Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Birding Down to Maryland: A Short Trip

Paul went to Nova Scotia recently, but before that he went to eastern Oregon. Yeah, he gets around more than me, but I do the best I can with my little corner of the world! So after his Oregon trip, I took a trip down to Maryland for oddly similar reasons. While travelling there, I decided to do a little birding and keep a list of all the birds I saw that day. A big day? Nahhh, not that big, but here is my travelogue (along with other information added later and various musings)!

6/14/13 I am going on a trip to Maryland to visit my mother and brother, so I am recording my birds!

Before I left I took a walk with my youngest son at around 11:00 a.m. for a half hour. Lots of Cedar Waxwings around my house (which inspired me to take the walk), plus the following on the walk:

House Sparrow, Northern Flicker, Cardinals calling, Robins everywhere, Catbirds are common, Carolina Chickadees, House Finches, damn Starlings, Carolina and House Wrens calling, Song Sparrows visible and calling, Brown-headed Cowbirds, American Crows, Northern Mockingbird, and Mourning Doves. Mostly standard suburban birds, though the abundant flickers around here are a bonus.

Birding on the drive down from Wallingford to Annapolis isn't easy, as I had to actually drive and could only pick up birds that were in front of me or while I was stopped. I also had to deal with the fact that I couldn't write down my identifications until I hit a stop light, but luckily I took route 301, which has a few lights (and no tolls!). Good enough to catch Rock Doves, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture, Canada Goose, Osprey, Red-winged Blackbird, Black Vulture, and Double Crested Cormorant.

Finally getting to Annapolis (well, north of it, but still in the zip code) requires crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Oh, how I hate that bridge. With its somewhat S-shape and 4.3 miles in length, it always made me really stressed to ride, let alone drive, across it. This changed somewhat when I was younger and did the (since cancelled) annual Bay Bridge walk, forcing me to face my fears and breaking the bridge's mystique for me. I still white-knuckle across it though, and the recent accident where a truck knocked a car OVER the side of the bridge brings back all those fears. Sure, the person actually survived (I know!), but I still don't enjoy driving over it and am happy once I reach the mainland of my home state of Maryland.

The Bridge from Sandy Point, not taken while I was driving
I got to the friendly haven of the Broadneck peninsula, picked up my brother, and drove back over the bridge to visit my mom. At least I got my brother to keep notes for me in my field notebook and didn't have to remember everything for when I stop. I was still driving, so I could only catch birds that were relatively easy to spot: Mallard, Chimney Swift, Common Grackle, Barn Swallow, and Purple Martin. I saw a Tree Swallow too, but my brother refused to believe that I could identify it while I drove, so he didn't put it down. I know I saw it though even if it isn't actually in my book.

We drove back in the dark with me seeing a total of 30 birds mostly while driving.

6/15/13 I didn't get up at my normal 5:30 a.m. (at least at my "normal attempt at" 5:30 a.m.), but instead slept in an hour and headed off to Sandy Point State Park at 6:45. There was a storm coming in, but it was coming from the west, not a good one from the east that would blow good birds in from the ocean (at least if I was closer to the ocean).

At my brother's house on my way out I saw Chipping Sparrows, American Robins, House Sparrows, and Common Grackles. I drove to Sandy Point State Park and was all ready to try to convince the attendant to charge me in-state rates (despite my Pennsylvania tags) because not only did I grow up in Maryland, but I grew up in the exact area that the park is in. I was prepared to be all smooth and cool, but they just charged me the in-state rate without even a word. I guess they could just sense I was really a true Marylander.

Sandy Point isn't as avian dense as in the winter, but I easily saw Mallards, Carolina Chickadees, damn Starlings, Northern Mockingbirds, Canada Gees, Turkey Vultures, Fish Crows, Osprey, Black Vultures and Great Blue Herons.

I also saw lots of gulls!

They were sitting in a couple of large groups on the beach with a couple conveniently located picnic benches nearby. Score! I sat down, got comfortable, and took out my copy of Sibley to sort through the morass that is identifying gulls. Was I annoyed and bored by this? Hell no! I took it as a challenge and a special, unique event where I have a whole slew of gulls around me and a place to sit and watch and compare to my field guide. Perfect.

There were dozens of Great Black Backed Gulls (probably the most common there), which is good to see because while they are common at my work in the winter, they leave in the summer. There were some Ring-billed Gulls, and some Laughing Gulls and a few Herring Gulls. Nothing new, mind you, and the most common and expected gulls (no Lesser Black Backed though, and I freaking checked every one)

I then took a detour into the pine-oak forests of the park for some woodland birds. Big mistake. Oh, the beaches and bay are nice, but once you walk into the woods you are attacked by black flies. Geez, I was swatting them away from my face and ears and thinking "oh this isn't that bad", but then I picked a couple of ticks off of me. These, mind you, were the first ticks that have been on me in about 20 years. Uck....but no worries, there have been many more since then (including a damn deer tick). Ok, that creeped me out a little (yeah, I know, biologist who has worked on insects for years is creeped out by ticks), but what turned me around were the waves and waves of black flies. So I ran out...errr...tried to run out, but actually ran deeper into the forests along the trail, probably near the point where my brother says that it is haunted and won't tell me why because it would freak me out (it wouldn't though, because ghosts aren't real). I didn't see any specters, unless they all were reanimated as flies which I saw a lot of, but eventually I got out of there.

Ticks, flies, annoyances. Yeah, I was only in the woods for about 10 minutes and I was done with that. The beach area sounded much nicer. And, hey, I got to see a couple Double Crested Cormorants on the bay. Yeah, they are pretty common, but just like Paul, I have to check to see if they are Great. I also heard Carolina Wrens calling, Mourning Doves sitting around, and I tried to use my phone to take pictures of Eastern Kingbirds (no, my phone is not a good camera; I guess I'll need to get a new camera after I get new binoculars).

It was a nice walk on the beach with a cool wind blowing in, no flies around, occasional Roman candles being shot off the shore in the distance (in the morning? I hope they weren't a distress flare because I had no idea where they were coming from), and white-tail tracks on the beach.

It was during that time that I carried you! On a deer
I was lucky that day, because even though I was there in the winter (and in Cape May), I didn't get all my ducks. So the only fun, strange, non-Mallard duck in the whole park just happened to be one I hadn't seen yet: a single Ring-necked Duck! And it wasn't easy to see, with my crappy binoculars fogging up and all, but luckily it wasn't on the bay but instead on an inlet that I could watch it for a good ten minutes.

So I took a long loop around on the beach and headed back to the parking lot, but saw lots of good things on the way: Northern Cardinals, American Crows, Red-winged Blackbirds, Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Blue Jay, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Wood Peewee, House Wren, Song Sparrow, Great Crested Flycatcher, and heard a Tufted Titmouse on the way out.

I also saw a cute family of Mallards.

I was done at Sandy Point around 9:10 a.m. There was a storm rolling in (they closed the Bay Bridge because of the high winds with the storm) and the rain started soon after I left. It soon blew over and I had lunch with a good friend of mine at a nearby restaurant outside. I pointed out the many Osprey we saw (a few could be seen in a nearby nest) and how they were so rare when we were growing up, but now I must have seen at least a dozen since I drove down. Later that day while hanging out at his house, I pointed out the bird calls of Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Baltimore Orioles. He had never seen orioles before (despite being from Maryland), and though I could only hear them, it must have piqued his interest because he was looking for them after I left.

I'm sure it was a coincidence too, but soon after my visit his wife started reading The Big Year.

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