All posts tagged Birding

By Jim White: Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity

One of the few (and I do mean few) benefits of being an aging birder is witnessing changes over the years that occur in bird populations.  Although many of these changes have been for the worse, a few actually have been for the better, at least from a birder’s point of view.

One change that has occurred over the last 30 years in Northern Delaware is an increase in the numbers of Pileated Woodpeckers.  When I started birding in the late 1970’s, these majestic birds were a relatively rare sight.  Today they are found commonly in most woodlands in our area.  This increase in population is probably a result of the maturing of our woodlands and the resulting increase in large trees, both alive and dead, on which they depend.  Their increased numbers have in turn resulted in many more opportunities to see these “Woody Woodpecker” look-a-likes.  However, even though observations are more frequent, it is still a treat to get a very close look at these magnificent birds.  Recently some visitors and staff at the Ashland Nature Center have been lucky enough to get such a treat – incredibly close views of a young male Pileated Woodpecker aggressively hammering on dead trees and branches.  The bird is often so intent on finding insects in the trees that it has allowed observers to approach to within thirty feet, presenting excellent photo opportunities.

This Pileated Woodpecker has been along the entrance walkway at Ashland Nature Center recently. Photo by Jim White

Speaking of photo ops, birder and local conservationist Bill Stewart found a leucistic (mostly white) Pileated Woodpecker recently in Shaw’s Bridge Park outside West Chester, PA.  Bill even managed to get a couple of very nice photos of the bird feeding in a tree. 

Here is the leucistic Pileated Woodpecker found by Bill Stewart near West Chester, PA. Photo by Bill Stewart

The leucistic Pileated Woodpecker is seen here with its normal, dark-colored mate. Photo by Bill Stewart

The next time you are visiting Ashland Nature Center or hiking in your favorite woodlands, keep an eye out and your camera ready for this majestic bird.

Free bird walks are led by Delaware Nature Society staff each Thursday at Ashland Nature Center from February through May.  Walks begin at 8:00 a.m.

Photos and post by Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Are you feeling like you’ve had too much indoor time with the lingering snow on the ground and temperatures below freezing lately?  Here are a few ideas to get you outdoors, even if it is in your own backyard. 

Start keeping track of the birds you see in your yard for the year.  I started doing this on January 1st, and I have found 40 species as of yesterday.  My goal is 100 species identified from the yard this year.  All birds you see or hear while you are in your yard count, even birds flying overhead.  I am maintaining the yard list on my e-bird account, which is where I keep all of my bird records.  This site is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  I urge you to check out and start an account.  Keep your yard list on this fun on-line database, and go to the “add a yard” button in the data tab to compare them with other birders in the USA and the state you live in.  In Pennsylvania where I live, there is actually a state-wide, year-long yard bird list contest that I am participating in, and you can too if you are a resident. 

Carolina Wrens are a frequent visitor to my feeding station. I am trying to get them to eat the Brown Stinkbugs that are wintering in my house. I put the stinkbugs where they would be an obvious meal, but they haven't been interested so far.

E-bird takes your data and makes it available to the scientific community through the Avian Knowledge Network, so therefore your observations are useful to our understanding of birds.  If you like e-bird, you can add individual bird sightings or whole lists into the database from anywhere on earth!  If you have lists collecting dust from years past, enter those as well to immortalize your observations.  Now it sounds like you have a winter project to get excited about!  If you want some help with e-bird, please contact me. 

This Carolina Chickadee was visiting my feeders over the weekend. Notice the band on the right leg? I live close to the site of the Bird Banding at Bucktoe program that is held every September, which is probably where this bird was banded.

Another chance to force yourself outdoors is a birding event called the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 18-21.  Pick any time, or several times during this four day period to find birds in your backyard, nearby park, or neighborhood.  Enter your sightings into the Great Backyard Bird Count website to help scientists get a mid-winter snapshot of bird populations around the country.  Last year, almost 100,000 checklists were submitted.

This Tufted Titmouse was visiting my feeder this weekend and is also wearing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band. I see these banded birds at my feeders regularly since we've banded lots of Chickadees and Titmice at Bucktoe Creek Preserve over years, and these birds do not migrate.

Join us on these upcoming Delaware Nature Society programs: Breakfast and Backyard Bird Count program, February 18th, 8-11am at Ashland Nature Center.  A diner-style breakfast is included.  Birds of the Marsh and Mini e-bird Workshop at the Dupont Environmental Education Center on March 6, 8-11am.

By Jason Beale, Abbott’s Mill Nature Center Manager

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland is a popular location for naturalists in the winter.
Blackwater NWR near Cambridge, Maryland is a top location for winter wildlife watching on Delmarva. Photo by Ellen Sebastiani.

As the days shorten and leaf fall continues, birdwatchers begin to focus in on the legions of returning waterfowl and wintering raptors that fill the marshes and fields of the Delmarva Peninsula.  Few destinations are as unique and productive than Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, near Cambridge, Maryland.  Along with legions of Ducks, Geese, and Swans, the refuge hosts a tremendous number of wintering Bald Eagles – more than any other site on the East Coast, north of Florida.  But wait, there’s more!  Each year a few Golden Eagles find the vast, open habitats suitable for making a living during the winter.  In and around the forest, another distinct species keeps busy – the endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel.  This large, grizzled-gray squirrel only makes it home on the peninsula in scattered patches of open forest.

Despite being well-known winter residents, experiencing the sights and sounds of thousands of Snow Geese in close proximity is exhilarating. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

Once again, Delaware Nature Society is offering a trip to Blackwater on Wedneday, December 7th.  Groups will depart from both Abbott’s Mill Nature Center in Milford and the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington.  Both groups will depart from their respective sites at 7:30am and return around 4:30pm.

Tundra Swans are one of Delmarva's largest bird species. Photo by Joe Sebastiani.

We’ll stop briefly at the visitor’s center before beginning our tour.  We’ll then travel the wildlife drive auto tour, with periodic stops and short hikes in wooded areas.  After a short lunch, we’ll tour the refuge perimeter and open marshes that fringe the Chesapeake Bay area.  Time permitting, we’ll venture to the Cambridge waterfront to look for Canvasback, Redhead, and other bay ducks that winter in the area.

Golden Eagles, like this juvenile, regularly winter at Blackwater. Photo by Derek Stoner

Blackwater Wildlife Tour

Wednesday, December 7th

Abbott’s Mill Nature Center: 7:30am-4:30pm

Member/Non-Member: $22/$30

DuPont Environmental Education Center: 7:30am-4:30pm

Member/Non-Member: $22/$30

To register, contact Fiona Smith at (302) 239-2334 x. 134. Dress for the weather and bring a bag lunch.

By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader

Photography by Hank Davis

Every Sunday and Monday at 8am, the Delaware Nature Society runs free bird walks at the Bucktoe Creek Preserve.  I led the walk this Monday, and we didn’t have to go far to see birds.  What is known as the Sharp Road Field was recently hayed, but several large patches of standing grass and milkweed were left for cover and food for wildlife.  We circled these patches to find migratory sparrows and ended up seeing a wide variety of birds, including some rare species.  Enjoy the photos by Hank Davis to give you a glimpse of what we saw yesterday morning.  Attend a bird walk at privately-owned Bucktoe Creek Preserve sometime in the future.

I was very surprised to see a Bobolink this late in the season. These meadow-loving members of the Blackbird family have usually migrated out of our region by mid-October. This individual, late by a few weeks, is on its way to South American grasslands for the winter.

Savannah Sparrows were abundant in the meadow. They perched up in the morning sun and allowed a close approach. These sparrows are migrating through our area now in substantial numbers.

This juvenile White-crowned Sparrow was one of six found on our walk. They usually occur in thickets and hedgerows at this time of year as they pause on their way south. A few overwinter in our area, but most winter further south.

The bird of the morning was a single Vesper Sparrow. This meadow species is very difficult to find in migration. Birders that spend many hours searching for them in migration don't see them every year. Although superficially similar to a Savannah Sparrow, the Vesper has a bold eye-ring and a different facial pattern. We also saw the white outer tail feathers when it flew.