March 9, 2017
Sussex Bird Club (SBC) initiated biweekly Thursday morning birding field trips on March 9, 2017, the first one held at Cape Henlopen State Park (CHSP). Visit the website for a list of future trips.
The first leg of the inaugural SBC Thursday morning field trip was conducted at the Herring Point overlook at CHSP. The second leg of the outing was a walk from the parking lot at the north end of the Gordon’s Pond trail, across from Herring Point parking lot, to the osprey platform just beyond bench number 5 and back. The trip was led by Rob and Carol Blye with Susie Ball, Alissa Kegelman, Sue Gruver, Ed Crawford, Bill Fintel, Rob Schroeder, Diane Kane, Sid McGinley and Carol, whose last name I did not get, in attendance. A great time was had by all although the birds were not cooperative early and it was very windy, sunny, 60 F with a stiff west wind.
At Herring Point we saw two species of loon, gulls, scoters, one long-tailed duck, gulls including one lesser black-backed gull and other birds typical of late winter, early spring at the beach and in the ocean.
Then we headed to the Gordon’s Pond Trail heading south with the goal of finding the great horned owl on the osprey platform. Birds were scarce with little activity other than a few of the expected birds like Carolina wren, yellow-rumped warbler, Carolina chickadee and song sparrow. We did find a large flock of northern shoveller, with a few gadwall and widgeon mixed in, that was flushed by a bald eagle while we watched.
As we rounded the bend at bench 5 on the trail southbound a large flock of snow geese flushed from a field to the southwest. Soon it was evident why as an immature bald eagle came into view. The eagle was flying rapidly and it became apparent that it had cut out a single snow goose from the flock of several thousand. Both birds flew towards our group with the eagle gaining on the hapless snow goose. The high speed chase continued for what seemed like 10 minutes but was in reality 90 seconds. The eagle made an unsuccessful swoop at the goose. The eagle dropped back then gathered itself for another chase. The eagle's second strike was partially successful but the goose stayed in the air. By this time they had crossed in front of us and were near the tree line on the north side of Gordon's Pond. On the third strike, we believe the snow goose went down but our view was partially obscured by distance and trees. About 20 minutes later an immature eagle flew from the direction we last saw the chase. Not sure but my interpretation is that the eagle knocked the poor snow goose to the ground and pounced on it, ate it and then flew in front of our group as we walked back to the parking lot at the north end of the trail. A Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife biologist also watched the spectacle from his pickup truck.
After the eagle chase our attention turned to the great-horned owl sitting on the nest around the bend from bench 5. Everyone got great looks through binoculars and scopes. Several photographs were taken with one posted on the eBird checklist submitted for our trip.
On our return to the north parking lot we observed a small herd of lizards, all northern fence lizards, with several displaying russet brown scaly backs with bright blue bellies and throats. The males did push-ups and showed their beautiful blue underparts then tussled in the sand, ostensibly to attract the attention of a female. I guess the sunny 68 degree weather in a sheltered spot brought them out of hiding early. We birders were starved for colorful activity having spent over two hours in the field with only the eagle chase and owl on the nest for excitement. After the trip, Bill Fintel commented that this trip was the only one in his birding career where a lizard stole the show!
Thanks to Alissa Kegelman for the photos and to Carol Blye for editorial assistance.