Sunday, June 14, 2015

Here we go again

Allen's quest for my 700th ABA bird species has entailed a significant effort to find a Black Rail this year. Our first attempt to see this species was in 1978, in Florida, where we checked two or three locations without even hearing one. In the 37 years since, we have made at least two other attempts to find it in Florida, as well as attempts other years in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland (twice), Texas (3 times), Kansas, California, and Colorado. In January this year, we failed to find one at 5 locations in Florida, and in March we failed to find one at two locations in Texas. Yes, a real jinx bird for us. This trip was planned during the best time of year to hear them calling, and we had sites in New Jersey, Maryland, and North Carolina to try.

On Sunday, May 31, we left home in the rain. Weather maps suggested that the rain would stop when we got east of Toledo, Ohio, but it did not. We had hard rain, interspersed with torrential rain, most of the way across Pennsylvania, where we stopped in Harrisburg for the night. The next morning, June 1, we wound our way between Philadelphia and Wilmington into southern New Jersey. It was still raining, but there were at least brief periods when it was lighter or not raining at all. Our intent was to stay in Millville, but since it was early we went to the Atlantic coast and drove around the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Bringantine). There were lots of waterbirds and shorebirds (see checklist here), but the best bird photo taken there was of a Blue Grosbeak along the dikes.
Male Blue Grosbeak













A nice surprise was seeing a species of turtle we'd never seen before. Apparently, it was egg-laying time for the Diamondback Terrapins, a species that is found only in salt and brackish marshes. We saw more than a dozen of them, many right in the road.
Diamondback Terrapin












Diamondback Terrapin













Diamondback Terrapin














We returned to Millville and got a room, then went southeast to some salt marshes to look for Black Rails in the afternoon and early evening. The rain had held off most of the time we were at the wildlife refuge, but it was light and intermittent this afternoon. At the start of the Stipson Island Road, we found an Eastern Box Turtle in the road; not the first one of the trip.
Eastern Box Turtle













At the end of the road, a small group of Black Skimmers was fishing up and down a channel until dusk.
Black Skimmer












Black Skimmer













Black Skimmer













Black Skimmer














Finally, after trying for over an hour, we heard a Black Rail. We were waiting for the typical vocalization, "ki-kee-doo", but instead we heard what is called the growl call. What a relief after all these years to finally at least hear one! Now we'll have to keep trying. We headed back to our motel in Millville, and it started raining torrentially fairly soon after we left the marsh, and continued all the way back.

The morning of Tuesday, June 2 was overcast and raining only very lightly. We discovered that we had damaged something on our front wheel well when we drove through a deep puddle last night, and rather quickly that part fell off. We were going to have to get to a Toyota dealer to get it fixed today. We stopped again at the Stipson Island Road, and after about a half hour heard what was probably the same Black Rail give a few growl calls from the same area of the marsh. But it wasn't showing itself, or giving any other calls, so we moved on. We took the ferry from Cape May, New Jersey to Lewes, Delaware, which was unexpectedly expensive ($47). It seems like the last time we took it (1981?) it was only about ten bucks. We did a little birding along the Atlantic coast in Delaware, with intermittent rain, and then headed into Maryland where the only decent photo was of these Purple Martins in Ocean City.
Purple Martins













We headed away from the seashore, where we found a Toyota dealer in Salisbury. It only took about two hours, and cost less than $60 for them to reattach the wheel well guard, and we were on our way. A very well known location for Black Rails was Elliott Island Road, west of Salisbury, where in years past many of them were recorded. In recent years (including May of this year), only a single bird has been detected there. We did hear a single Virginia Rail and many Seaside Sparrows,, but no Black Rail (full bird list here). And it was raining. The video below, showing a rainy road in the foreground and calling Green Treefrogs, tells the whole story of this 20 mile long road.
video

We went back to Salisbury for the night.

On Wednesday, June 3, we headed south down the Delmarva Peninsula, stopping at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Of course it was raining off and on, but we tried to walk part of the loop road anyway. There were a lot of shorebirds around (full bird list here), but the most photogenic may have been these American Oystercatchers.
American Oystercatchers












American Oystercatchers














Our trip was capped off there by a sighting of the endemic subspecies, the Delmarva Fox Squirrel.
Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)













Continuing south, we crossed over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which can often be very good for birds. Not today though. And it was still raining lightly. We did stop in at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, which was a really nice place, with good forest and swamps.
Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia














Along one of the walking trails, we encountered a Black Bear. We turned around immediately, and the bear went the opposite direction thankfully. It was starting to rain again anyway...
Black Bear at Great Dismal Swamp, Virginia














One of the birds we wanted to find here was Swainson's Warbler, which we succeeded in doing, and it can be heard singing sweetly in the video below (the louder bird is a Tufted Titmouse).
video

From there, we continued south to Williamstown, North Carolina for the night.

Our plans for Wednesday, June 3 were altered as we did not get as far into North Carolina as we had wanted to. So instead we decided to head east to the Outer Banks where we needed to be this evening anyway. Along the way, we stopped at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which had a network of roads that had lots of birds, especially Prothonotary Warblers (full bird list here). At one point we encountered a snake basking in the middle of the road (there was actually a little sun today, with only very sparse light rain). It turned out to be a Cottonmouth, and a very brightly marked one at that.
Cottonmouth












Cottonmouth












Cottonmouth















A bit farther on, we saw another one swimming in a ditch. This one was more typical in coloration, being very dark, almost black.
Cottonmouth














Other wildlife along these roads included no less than THREE Black Bears, one of which was very close to the road.
Black Bear












Black Bear














From here we crossed east to Roanoake Island, where Allen's ancestor's had colonized centuries ago (his great grandfather's last name was Raleigh). And then down the Outer Banks to the town of Buxton where we had a room reserved for two nights. Tomorrow, Allen goes out with a birding group by boat out of Hatteras, beyond the Continental Shelf, in search of some possible new birds that we didn't see in the same area in 1995.

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