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DVOC Field Trip Report
by Martin Selzer

Saturday July 17, 2004 - BOMBAY HOOK NWR and ENVIRONS, DE Part 1

What a difference a week makes or to be more accurate, what a difference almost a foot of rain can make. The week before our trip to Bombay Hook on July 17th, Raymond Pool was wonderful shorebird habitat with just the right mix of water and mudflats. Birders to the Hook on the weekend of July 10-11 were treated to at least two different Ruffs, a reeve, a Wilson’s Phalarope, Dunlin, both yellowlegs, peeps (Least, Western, Semipalmated and White-rumped), hundreds and hundreds of dowitchers, Stilt Sandpipers, American Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. Conditions and the early waves of southbound waders were combining to make for a great trip. And then the rain came!

While flooding such as that seen in Burlington county New Jersey did not occur, the area around Smyrna received close to 12 inches of rain. Suddenly, all the pools at Bombay Hook, Little Creek, Ted Harvey and Woodland Beach had more water than even the long-legged waders like. After years of worrying about these pools drying out before we held our field trip, we suddenly had just the opposite worry. Undaunted or hopelessly optimistic, about 20 club members and friends met for our July visit. The trip in July hopes to catch the first wave of shorebird migration south. This is typically made up of adult birds who either didn’t mate or didn’t successfully breed and therefore the urge to head south overwhelms any “domestic” urges. Fortunately for us, these early migrants often still retain a great deal of their alternate plumage.

The entrance road and fields around the refuge headquarters held the expected breeders, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Purple Martins, Swamp Sparrow, Eastern Kingbird and Common Yellowthroat to name a few. However, the tide was coming in and our only chance to find birds on the mudflats opposite Shearness was slipping away so we didn’t take time to stop. Whereas, Raymond Pool had had 100s and 100s and 100s of waders the weekend before, there were no birds in it this day. Shearness was similarly devoid of birds except for a few Canada Geese and a few “early” Snow Geese. The tide was coming in fast and there were only a handful of birds to be seen anyway. A good size flock of American Avocets were in the distance but the rising tide forced them to take wing and they did fly more or less over head. We tried to find one of the rarities in the distant flocks but couldn’t do much more then find dowtichers, both yellowlegs, some Willets, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Three highlights of were a Bald Eagle perched out in the marsh, a Pied-billed Grebe in Shearness and a pair of Common Terns feeder over Shearness Pool. Maybe the depth of the water fooled them.

We continued around Bear Swamp pool where we did have a pair of Black-necked Stilts with four chicks. Those of us who had seen the chicks the week before had wondered if they had survived and even though they were belly deep, them seemed okay. At Bear Swamp, we had a couple Spotted Sandpipers and a Semipalmated Plover. While watching the plover and looking at butterflies and dragonflies, a newly fledged Least Tern made several passes in front of us. At least we had a few things to look at! The breeding plumage Yellow-crowned Night-heron also cooperated for a quick glimpse.

As we headed back to the headquarters, we made our annual stop for Turk’s Cap Lilies. We found quite a few of them by the side of the road this year. Besides enjoying their beauty, we all reminisced a bit about friends no longer with us who also loved these flowers.

After a quick stop at the headquarters, we made a stop along the entrance road where Kate Somerville had heard Grasshopper Sparrows on the way in. We a little luck and patience we soon were able to hear and see at least two pairs of these birds. Nice going Kate! A quick trip to Port Mahon road, added Seaside Sparrow and Sanderling to our trip list but the large numbers of shorebirds we had hoped for had been scattered to parts unknown by the storm earlier in the week.

Hopefully, water levels will return to more wader friendly depths in time for our trip on August 21st.

Martin Selzer