmistead...>
Subject: [va-bird] Ocean City, Chincoteague, Cape Charles, Dec. 27-Jan. 1.
OCEAN CITY, CHINCOTEAGUE, CAPE CHARLES, December 27-31, 2020 & January 1, 2021. A trip with George in his Nissan. 3 Christmas Bird Counts.

ABBREVIATIONS: cormorant = double-crested cormorant. ESVNWR, Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. KSP, Kiptopeke State Park.

DECEMBER 27, SUNDAY. S of Dover, DE, somewhere, c. 3,000 snow geese. On the way S from Philadelphia c. 12 red-tailed hawks and 2 Cooper’s hawks. Otherwise, at Ocean City:

common eider c. 30, king eider 1 imm. male (pointed out by Kevin Graff), American oystercatcher 17, dunlin 95, common loon 6, red-throated loon 6, brant 225, tundra swan 6 (WOC pond), sharp-shinned hawk 1, Forster’s tern 30, Bonaparte’s gull 3, long-tailed duck 14, red-breasted merganser 10, rock pigeon 135, bufflehead 30, sanderling 2, cormorant 35, Canada goose 40, ring-billed gull 300, great blue heron 5, hooded merganser 2, pied-billed grebe 2, American coot 12, a few black and surf scoters, black-bellied plover 2, northern gannet 0.

The West Ocean City Pond as barren as I’ve ever seen it. Spent most of the time at the inlet. Things a bit sparse there, too. Tonight and tomorrow night at Comfort Inn. $50/night I assume COVID-19 rates, unbelievably cheap … almost.

Common Eiders seem to be taking over the World. I’d heard up to 70 at Ocean City. On Jan. 3, 2021, George estimated 280 at Manasquan Inlet, NJ. For several years they’ve been breeding in eastern Long Island.

DECEMBER 28, MONDAY. Ocean City, MD, Christmas count. George and I work Center, the sector leader Lynn Davidson, accompanied by Hal Wierenga. Here are some of the birds George and I encounter, based largely on his eBird reports. Areas we hit, all south of Route 50: OC airport, Castaways Campground, the Walmart Pond, Jerry Mack Rd., and Seahawk Rd. We join Lynn & Hal for an hour at Castaways in mid-afternoon, when it is low tide. There are plenty of shorebirds:

brant 60, Canada goose 770, gadwall 6, American black duck 160 (in an inland plowed field !!), ring-necked duck 23, bufflehead 44, common goldeneye 2, hooded merganser 25, red-breasted merganser 25, green heron 1 (seen by George & photographed several times, at the golf course), bald eagle 6 (in sight simultaneously: a pair eating a horned grebe, a 3rd on a piling nearby, that drops down to catch a small c. 6” fish, a 4th perched on the roof of one of the many dozen cabins at Castaways),

Cooper’s hawk 1, peregrine falcon 1, black-bellied plover 34, sanderling 1, dunlin 2,000, Forster’s tern 125, mourning dove 25, eastern screech-owl 1, eastern phoebe 1, red-breasted nuthatch 7, white-breasted nuthatch 5, brown-headed nuthatch 5, winter wren 1, semipalmated plover 1, pine warbler 2, chipping sparrow 36, fox sparrow 6, slate-colored junco 50, eastern meadowlark 12, rusty blackbird 8 (good look at perched birds through a scope) & purple finch 1.

These are unofficial, incomplete, totals. Earlier in the day Lynn and Hal see a yellow-throated warbler. Haven’t heard what else they see. Early in the day, when the tide is up, I carefully estimate 620 dunlin, counting by tens. George knows this sector well - all the little lakes, the fields, woods, and small roads - having covered it for years.

With my bad right leg I spend a couple of hours just sitting and scanning at Castaways, and at the productive Walmart Pond (where I get the shivers), most of the rest in or close to the Nissan.

Fair or partly overcast, 41-55 (but with a chilly SW15 wind), 7:15-5. 7 deer, 1 gray squirrel.

DECEMBER 29, TUESDAY. Chincoteague N.W.R. Christmas count, the refuge Wash Flats Road, George, Bill Hohenstein, and me. Totals below are incomplete, a combination of eBird reports by George and Bill and my own observations. George and I are only there until 12:30, Bill all day.

sora 2 (BH,GA; present earlier). common gallinule 2 (seen by all of us). waterfowl dominate, as expected: snow goose 280, tundra swan 13, gadwall 600, American wigeon 7 (think I heard 4 males were present earlier), American black duck 225, mallard 55, northern shoveler 250, northern pintail 210, green-winged teal 110, bufflehead 220 (big flocks of almost entirely female-plumaged birds inside the impoundments). I feel some of these totals are low.

Otherwise: great egret 12, tricolored heron 1, white ibis 4 (lots more seen along Wildlife Drive), bald eagle 11, peregrine falcon 1, dunlin 200, American woodcock 1 (BH), Bonaparte’s gull 1, Forster’s tern 7, great horned owl 2 (BH), Carolina chickadee 11, brown-headed nuthatch 9, marsh wren 1 (BH), hermit thrush 3, orange-crowned warbler 2, myrtle warbler 435 (many observers, in my opinion, tend to overestimate how many there are; but surely there’s a bushel basket or 2 of them present, no doubt), swamp sparrow 15, brown-headed cowbird 1 (with big flock of starlings apparently consorting with ponies).

Also: fox squirrel 3 (1 by BH, 1 seen by GLA & HTA, a 3rd heard by GLA). sika deer 1. c. 36 ponies. clear, 31-41, winds NW 10-20. pretty day.

DECEMBER 30, WEDNESDAY. Cape Charles Christmas count, ESVNWR area. 7-6, clear, SW10 - calm - SW15-20, temperatures 25-50, tide high A.M., low P.M., both times more extreme than usual (full moon Dec. 29). 56 species, Kristin Klein, Liz Armistead, and me. Highlights, such as they are:

snow goose 300, bufflehead 70, hooded merganser 8, wild turkey 30, common loon 1 (loons and grebes scarce hereabouts), brown pelican 9, cormorant 110, tricolored heron 1, bald eagle 9 (2 active nests are in the area), red-shouldered hawk 2, merlin 1, killdeer 33, American woodcock 48 (mostly seen by others at dusk after they had finished covering their assigned areas), great horned owl 1 (Dan Cristol), northern flicker 6, crow unIDd 65, eastern bluebird 16, hermit thrush 2, myrtle warbler 110, palm warbler 2, common grackle 150, purple finch 1.

2 other all-day parties cover different parts of this sector with our combined species total 106, reported previously at length on VA-BIRD. Also, we see 6 white-tailed deer.

Most of us stay in the no. 5 lodge of Kiptopeke State Park. Rudy Cashwell brings us a BIG sack of clams he has raised and some beautiful vegetables, which, if Cezanne had seen these first, would have caused him to abandon his apples, oranges, and other fruit. They’re THAT pretty.

Today George works the big Ferry sector, as he has for several years, that extends from the north side of Route 704 KSP for 5 mi. or so north, all of it west of Route 13. His very successful day with 86 species include a black-and-white warbler, 5 orange-crowned warblers, 190 cormorants, 2 blue-headed vireos, 162 brown pelicans (on the concrete ships), 13 bald eagles, a peregrine falcon, 28 ruby-crowned kinglets, 5 white-breasted nuthatches, 33 red-breasted nuthatches, and 26 vesper sparrows.

Some recent years there’ve been only 1 or just a few vespers here. In big decline as with so many others grassland birds. I remember one year back a ways when we had more vespers than juncos. Imagine that!

DECEMBER 31, THURSDAY. After 4 days of sun and moderate temperatures today is overcast with light rain or mist off and on, but the temperature gets up to 50. Something of a relief NOT to have to press hard on a Christmas count today. The pressure’s off. Good to sleep in a little. I see 75 brown pelicans on the concrete ships.

At Ramp Lane early, hooded merganser 5, tricolored heron 1, red-breasted merganser 1, bufflehead 7, great blue heron 1. 48, overcast, S15, light rain. Derek Ayres, George and I go along Arlington and Custis Roads late morning to early afternoon: GOOD look at an orange-crowned warbler, wild turkey 3, red-tailed hawk 3, yellow-bellied sapsucker 1, American kestrel 2, red-shouldered hawk 2, fox sparrow 1, hermit thrush 1, bald eagle 2, 100s of Canada geese, American oystercatcher 1, American crow 45, and 13 deer.

Ramp Lane, again: 4:30-5:30, 53-55, light rain, overcast, NW5+: bald eagle 1, bufflehead 12, hooded merganser 34, red-breasted merganser 2, and 4 deer . On the way back to the lodge after rampin’ it up, see an eastern cottontail and a small frog leaping, saltatin’, across the wet, warm road, I bet either spring peeper or green tree frog. Rushing the season, little fella?

JANUARY 1, FRIDAY. There is a Long-bodied Cellar Spider on the wall of our rest room, identified by George via iNaturalist. He counts 140 brown pelicans at the KSP concrete ships, earlier had a fox sparrow, a bald eagle, and a woodcock from his room at KSP lodge no. 5. He and Kristin see 28 vesper sparrows, Arlington Road, no doubt the same group he saw yesterday.

With Liz Armistead on the way home to Philadelphia: MACHIPONGO - BOX TREE ROAD: 10:53 A.M., 43, overcast, calm, tide starting to let out: greater yellowlegs 35, dunlin 110, kingfisher 2, black duck 6. WILLIS WHARF, tide real high: ruddy turnstone 4, herring gull 60 (on Terry’s roof), bufflehead 11, hooded merganser 2, common loon 1, gray squirrel 1. On leaving, run into Gerry Tracy and his lady friend.

Best to all. - Harry Armistead.

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