Kiptopeke Challenge 2018 - Laughing Falcons Take Top Spot Again
Kiptopeke Challenge – September 22, 2018 – Laughing Falcons
This year we followed the route we began last year, by starting at Brownsville, the TNC property near Nassawaddox, adding a boat trip out of Wachapreague on the falling tide, and finishing the day at Chincoteague and Saxis as in the past.Time did not permit us to include the Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area this year. The day began with nice temperatures, but the weather did warm a bit during the morning and there was very little wind. Later in the day the wind shifted to the northeast with menacing clouds appearing, but we didn’t encounter any significant rain.
The day started when David Clark, Nick Flanders, Elisa Flanders, and Bob Ake met up at 4:30am at the south toll plaza parking lot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel. We were hoping the early start might help pick up some nocturnal migrants, but Swainson’s Thrush was our only reward.
We didn’t stop until we arrived at the Brownsville site.We had made arrangements in advance to bird the property outside the normal hours.There were hoards of mosquitos, but we quickly induced Eastern Screech-Owls to call and heard a Great Horned Owl calling.We heard a migrating Swainson’s Thrush overhead and later a Bobolink. As it got lighter Snowy and Great Egrets flew over.The usual woodland birds began to call and we added the woodpeckers, missing only Red-headed.We had more time to spend at Brownsville this year, but it didn’t translate into more species.We got only five warblers, missing American Redstart and Black-and-white, usually two of our easiest warblers to get.It was nice to see Field and Chipping Sparrows as well as Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks feeding in the tracks of the road we were walking.We flushed a couple of Yellow-crowned Night-Herons but no Black-crowned as we did last year.A Marsh Wren called and popped into view, and our first Whimbrels, and our only Spotted Sandpiper of the day were seen along the tidal gut.Clapper Rails sounded off from the marsh.
We drove to Wachapreague where we had arranged for Rick Kellam to take us out on his boat.The tide was ebbing but we had plenty of water to explore.Rick knew a good nearby area where we quickly viewed many peep, Willets, dowitchers, both yellowlegs, a few Dunlins, and egrets and our first Little Blue Heron. But the real show was provided by hundreds of Marbled Godwits.Buried in the middle of the godwits was a well-viewed Hudsonian Godwit.When it flew, it showed off its white tail band, dark underwings, and thin white wing stripe.Nearby on the mud was a beautiful Gull-billed Tern.The pair of Peregrine Falcons was on the hack tower with the size difference between the male and female quite apparent.An adult Bald Eagle kept watch from a piling and a Northern Harrier flew low over the marsh.Oyster shell bars were covered with American Oystercatchers and hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers with a few turnstones and Sanderlings sprinkled in. Out near the inlet on a sand bar was a group of Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Royal and Caspian Terns and a single Black Skimmer.With the tide much lower this year we didn’t get the show from the Clapper Rails and the Seaside Sparrows that we did last year, but the boat ride is indeed a positive addition to our route.
After getting back to shore, we decided to bypass Mutton Hunk Fen Natural Area where we had birded last year and picked up some nice birds.The longer but productive boat trip had eaten into our time.
So it was on to Chincoteague where we picked up Tri-colored Heron, White Ibis, and Boat-tailed Grackle along the causeway. There were no Cattle Egrets with the ponies along the beach road.We walked south from the parking lot to the overwash area where a Wilson’s Plover had been reported.We didn’t find that one, but we did tally a small group of Piping Plovers and a single Common Tern.As we were preparing to get back in the car five Black Scoters flew by over the surf, giving us a new species for our cumulative list.Leaving the beach we picked up a Pied-billed Grebe in the ditch along the road.Giving the Woodland Trail a quick stop, we were rewarded with a single file flight of five Red-headed Woodpeckers responding to a strong squeak.The Wildlife Loop was overgrown but we got a single Glossy Ibis, some American Black Ducks, our only Common Grackles for the day, and the Cattle Egret that wasn’t with the horses.
After a try for House Finch in the town of Chincoteague, we headed to Saxis Marsh, where thankfully the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay. Two years ago we had some nice birds here to finish the day.This year we did get a Song Sparrow which is a surprisingly difficult bird on the Challenge.We also recorded several singing Seaside Sparrows as well as two distant Virginia Rails in addition to the more commonly heard Clapper Rails.After a half hour, we decided to call it quits and headed home.
The final count for the day was 104 species, a little on the low side of our recent totals. However, we did add Black Scoter to our cumulative list, now at 182.Other less commonly encountered species recorded included Virginia Rail (3rd time recorded in 16 years), Piping Plover (4th), Hudsonian Godwit (3rd), Dunlin (5th), Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd), Gull-billed Tern (2nd), Swainson’s Thrush (3rd), Field Sparrow (5th), and Song Sparrow (4th).Our biggest misses for the day were Black-crowned Night-Heron (2nd time missed in 16 years), only two dabbling duck species for the day, Sharp-shinned Hawk (3rd), Killdeer (2nd), Eurasian Collared-Dove (4th), Merlin (2nd), Fish Crow (1st ever), American Robin (1st ever), Black-and-white Warbler (3rd), American Redstart (4th), and Brown-headed Cowbird (2nd).Our usual spots for the night-heron, Killdeer, collared-dove, and cowbird were on the southern end of the Eastern Shore, locations we did not visit this year.Not easy to explain missing robin and Fish Crow.Ah well.Still, all in all it was a great day.
Thanks for your support,
Bob Ake, David Clark, Nick Flanders, Elisa Flanders