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Hotline Trip to the Coast

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August 12, 2017

Seth Kellogg

Only one car made the trip, others missing the rich early shorebird migration that passes over the island in August.  The low tide kept shorebirds far out at Joppa Flats, but we still picked out a dozen Laughing Gulls among the hordes of peeps feeding in the mud with a few lesser Yellowlegs, Bb Plovers, an Osprey and a Snowy Egret.  At this date and time, the island was not busy with people and cars, so we drove slowly and studied the marshes for the white egrets.  First, we stopped at Lot One, still home to several Purple Martins.  Here also were the visiting Tree Swallows perched by the hundreds on nearby brush, often surging into the air in clouds, eager for the day to warm and the insects to rise and offer themselves for food.  The Salt Pannes had near and distant Great and Snowy Egrets, a surprise Little Blue Heron, plus a Great Blue Heron and hunting Osprey, Merlin, and Peregrine.  The Wardens appeared quiet after an American Bittern and eight Glossy Ibis flew away at our arrival.  Then we emerged from our car and were amazed to find 2 Least Bitterns hunting the muddy edge of the nearby pond.  None of us had ever been able to study them so closely in the open, especially for so long.

We headed down the island, and the first look at the Hellcat Pool was from the blind, giving us looks at plenty of Semipalmated Plovers and Sandpipers, some Least Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Dowitchers, both Yellowlegs, a flock of 25 White-rumped Sandpipers, 2 Dunlin, a Killdeer, and 2 Gadwall with young.  We paused for a short time along the main road beside Stage Island Pool and spotted a Black Tern flying past, plus some Least Terns, Yellowlegs, and more sandpipers.  It was a short way to the parking lot at the point, where we walked to the beach behind the ropes that protected the Piping Plover and tern nesting area. Inside this area of young reeds, we could see flocks of Semi-palmated Plovers and Sandpipers circling and settling into the sparse dune grass to rest protected during high tide.  Five Piping Plovers were there among the many Least and Common Terns, a few Ruddy Turnstones, and some Black-bellied Plovers.  On the ocean’s edge there were Sanderling flocks feeding where the waves washed up their food. On the ocean side of the point, Emerson Rocks were covered by the high tide, leaving only a few Cormorants on the ocean’s surface and a few more Sanderlings on the beach.  We left the point and headed back north to Hellcat, this time walking out on the dike, where we enjoyed closer looks at a few Pectoral and Spotted Sandpiper.  In the Forward Pool behind the dikes there were even bigger flocks of the same species we watched from the blind on the opposite side.  Also there, were 2 Least Terns and 4 Snowy Egrets.  On our way out of the refuge we stopped at Lot one and walked down to the boat pullout, where we “pished” a bit to entice a Salt-Marsh Sparrow to fly out of hiding several times and close to us.