Friday, September 4, 2015

Eastern Shore of Virginia Birding

A couple of weeks ago Sharon and I decided to talk a short-week vacation and visit the Eastern Shore of Virginia for some birding. We started off Tuesday evening after work. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel we saw a long line of dolphins. They must have stretched out over a mile, at least a minute at highway speeds. Most were just frolicking in the water but one made a full jump out of the water as we drove by. What a great way to start the trip. We stayed in Cape Charles at the very nice and friendly Hotel Cape Charles.

As we checked out Wednesday morning, the guy working the desk noticed my birding shirt and told us about a farm field near by that had some black terns and an upland sandpiper reported the previous day. We had planned to start at Kiptopeke State Park and stuck with that plan, adding the farm field for our drive north to Chincoteague. At Kiptopeke we walked the trails past the former bird banding station. Things were rather quiet through here. Actually, things were quite loud here but not many birds. The cicadas were very noisy and all over the place. And then there were at least two small planes that seemed to be circling over the bay at the park. They filled in when the cicadas started falling down on the job. So birds were near impossible to hear. The one that made it through the background drone was a very beautiful male white-eyed vireo. It took us some time to track it down and also see its juvenile companion. While looking for the vireo we kept falling for the mass of blue-grey gnatcatchers that were flitting around the same area. We then walked through the camp grounds and heard a bobwhite. A really nice bird that is getting harder to see. But Kiptopeke has always been a good location for finding them. The insects were quite active. We saw many red-spotted skippers, tiger swallowtails and zobulon skippers. At one point when we were watching a yellow-billed cuckoo we saw a bubblebee-mimic hoverfly attach and eat a small bee. Amazing.

We then headed to lunch at the Machipongo Trading Company (a favorite stop on the Eastern Shore) before checking out the farm field recommendation. We didn't see anything at the target farm but did stop and see several killdeers in a nearby field. A stop at Willis Wharf wasn't too productive as the tide was high. There were a few shorebirds on a small bit of exposed mud near the observation deck and a singing common yellowthroat. It was around 3:00 when we reached Chincoteague so we headed directly to the wildlife refuge and drove the wildlife loop. Many of the fields were rather dry so what shorebirds we saw were generally at great distances. Sharon is getting good at separating the more common peeps. But as they get farther and farther away, the harder they get to id. At the overlook on the backside of the loop we had four indigo buntings among several songbirds and our first mob of mosquitoes.

Thursday started with a relaxing breakfast at the Main Street Coffeehouse and then most of the day birding the Beach Road on Chincoteague NWR. There was a large grouping of birds along the road in Swan Cove that we had the chance to really study. Highlights included piping plovers, marble godwits, around 300 willits and three shovlers flying over. There were also many birds gathered near the Tom's Cove visitor center. Here we found a red knot and some black-bellied plovers. After a snack break we tried walking the woodland trail but the mosquitoes drove us out after just a couple of minutes. They were so bad that I will now need to wait another 56 days before going back to a blood drive. So we made a second pass at the beach road. Mostly the same stuff but we got more chances to study the shorebirds.

Friday we started by walking the beach sound of the parking lots. We move to the coveside an had several pairs of oystercatchers, more piping plovers and godwits. We returned along the ocean side and had mostly gulls and sanderlings. There was one lesser black backed gull on the beach.

Saturday was another trip up and down beach road. Still a lot of birds but nothing new for the trip. On the drive home we stopped again for coffees at Machipongo and then drove down Seaside Road stopping on the side of the road occasionally. Here we picked up several horned larks in a field followed by a grasshopper sparrow singing from a power line. And then a bobwhite walked out across the road behind us. The trip ended with stops along the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. There were a lot of rock doves on Island #1 and an immature yellow-crowned nightheron out on the rocks.

The trip ended with 93 species of birds, many insects and some good stories.