I added 11 new species to my Big Year list today, and it's barely 4:00 . . dayum!
I woke up early this morning, at around 5:00, and could not go back to sleep. My phone had died during the night, and when I plugged it in I couldn't get a signal. Uneasy about being out of touch with the family, I decided just to shower before the rush (ha ha, just kidding, there are a total of about 11 people camping in this entire mammoth facility) and get started. With events not starting until 9:00, I decided just to bird the campground. I stuck to the area in the general vicinity of my tent and just birded a big loop. The camp site itself is in a big stand of old-growth pine trees, and just to the North is a small cove, and the Chesapeake is beyond the cove. I chased songbirds through the trees with very little luck, as the sun hadn't fully lit the tree tops yet, and then headed up toward the sound of the Canada Geese squawking in the cove. When I arrived they flew out, along with 6 or 7 Great Blue Herons. I saw a Great Egret fishing, and in one of the dead trees along the shore I spotted two Northern Flickers, one actually hammering at the tree like a typical woodpecker would. I found that behavior only slightly odd, as they are, after all, a type of woodpecker. I've only ever seen them forage on the ground though, so it gave me pause.
On my way back to the tent site I saw a big mixed flock of sparrows and warblers foraging on the ground. They let me get unusually close for really good looks, and I even captured a few of them. In all I saw Chipping Sparrows, Yellow-throated Warblers, Pine Warblers, Palm Warblers, and a single Black-and-white Warbler. Pretty good for 7:00 in the morning. Of the group, only the Palm Warbler was a new bird for me.
Above, the Yellow-throated Warbler.
And the Palm Warbler.
And the Pine Warbler.
After a quick breakfast I drove into Cape Charles to seek out the festival headquarters I was so woefully unable to locate the night before. After asking a jogger and a mechanic that were of absolutely no help, I finally located a local restaurateur who was able to direct me to the fire station, where the event would kick off from. That was a great example of a time where leaving early really paid off. I got my packet-o-materials, organized my directions and got everything situated, and then it was off to the first field trip of the day. 25 of us loaded up on a school bus and headed to Fisherman's Island NWR, near the end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel-bridge-tunnel-bridge.
When we got to the island and got out of the bus, the first bird an of us saw was a majestic Bald Eagle, hovering over the marsh in front of us. He was quickly joined by numerous vultures, Osprey, and a Northern Harrier. A few steps down the path and we added Broad-winged Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Red-tailed Hawk to the tally.
There were some songbirds as well, including an American Redstart and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We made our way down the sandy trail to the beach, and the view was pretty incredible.
Along the beach we saw a majority of the new birds I was able to add to today's list. Most interesting of the group was a Black Skimmer, Sanderling, Royal Tern, and Forster's Tern. I also added 3 gulls to the list, but quite frankly gulls bore me to death, so we're not going to talk about them. This next photo is a Sanderling, which is a really cute little black and white shorebird that has a habit of chasing breaking waves up the beach to uncover invertibrates to eat. They were fun to watch.
There were also quite a few of these little Ghost Crabs on the beach. I wanted to pick one up and bring it home to Lily, but the lady from the park services department scolded me, so I decided not to. Plus, I worried it would stink up my car.
We made our way back to the bus, stopping along the way to try to lure more warblers out of the trees, but the windy conditions (gusts in excess of 30 miles per hour) kept the songbirds out of sight.
After a quick pit stop and lunch, which consisted of a chef salad from the Food Lion deli, it was off to Kiptopeke (KIP-toe-peek) State Park for an hour at the hawk observation platform. Two species I really hoped to add on this trip were Merlin and Peregrine Falcon, and another birder reported seeing both of them at that location just yesterday. As it turns out, my luck wasn't quite so good. We did see 8 Merlins, as well as 8 American Kestrels and a Sharp-shinned Hawk fly by, but no Peregrines. Truth be told, the looks at the Merlins were pretty disappointing, as the birds were flying at about 60 miles per hour over our heads from North to South, not bothering to stop and pose for photos. Rude ass birds.
Overall I'd call it a pretty successful first 2/3 of a day. The "Official" opening reception, with a keynote address by noted birder Pete Dunne, is scheduled for 6:00 tonight, a little more than an hour from now. Afterwards I'm signed up to go on an owl and bat "hoot" at 9:00, which I hope yields more owls than bats. I've still got a grand total of zero owls on my Big Year list, and this will certainly be one of my only opportunities for nocturnal birding for the rest of the year. So that's all for now, look for updates either tonight or tomorrow afternoon, as sleep will once again determine the schedule.