By: Joe Sebastiani, Members Program Team Leader
The Delaware Nature Society Teen Naturalist Club met Sunday to participate in the annual Bombay Hook Christmas Bird Count. Our group of 13 teenagers from Abbott’s Mill and Ashland Nature Centers were assigned specific tracts of the Little Creek Wildlife Management Area near Dover to survey for birds.
Our first area was the impoundment along Port Mahon Road. The task…walk the entire trail around the impoundment, which is about 3 miles long. This trail is used by hunters to access distant duck blinds, and is walled-in by phragmites. Despite this handicap, we saw lots of geese and gulls overhead, ducks on the partially frozen marsh, and sparrows in the reeds.
The highlight of our day was flushing a Short-eared Owl from the grasses and watching it fly in front of us. We counted geese, tried to see half-hidden sparrows, followed Great Blue Herons, and tallied birds as we went. What captured the minds and souls of the group, however, were dead things we found. A dead Double-crested Cormorant was first. It had been eaten by something, probably a River Otter, judging by the tracks and scat around the carcass. Along Port Mahon Road, we found multiple deer that were dead. Legs and odd bones were passes around, being closely examined by all. At our next location, despite the fact that several Bald Eagles were flying around, the large dead fish we saw got the most hearty response from everyone.
The fish looked like some kind of Drum (or Coelacanth) dumped by someone in a field. They probably made a good meal for the local eagles, however. I am certain that jaw bones, teeth, and perhaps other parts of the skull went home with several of the kids. In this field we also found more birds, such as Yellow-rumped Warblers, Eastern Towhee, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, as well as a Bald Eagle nest with nothing in it.
By the end of the day, we found 39 species of birds for the Christmas Count, saw lots of otter tracks and scat, the eagle nest, and quite a few intriguing dead animals. Whatever it takes to get kids interested in the outdoors!