Sunday, November 24, 2013

To Lewes Delaware for Pelagic Trip and Manx Shearwater, November 15 and 16

I arrived in Dayton, Ohio on November 14 at about 10:30 pm, picked up my luggage, got my car and drove home to Cincinnati, arriving at about 12:30 am.  I needed to pick up a warmer coat.  I slept in my own bed for the first time in over a month.  Only another Big Year birder can appreciate that comment.  I recall Chris Hitt stating this on his blog when he did his Lower 48 Big Year in 2010.  I'm sure that Neil Hayward appreciates that comment given how many times he has stayed in  "hotel rental vehicle" this year!

By 8:30 am, I had picked up breakfast and was on my way on a ten hour drive to Delaware, driving northeast to Columbus on I-71, then east on I-70, cutting diagonally across west Virginia, to get on I-70 east toward Baltimore, Maryland and then down toward Annapolis and across the Bay Bridge to the eastern shore of Maryland and then to Delaware to the Lewes-Rehobeth area.  I birded in this area as recently as early this year, and knew how to get around.  I got a motel room at the Anchorage Motel, based on information from the Paulagics website and my previous experience with staying there when I was on Paulagics pelagic trips out of Delaware.  I needed a good meal, and to pick up food for the day on the boat trip and for breakfast in the morning.  The trip was to leave at 6:00 am, so an early start was needed.

While still in San Antonio yesterday waiting for my return flight, I had sent an e-mail request for information to birding buddies, Frank Rohrbacher and Andie Ednie, about the current best spot in Delaware to find Saltmarsh Sparrow, a bird I still needed for my list.  Andie handles the Delaware RBA reports posted to Delaware Birds listserve and other similar tasks perhaps also for American Birds.  Frank is the secretary of the Delaware Bird Records Committee.  Just before leaving the Anchorage Motel for dinner, I got a response from Andie with his cell phone number, and during a succession of e-mails I shared my cell phone number, promising to call him if I had any further questions.  Fowler Beach Road in Prime hook NWR was the first choice and had Saltmarsh, Nelson's and Seaside Sparrows last week.  I didn't hear from Frank but I suspected that he might be on the boat tomorrow.  (He was!)  While I was waiting for my salad to be delivered at the IHOP, Andie called, and we had a nice long chat.  We hadn't talked in ages.  I promised to call him tomorrow and let him know if I succeeded with Saltmarsh Sparrow.

In my room very early on November 16, I had my usual breakfast at home of cereal with fruit and orange juice, and picked up some much needed coffee and additional food for the day at the local Wawa Dairy convenience store.   I made it to the dock on time in the morning rain, which was predicted to end by about 9:00 am further from shore.  It did.  On board the Thelma Dale IV, I renewed acquaintances with Paul Guris, Maurice Barnhill and Leo Weigant.  Paul Guris started Paulagics, LLC and is the leader of trips.  I first met Paul back in the '90's when I lived closer to the east coast and went out on east coast pelagic trips with him.  Maurice Barnhill is a retired Physics Professor at University of Delaware, whom I birded with extensively, while I was in graduate school at University of Delaware, until I got married and then moved away to pursue a career in the pharmaceutical industry in upstate New York.  I remembered Leo Weigant from Maryland near Washington, DC, when we introduced ourselves on this boat, because I had met him in the field in Delaware when I lived and birded there.  It was fun to update old acquaintances.

After the first flurry of typical coastal species we started to get out further.  I asked Frank Rohrbacher how to ensure that I did not miss the Manx Shearwaters if and when they were spotted.  He suggested that I join him up front on the bow where there were benches to sit on.  Sure enough, soon thereafter, we heard the leaders call "Manx Shearwater".  We saw a group of at least six flying in a row with at least three others nearby, all about halfway to the horizon and at about 2:00 o'clock, using the clock system for directions with 12:00 o'clock as straight ahead from the bow.  They were migrating by flying together in line formation rather than and flapping and gliding on stiff wings in many directions as shearwaters do while feeding, but they were clearly shearwaters by size and shape with narrow wings and a streamline shape.  I saw these relatively small shearwaters, which are quite dark and blackish above and white below with relatively rapid wing beats and quite short tails.  The short tails are a key field mark.  The other small dark and white shearwater to be seen on the east coast is Audubon's Shearwater, very unlikely to be seen in mid-November, but which has a longer tail than Manx Shearwater.  There were other reports of close to twenty Manx Shearwaters migrating in this group.  I had never seen them migrating flying in line before, which was very interesting to see.  Thanks Frank, great idea!  These Manx Shearwaters were identifiable and countable!  Frank also verified that Fowler Beach Road in Prime hook NWR was one of the best places to look for Saltmarsh Sparrow tomorrow.  Thanks, again Frank.  (Glad you got to see the Fieldfare back in March in Massachusetts.  We had met there on my first day there to try for the Fieldfare.)

Different pelagic trips on both coasts have different ways of operating and reporting birds seen during the trip.  One needs to be prepared, and for me, it had been quite a while since I went out on a Paulagics trip.  That's why I asked Frank who gets out on these trips fairly frequently how to ensure that I see my key bird on this trip.  I really appreciate Frank's help on this one.  It would have been easy to miss these birds, because they were flying fast and the boat could not keep up with them.  I hoped that we would see more Manx Shearwaters during the trip as we got further out.  However, there were only a few more scattered reports during the day of a bird or two flying into the wake of the boat to investigate the gull flock attracted by chumming.  I missed all of those additional sightings.

The trip got out to 76 miles from the dock to the Baltimore Canyon (at least I think that's where we were).  An oil slick was put out in addition to the chum.  There was a good assortment of pelagic and other species in addition to the Manx Shearwaters:  many Northern Gannets (in Delaware and Maryland), Parasitic Jaeger, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Brown Pelican, White-winged Scoter, at least one Black Scoter most of these in Delaware waters, and in Maryland waters, Great Shearwater, Northern Fulmar, Black-legged Kittiwake and red Phalarope, as well as two Cory's Shearwaters, one the borealis subspecies and the other the nominate diomedia subspecies or sometimes called Scopoli's Shearwater.  Diomedia has white bases to the primaries appearing as white fingers into the dark primaries on the under-wing; thus showing more white on the under-wing, as well as a greenish yellow bill rather than the bright yellow bill of borealis.  I did not get many photos on this trip except for a cooperative Great Shearwater.  I have seen Great Shearwater this year out of North Carolina, southern California and now in Maryland waters out of Delaware.  They are sometimes a cooperative bird and come into the boat to the chum in the back.  I do not get tired of seeing and enjoying Great Shearwaters.  I included several photos to show the action in the chum slick.  See photos below.
Great Shearwater, landing in chum slick

Great Shearwater,
Hey, free food!  I want some too!
Great Shearwater, flying
black bill and cap, white at base of tail, white collar, dark markings in white under-swing
On our way back to the dock, Paul instructed the Captain to motor in to the 30 fathom mark and then slow down for a lot of chumming and an oil slick to try to pull the Manx Shearwaters in closer to provide people better looks.  Shortly after we started in, a Manx Shearwater appeared in the wake, but very few people got to see it.  We continued with the strategy to get to the thirty fathom mark.  I moved back up to the front of the boat.  Some Manx Shearwaters were sighted ahead, and as we approached them, I got a good look at four Manx Shearwaters flying across the front of the boat.  In addition to the field marks that I saw the first time on the way out, this time I also saw the white under-tail coverts as well as a brief glimpse of the face showing the white wrapping around the ear coverts and appearing as a partial white collar or inverted triangle on the face near the neck.  I did not try any photos, because I was too busy making sure that I saw these birds well enough to count them.

Satisfied that I had seen my target bird very well, I repaired to the cabin, and had a snack.  I sat with Maurice Barnhill and had a long conversation.  Due to my association with Maurice, I became a much more active birder back in the late 60's and early '70's and joined the American Birding Association.  We hadn't seen each other and talked much since I left Delaware in 1977, and had a lot to catch up on.  It was good to spend that time with an old friend.  Soon it got dark and eventually it was time to grab our gear and get off the boat.

I headed back to my motel and walked next door to Dirty Dick's, a crab restaurant.  I had an excellent meal of crab cakes, quite large and thick with lots of crab, and corn on the cobb with cole slaw.  It came with a large basket of fresh popcorn as a starter.  I was very hungry and devoured everything.

Manx Shearwater is new for the year, raising the total to 698 + 2.                      




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