With no catching opportunities available on Wednesday morning, we planned for three boat trips into Mispillion Harbour to re-sight flagged birds. I offered to be on the early trip so at 6am, we were on the way out to Back Beach. It was a pretty high tide state so most of the birds were around the back of the beach. A couple of people headed that way whilst the rest of us positioned ourselves where we knew the birds would move to as the tide receded. Unfortunately, the high number of gulls on the beach where I was sitting made the birds spooky and they never really settled there. Just as things started to change and the birds started to be around in big enough numbers for there to be some flagged birds to re-sight, it was time to swap places with the next team and we had to leave. The slow re-sighting did give me a chance to take a few pictures though…
|Pile of horseshoe crabs|
|Horseshoe crab eggs|
|Short-billed dowitcher eating horseshoe crab egg|
|Semi-palmated sandpiper eating horseshoe crab egg|
|Laughing gull with horseshoe crab egg|
|There were a few knot around|
|Semi-palmated sandpiper in flight|
|Semi in flight again|
|The laughing gulls made great photographic subjects, despite |
scaring off the shorebirds
|Laughing gulls eatig eggs off the surface of the water|
The rest of the day was spent trying to find flagged birds on Slaughter Beach and mending mouse eaten keeping cages. I never thought I would find myself sewing whilst on a trip to Delaware! That evening we all headed down to Rehoboth Beach to go for a meal out at Dogfish Head pub. I think I can safely say that my eyes were a lot bigger than my tummy and I don’t think I have ever been so full in my life!!! However, given the beautiful, warm evening we had that night, it would have been rude not to fit in an ice cream and go for a paddle in the moonlit Atlantic Ocean.
|Justin, me and Rob - just been paddling!|
On Thursday we set two nets on Slaughter Beach, almost in front of the house, in the hope of catching turnstone. By 7am, Jean and Paul had twinkled plenty of birds into the catching area and the rest of us were all sitting at basecamp, beginning to feel the adrenalin pumping. As Nigel debated when to take the catch (straight away or wait for a few more birds) a turkey vulture heading in our direction made the decision for us and Nigel hit the red button. The lift and extraction went very well and the birds were soon in keeping cages. Again, two flagging and processing teams were set up to work through the catch and pretty soon all 190 turnstone, 11 knot, 3 short-billed dowitchers, 2 dunlin and 1 semi-palmated sandpiper were on their way. The highlight of the morning was finding a turnstone with a geolocator on it. The bird had the geolocator fitted last year on the New Jersey side of the Bay so it was removed and taken for analysis. Hopefully, it will provide some useful information on where the bird has travelled over the past year.
Plan A on Friday was to send people out re-sighting, with a team out on Back Beach setting nets for a potential catch if there were any birds around. At 06:30, the plan changed following a phone call from the New Jersey side saying an aerial survey was happening that day. So, Plan B was hatched and we were all allocated individual beaches to count until the plane came through. Team members soon scattered to the relevant beaches whilst a group of us did some data checking and waited out a rain storm before heading out on the boat to Back Beach. Before the storm had cleared, the phone had rung and Plan C came into being. Kevin was sitting on the plane waiting to take off when the pilot decided the weather was too wet and windy to fly so the trip was postponed! Instead, we went and sat on a very wet and windy Back Beach for a few hours and re-sighted until we lost the ability to move our fingers due to the cold. The high winds also meant that we couldn’t catch that day so later that afternoon we were given a fascinating presentation by Jim Lyons from the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the analyses he has performed on the data collected across the Bay in 2011 and 2012.
Saturday was very windy again so the aerial survey was postponed once more, as was that day’s catching attempt. We were beginning to feel as though we were stuck in Groundhog Day! So, it was another morning’s re-sighting on another beach in the sunshine…it’s a hard life! On the way back, the light was so great, we had to stop and take a few more photos. The afternoon was spent checking data to get as much of it done as possible before six of us headed back to the UK.
|Great blue heron|
|Another osprey - they really are everywhere out there!|
|Snowy egret - look at the crazy yellow feet!|
|Tree swallow where it should be.|
That evening after dinner and the team meeting, a group of us went out in search of nightjars. I was keen to hear whip-poor-will and chuck-will’s-widow as I hadn’t had chance to go looking for them last year. Bracken was good enough to offer to take us on a drive around an area known to play host to the two species and within the hour we were standing listening to both! The calls were incredible to hear, particularly the chuck-will’s-widow that was calling from a tree directly above our heads. Magical! When we got back at midnight, I nipped down to the beach to try to get a shot of the horseshoe crabs lit by the full moon. I managed a couple of shots before the cold made me shiver too much to hold the camera still!
|Horseshoe crabs in the waves - Slaughter Beach |
So, before we knew it, it was our last day in Delaware. I took the chance to join the team heading to Back Beach to set nets for a knot catch. Or, at least that was the plan. The birds obviously hadn’t been told of the plan as Back Beach was covered in (amongst other things) 25 000 dunlin, 20 000 semi-palmated sandpipers but only about 80 knot! Whilst it was an incredible spectacle, it meant that a catch on our final day was not to be and neither, it seemed, was there much re-sighting to be had. So, the camera came out again instead…
|There were just a few birds on Back Beach|
|Dunlin in flight|
|Semi in flight|
It must be said, however, that sitting on a beach listening to hundreds of dunlin singing is an experience that is hard to beat! We were pretty certain that as soon as the winds dropped, the birds would be on their way north to their breeding grounds as they were obviously ready to undertake the final stage of their migration journeys. This was backed up later in the morning when we saw a couple of dozen dunlins circling very high over a little town called Leipsic. It is weird seeing waders that high up and the only logical explanation is that they were getting ready for the off – they were heading north!
Any further re-sighting attempts that day were thwarted by the sheer number of people out on the beaches enjoying Memorial Day weekend. So, it was a slightly frustrating end to the fortnight due to the weather and people. Back at the house at Slaughter Beach, the six Brits who were heading home packed up and got ready to depart. It seemed we were not the only ones getting ready to fly; one of the American robin chicks that were nesting under the balcony was out of the nest and looking ready to fledge at any time.
|American robin chicks ready to fledge|
As we said our goodbyes to the rest of the team, we were treated to a fly-past by a beautiful, adult bald eagle which flew low over the house, almost as if it was saying goodbye (yes, I know, I’m anthropomorphising!!!). We were all sad to leave, not just because it is such a wonderful place to be, the project is such a worthwhile and important one to be involved with or because it was so nice to spend two weeks in the company of so many like-minded, lovely people but because the season barely seemed to have got going when it was time to leave.
The lack of catchable birds was frustrating to say the least and a little confusing. The data collected by the end of the second week of the project suggests that at least 10 000 knot have passed through the Bay on the Delaware side and we know that more birds were over on the New Jersey side than in Delaware but this, so far, is still far short of the 44 000 that usually pass through the Bay. The reason for their absence is not yet clear. They may be late coming through, in which case the team could have a very busy week this week, or some may have bypassed the Bay altogether for some reason. Or, they may just be very dispersed around the area and not be using Mispillion Harbour in the usual way. Hopefully the numbers at the end of the season will provide a much clearer picture.
All too soon, six of us were heading to the airport to catch our flights back to the UK. The less than frantic season had given me the opportunity to do a little birding whilst there and my tally of new species for this trip ended on twenty-seven (if you include the nightjars that were heard but not actually seen). I was also able to get much better views of another ten or so species that I had only managed quick glimpses of last year so I was heading home happy with that!
Once again, I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to partake in such an amazing project and to spend time in the company of some truly fantastic people. I would particularly like to thank Nigel for letting me join the team again this year and Kevin and Bracken for their hospitality, enthusiasm and smooth running of the project. Thanks are also due to the rest of the team members (old and new friends) for making Delaware 2013 another brilliant two weeks. I hope I am lucky enough to be able to join the team again in 2014.