New Castle County Big Day

Kelley NunnRecovery Big Year

New Castle County Big Day
New Castle County Big Day

New Castle County Big Day

Back in March, Derek Stoner graciously asked Hannah Greenberg and I to participate as helpers in the Delaware Dunlins' New Castle County Big Day (a DOS Bird-a-Thon event scheduled for May 2nd). Unlike other big days, which are fast-paced races to find the maximum number of species within a given geographic area and time frame, the goal of this big day was to encounter 100 species in 10 locations over 10 hours. Six of the locations (in italics) were places I had never been to before:

1. Middle Run Natural Area
2. Charles Price Memorial Park
3. Levels Road Business Park
4. Appoquinimink River Bridge
5. Augustine Beach

6. Port Penn Impoundments
7. Augustine Wildlife Area - Yardley Dale Tract
8. Grier's Pond
9. White Clay Creek State Park at Hopkins Rd.
10. Woodside Creamery (for tallying and ice cream)

I was really really looking forward to this big day! In March, when we agreed to do the big day, I expected I might be able to participate in some of the Middle Run walk, but nothing more. At that point in my recovery, I was only walking about 3,000 steps per day-- I was doing relatively well, but was still generally weak, dizzy, and fatigued. As the end of April rolled around, I was doing much better! My updated prediction for the big day was that I would get as far as the rail spot on the Appoquinimink River Bridge before maxing out my capabilities and having to end the day early. So, on the morning of May 2nd, this was my mindset: No matter how I feel, I will make it to the rail spot. Here's how the day went:
A group of 17 excited birders started the count at 8am in the parking lot at the Middle Run Natural Area. Standing by the cars, we could already hear two Prairie Warblers singing in the distant scrub habitat. Naturally, we walked in the direction of the calls, hoping for a good look at these gorgeous birds. From the hedgerow, we could hear a Brown Thrasher (BRTH) singing. As we were looking for the BRTH, bird-whisperer Judy Montgomery spotted a Black-billed Cuckoo (BBCU)-- a new bird for my U.S. list! What a shock! None of us expected that we would be seeing a BBCU on our big day. The cuckoo was working its way through a bunch of tent caterpillars while we took turns watching it through the scope. It was remarkable to see the bird's stunning red eye ring. We ended the walk at Middle Run with 53 species! A great start to the morning, with highlights being the BBCU, an early Willow Flycatcher, and an adult Bald Eagle.
Black-billed Cuckoo at Middle Run Natural Area

Black-billed Cuckoo at Middle Run Natural Area

Charles Price Memorial Park

Charles Price Memorial Park

At Charles Price Memorial Park, we picked up Eastern Meadowlark and Grasshopper Sparrow— all of which were singing and visibly perched atop fenceposts. We were also treated to a gnat-like swarm of a few hundred Ring-billed Gulls reminiscent of Broad-winged Hawks in migration. Bobolink was unfortunately a no-show at both Charles Price & Levels Road, so we moved on to our next location.
Grasshopper Sparrow at Levels Road

Grasshopper Sparrow at Levels Road

Snowy Egret at Appoquinimink Bridge

Snowy Egret at Appoquinimink Bridge

Appoquinimink Bridge Road

Appoquinimink Bridge Road

Our stop at the Appoquinimink River Bridge was also productive! A Sora let out an atypical call that sounded almost like the start of a whinny before letting out the full whinny call a few minutes later. We heard a Clapper Rail, but didn't hear any King Rails calling from the Phrag. (Tim Schreckengost pointed out that the only true way to tell between King and Clapper rail is to count the number of ‘kek’s per second: Clappers kek 4-5 times, while Kings kek slower at only 2 per second.) Really exciting for me at this pull-off were a few Cliff Swallows that were flying among the Tree and Barn Swallows! I have been trying for a few years now to get Cliff Swallow in Chester County, and it was amazing and informative to observe these birds. In studying field guides and photographs, I knew which field marks to look for in Cliff Swallow, but watching them fly around in person made me realize how obviously different these birds are in shape from Tree and Barn Swallow.
 
Augustine Beach

Augustine Beach

A quick scan of our next location, Augustine Beach, added Herring & Greater Black-backed Gull to our list.

Next, we took a short walk down the Yardley Dale Tract at the Augustine Wildlife Area. Just from the parking lot, we saw at least 8 Bald Eagles of all different ages circling overhead. The new species accumulated quickly:  Gadwall, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Ruddy Duck (impressively picked out by Tim from very far away), Cattle Egret, and one other very awesome bird. At the end of the trail, most of us were looking through scopes, trying to figure out what a bird in the distance was— there was a Great-Blue Heron that was causing some confusion. Again, bird-whisperer Judy pulled out an amazing find. Behind the heron was a Common Gallinule! A life bird for me in the U.S. again! Although the bird was very far away, you could make out the red shield on the forehead and yellow-tipped bill. Absolutely incredible, and very cool to observe.

While driving to Grier's Pond, a few of us saw a beautiful Ring-necked Pheasant on the side of the road. Also at Grier's Pond, we added Wilson's Snipe and Solitary Sandpiper to our total!

The final event before the tally at Woodside Creamery was a 2-3 mile walk through White Clay Creek State Park. At this point in the day, I was feeling rather exhausted. I had been snacking and hydrating constantly, but I was still pushing my luck. I knew that if I didn’t join the group on this walk, I’d miss out on something awesome. That’s just how birding works! So, I joined the others on the walk through the woods. Over those few hours, we got some great looks at Northern Parulas and male American Redstarts. The definite highlight was a Kentucky Warbler calling beside a wooded wetland. I remember hearing their call a few years ago while listening to the Peterson Birding By Ear CDs, but had never encountered the call in the field. I was surprised to realize how similar they sound to Ovenbirds! It’s almost identical to the teacher-teacher-teacher call, but without the harshness or rise in pitch. I was very happy to add a new warbler call to my memory.

Anyways, by the time we were within a few hundred meters of the parking lot, I was absolutely and utterly exhausted. I don’t think I’ve been that exhausted in years! It felt good, though, to be physically tired; to know that I had accomplished something by making it through the entire day. In those 10 hours, I had walked over 13,000 steps. To put that in perspective, that’s as many steps as bed-ridden me would walk in two weeks. I still can’t believe that I surpassed my goal and made it past the Appoquinimink bridge! I definitely paid in dizziness and fatigue for pushing myself so hard the following day, but it was 100% worth it. I got to do a big day!! I spent May 2nd in fantastic company, enjoying some of the best birding spots Delaware has to offer— what’s better than that? Oh! And if you were wondering, we tallied 111 species for the day. 

Ring-necked Pheasant at Grier's Pond

Ring-necked Pheasant at Grier's Pond

White Clay Creek State Park - Hopkins Rd.

White Clay Creek State Park - Hopkins Rd.