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Field Trip Report

DVOC POCOMOKE WEEKEND 2001 ("Black Rail or bust")

Well, it was a bust. No Black Rail seen and only one heard distantly by one participant. Coupled with the almost total lack of migrants (throughout the region, by all accounts), one may be forgiven as thinking that this trip was a loser. No way. To the ten participants who lasted the whole three days, it had some really magic moments.

Friday, 4 May, started with a bang (for a few lucky ones that also meant a banger at Helen's Sausage House). Although we met at the Bombay Hook HQ, we immediately traveled back to the entrance road where dozens of Black-bellied Plovers showed off their handsome spring plumage in ploughed fields and yes, amongst them was an American Golden Plover. An about turn at the same spot revealed four American Pipits, displaying why they used to be called Buff-bellied Pipits. This is a late date for these birds in Delaware. At the entrance gate an adult White-crowned Sparrow greeted us. Inside the Hook, shorebirds were the target and along with showy Avocets and Black-necked Stilts were Stilt Sandpipers and an early White-rumped Sandpiper. In the woods, a Veery sat for too short a time at Raymond Pool, the Bald Eagle pair were at their usual spot at Shearness Pool, a Screech-Owl poked out from a Wood Duck box at Bear Swamp and Prothonotary Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-crowned Night Heron and a spectacular view of a Barred Owl gave a taste of the southern swamps at Finis Pool.

Heading south we stopped at the Ellendale Vesper Sparrow spot and, although unusually tricky, it eventually succumbed along with Grasshopper Sparrow. The sight of Horned Lark singing from a rooftop was ....... different. At Redden Forest, the beautiful Red-headed Woodpeckers performed immediately, accompanied by Prairie and Yellow-throated Warblers, Chat, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. We ate at a classic Maryland crab restaurant, the Old Mill Crab House near Delmar - truly spectacular crabcakes. And so to do battle with the rails at Elliott Island. En route, a stop gave Chuck's and Whips duetting and further a Woodcock nasally calling. But the marsh was quiet for the next three hours despite calm winds and a warm temperature - too clear perhaps? Who knows? At 11.30pm we adjourned to our respective night accomodation - is the seven people sleeping in their cars at the fish dock at Elliotts some sort of DVOC record?

Saturday 5 May saw us meeting at Nanticoke Wildlife Area on the Nanticoke River and it was soon obvious that the night had not been conducive to migrant fallout. However, with perseverance, some of the the breeders - Acadian Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager, Ovenbird, Black-and-white, Worm-eating and Prairie Warblers were seen though good views of the singing vireos were few. A Pileated Woodpecker on the trail was a bonus. Trap Pond gave us the loud Summer Tanagers without a fight, Peewees and a cluster of Lady Slipper Orchids. Trussom Pond, always a delight as the Bald Cypresses leaf out, had the expected Orchard Orioles and Rough-winged Swallows. So, what to do now so as to be in position for another crack at the rails at night? Tourism - that's what. A ride on the 3-car free ferry across the Nanticoke River at Woodland; an eye-opener for some who thought southern Delaware had no scenic places. Talking of which, the next stop, discovered in a scouting trip the previous week, was the antithesis of scenic. Where does sex and bestiality come together in a awesome spectacle? At Indiantown Road pig farm near Eldorado in Maryland, that's where. There can be few places in Delmarva where the visual and aural senses are so completely overwhelmed by the sight of thousands of Laughing Gulls copulating amongst dozens of huge, dirty, grunting porkers. Why does frying bacon smell so nice? Anyway, the target Lesser Black-backed Gull was duly found, ticked and the show moved on to a gentile grassland a mile down the road where an arbitrary stop gave superb scope views of singing Savannah, Chipping and Grasshopper Sparrows. And so to Cambridge, MD where we had to substitute a Chinese restaurant for the Cinquo de Mayo evening; one wag (and there were several on the trip) called it the Chinkie de Mayo. And so to Elliott for Round Two. Getting there early was a bonus as we had crippling looks at Brown-headed Nuthatches - the only nuthatch of the trip! - and Moorhens, a Solitary Sandpiper as well as a constant passage of Bald Eagles en route for Blackwater NWR. A visit to the quaint village of Elliott at dusk gave many displaying Woodcock and just a squawk from a Barn Owl. Back in the marsh, response to a Virginia Rail tape was immediate but as for the now mythical Black Rail - forget it; the temperature was cool with a stiff breeze, the sky once again clear. What ARE the necessary conditions? An early surrender gave us the chance to motor the 40 miles to Trap Pond for a night's camping.

Dateline Sunday 6 May. Yet another early getaway to get to the Pocomoke Swamp in time for the non-existent migrant fallout, the Gumboro shop once again proving invaluable in having hot coffee at a ridiulously early hour. One day, we must spend enough time for one of their muskratburgers. The magnificent rainforest on Shephards Crossing Road with the morning sun bursting through the newly emerging canopy and the tannic waters of the mighty Pocomoke River swirling under the single span arch of the (ex) wooden bridge - birds would only be a bonus for this experience. Please. OK, some of us got eyeball-to-eyeball looks at a Kentucky Warbler, glimpses of Yellow-billed Cuckoo but most had to be satisfied with Great Crested Flycatcher, Scarlet Tanager and the beautiful massed choir of Brown-headed Cowbirds. A move to Assawoman WMA was good with new birds - Tricolored Heron and Least Terns in a wind which made the tower a bit Pisa-like. We headed for Selbyville for a delayed 5th May Mexican lunch at the Cactus Cafe - recently moved from the tried-and-tested site south of the town in MD to a new site on the DE side (and therefore obviously better) - only to find it closed. The abject despair seen on the faces of the participants luckily was not caught on video, but then neither was the change apparent when one thinking participant realized that the fabulous Em-Ings BBQ was but a mile away. Happiness is a pork-and-bean BBQ platter with slaw and a strange gray lump of stuff. Thoughts of gulls and pigs just don't come into the picture at the time.

The long road north and people were thinking of showers, beer, TV and other conveniences of the modern age so only a handful stopped off at Little Creek for the Peregrine and Skimmers, at Port Mahon for Ruddy Duck and.......Greater Black-backed Gull?? Hey, everything counts, and 160 is an excellent total with no ocean visit and lousy migrants.

Thanks to the participants who made this trip memorable with their good humour and take-it-your-stride attitude.

Colin Campbell