Sunday, November 24, 2013

Searching the Salt Marshes of Delaware, November 17

I awoke early to get a good start.  Fowler Beach Road in Prime Hook NWR was about 30 minutes north of my motel.  I looked out at the weather and saw heavy thick fog.  I returned to bed for some additional snooze time.  If I am successful in finding Saltmarsh Sparrow quickly, I will drive west to Ohio and head to the Cleveland area to look for the Little Gull(s) that have been seen there for the past week or two.  Today could be a long day, so I might need the extra rest.

I had breakfast in my room again, but picked up an additional breakfast meal to carry with me.  This could be a busy day!  I arrived at the bridge on Fowler Beach Road and parked at the point just beyond the bridge where the road was blocked.  One can walk the road beyond to the beach, but not drive.  The road is showing some damage from storms and/or very high tides.  Frank Rohrbacher had directed me to the bridge and the road beyond.  It was just as he described it.  Thanks again, buddy.  The best place to see Saltmarsh Sparrow was either near the bridge where people fish and crab or along the road toward the beach.  The fog was still thick so visibility was limited but I could see well enough to see maybe 50-60 feet out from the road edge.  The salt marsh was right up against the road; therefore, I still had a chance to see birds early before the fog lifts.  Being optimistic, I got my camera ready and started walking slowly out the road toward the beach, spishing and making kissing noises with my lips against my fingers.  This worked in the past in Delaware and also in Louisiana late in October of this year.  It should be good here too.

When I got almost to the end of the road, some Seaside Sparrows responded to my noises on the north side of the road as well as on the south side of the road.  They sat up and made their "tuck tuck" calls.  There were about five Seaside Sparrows that responded but no Saltmarsh Sparrows.  These Seaside Sparrows were as I remembered them--dark overall maybe darker than the Gulfcoast Seaside Sparrow seen on Halloween in Louisiana.  However, these eastcoast Seaside Sparrows had more orange color on their breast than I remembered.  It was getting brighter as the sun started burning through the fog.  See photos below.
Seaside Sparrow
Seaside Sparrows
Whatsup? Why all the noise?
I started walking back to the west.  Suddenly, I saw a smaller sparrow run out of the salt marsh onto the road edge and duck back in.  Now, that's Saltmarsh Sparrow behavior!   Eventually, I got the bird to sit up and take notice and saw the much heavier and more extensive streaking on the breast than in Nelson's Sparrow and the larger bill and flatter crown and forehead of the Saltmarsh Sparrow relative to Nelson's Sparrow.  See photos below.  In comparison, Nelson's Sparrow has a clean white lower breast and belly with very fine or indistinct streaking across the upper breast and a much smaller bill and steeper forehead.  See photos in Louisiana posting.  The last photo below shows the very sharp ends to the tail feathers; thus, the reason why Saltmarsh Sparrow was named Sharp-tailed Sparrow in the past.  Nelson's Sparrow is also a sharp-tailed sparrow.  It is hard to keep track of the name changes for the sharp-tailed sparrows.  When I started birding there was only Sharp-tailed Sparrows and several subspecies.  Then, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow were split as separate species.  More recently, the names have been simplified to Nelson's Sparrow and Saltmarsh Sparrow.  Keeps us birders on our toes! 

Saltmarsh Sparrow,
heavy streaking across breast, upper belly and sides, buffy-orange
in supercillium, malar streak and upper breast, large bill, gray median stripe on crown 
Saltmarsh Sparrow, note large bill, relatively flat crown
Saltmarsh Sparrow,
sharp ends to tail feathers, typical spread eagle stance on strands of grass
I walked back to the bridge.  An elderly couple were setting up to catch crabs.  I found a few more Saltmarsh Sparrows right near the bridge.  There was a Great Black-backed Gull with a massive tangle of fishing line attached to its breast.  The couple said that he had been there for a while and can eat.  I also saw him fly.  He's OK for now.  There were also Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin and Willets in the area.  I heard them but usually did not see them due to the fog.  Snow Geese also flew over but were invisible above the fog.

I called Andie Ednie to thank him for the information and told him that I had seen Saltmarsh Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow as well as the Manx Shearwaters on the pelagic trip yesterday.  It was time to move on and say goodbye to Delaware....for now at least.  One never knows during a Big Year.  I headed back down Route 1 to the Wawa Dairy convenience store to fill my gas tank and then headed west to Georgetown, Delaware to Route 404 and the Bay Bridge.  Andie had alerted me that bad weather was headed our way and high winds and rain were predicted for Pittsburgh, PA.  It started rain while I was driving on the PA Turnpike toward Pittsburgh.  It rained harder with very hard showers as I headed west to the Ohio Turnpike and then on to Cleveland, Ohio.  Just before I arrived at my motel on I-90 in Mentor just east of Cleveland, a very strong gust of wind blew across the interstate pushing my car to the right.  The rain was so heavy that I could barely see.  I slowed down, and let the crazies fly by me on the road.  Fortunately that did not last long, and I was within a few miles of my final destination.  I safely reached my motel and spent the night in Mentor, and found enough to eat at a 7-Eleven next door to the motel for a healthy late meal.   Tomorrow, I try for Little Gull.

Saltmarsh Sparrow is new for the year and raises the total to 699 + 2.    

No comments:

Post a Comment