December 19th was the first trip to Bombay Hook that I took after being diagnosed with migraines. I was still mostly bed-ridden, but intensely wanted to expand my boundaries and try birding more of the DE shoreline. We planned and packed extensively for the day; I had loads of migraine-free food and water in the car, and felt reasonably anxious about driving 1.25 hours from home. Besides driving 8 hours to the Cleveland Clinic in May, I hadn’t been more than 30 minutes from home in over 6 months (with the exception of a few distant doctor’s appointments). The day was absolutely glorious! To be outside, to feel the wind, to hear the birds, and to see species I hadn’t encountered in months was incredible. Since, I’ve been eager to return, and we did so today!
Today was my second trip to Bombay Hook as part of my 2015 Recovery Big Year. You’d probably be surprised to know that in my 3-4 years of birding locally, there are many many many species that frequent the DE shoreline that would be life birds for me (I’ll write up a list of these species when I post about my goals for the year). The goals for today were simple: to see something new, to learn more about shorebird/tern IDs, and to have a fun day birding.
When Hannah Greenberg and I started around the driving loop, we immediately saw cars pulled to the side of the road at Stop 1. We were surprised to see the Great-horned Owlets so close to the road! 2015 seems to be the year of daytime owl sightings– first the Long-eareds at Longwood Gardens, and now these owlets. How remarkable to see such fluffy young birds with such large talons! Obligatorily, we snapped a few photos from beside the car before moving on.
In Raymond Pool, we scanned through the shorebirds. Black-bellied Plover, Greater/Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin I can identify well enough. I was surprised, though, to see an orangey-colored shorebird in the flock! Red Knot? Nope. That would’ve been way too easy. It was a Short-billed Dowitcher! There were 8 or so in the flock. Now eBird tells me that I’ve seen this species four times in the past– each of my first two trips to Bombay and twice during the World Series of Birding. Each of those past encounters with this species must have been people telling me what was in their scope, because the SBDO I saw today was the first I identified on my own! A life bird of sorts.
The terns flying around presented quite the ID challenge– neither Hannah nor I have past experience identifying terns, so we turned to the guide books in attempt to sort things out. Definitely observed were Forster’s Tern & Caspian Tern (we think…). Such gorgeous fliers!
Back at Finnis Pool, we were excited to see a Painted Turtle making it’s way across the road in front of our car. As another car was coming in the opposite direction, Hannah got out and moved the turtle to the other side of the road, so it wouldn’t get squashed. A tiny Northern Water Snake was beside the turtle, so Hannah brought it over to the car so I could get a closer look. We continued down the drive, hoping to hear or see a Prothonotary Warbler, but didn’t see much other than a few Red-winged Blackbirds, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons. On the way back to Bear Swamp, a Common Snapping Turtle was starting to cross the road. Again, Hannah got out to move it across the road as another car was coming. I snapped a quick photo of the grump.
A small group of Black-necked Stilts in Shearness Pool were another major highlight of the day. BNSTs have been one of my absolute favorite species since I first encountered them in the Galápagos. There are some species that are always exciting and mesmerizing to see. For me, BNST is one of them.
As we were leaving the refuge, we noticed a Snowy Egret trying to balance on top of a tall, thin snag. It was so ridiculous to see such a beautifully plumaged bird putting itself in such an absurd position, so I had to take a photo.
All in all, we had a fantastic day. We didn’t see anything rare or particularly remarkable, but we got to spend the hours outdoors at an amazing national wildlife refuge. There is absolutely nothing as perfect as being outdoors, on the coast, surrounded by the wind, sun, and water. Places like Bombay Hook make spending 10 months in bed a little less awful.
I can’t wait to get back to Bombay Hook (and the rest of the Delaware shoreline) as the shorebirds continue to pour in from their winter sites. I think next time I’ll spend some time studying my shorebird field guides!