Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Trip January 16, 2016

By Jim Goehring and Michael Lott

Predictions of rain and winds over the weekend kept members of the Fredericksburg Birding Club who had signed up for the outing to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and Lower Eastern Shore on edge with sweaters and rain gear at the ready. In the end, the fates shined upon us as we threaded the needle between days of wind and rain. The overcast sky that greeted us as we gathered at 7:30 AM at the south end of the CBBT soon gave way to the sun, which continued to shine on us throughout a gorgeous day of decreasing wind and relative warmth.

Participants included Lee Adams, Bev and Jim Arnold, Paula and Dave Bohaska, Brenda Chase, Alton Dick, Jim Goehring, Hanne Hansen, Sally Knight, Mike Lott, Heather Staton and John Tindall, and Gerry Weinberg and Neale Tyler Smith. The trip was wonderfully planned and organized by Sally Knight and led by Michael Lott and Jim Goehring.

The day began auspiciously when a Merlin flew past as we returned to our cars after registering at the South Toll Plaza administrative parking lot. Our police escort suggested that we visit the islands in reverse order so as not to pay for her presence with us on Island 1, which is open to the public. Great

Black-backed and Herring Gulls appeared as sentries positioned on the numerous light poles as we made our way to Island 4. At the island scopes came out and we were treated to views of Northern Gannets (23), Common (1) and Red-throated (4) Loons, numerous Scoter (46 Surf and 14 Black), Long-tailed Ducks (4), Red-breasted Mergansers (3), and a lone Purple Sandpiper. Cormorants seen at some distance included both Great (at least 4) and Double-crested, and this island had the greatest number of Great Black- backed Gulls (40+); but only a single Ring-billed.

Island 3 proved especially rewarding. We were greeted as we drove onto it by a beautiful Peregrine Falcon sitting atop a light pole. As we scanned the waters, we added to our list a single Brown Pelican, a female Common Goldeneye, and 30 Tundra Swans flying past. While enjoying the sights around the rocks at the end of the island, Lee suddenly shouted, “Harlequin Duck.” A male had just flown in and landed below where we stood and offered superb views for some time as it worked its way out along the rocks. Shortly thereafter, we spotted a male and female pair of Harlequin Ducks for a total of three. Island 3 had the largest concentration of Ring-billed Gulls (100+), and amazing number of harbor seals (10+) congregating around the rocks.

Island 2 was perhaps the least productive this time, though it did offer by far the largest number of Double-crested Cormorant (160) and Herring Gulls (79). In addition, we added Ruddy Turnstone (5), Bufflehead (4), and Feral Pigeons (44) to our list. We left our police escort at this point and headed on to Island 1. Here we were impressed by a flyby of some 150 Red-breasted Mergansers, mostly male, in a long V-formation. A lone injured Sanderling was new to our list for the day, and a second lone Purple Sandpiper was spotted.

While a few left our group at this point, most drove back across the bridge to the Eastern Shore NWR where we paused for lunch and conversation by the Visitor Center. From there we moved to the marsh and boat ramp area. The pond that usually holds ducks was empty, but elsewhere we added, as one would expect, numerous species to our day list. Great Blue Herons (5), a single Great Egret, Bald Eagles (3), Northern Harriers (2-3), Turkey (26) and Black (7) Vultures were seen in or over the marsh, and Horned Grebe (2), a single Mallard, and a second female Common Goldeneye were noted. Also new to the list were Northern Flicker, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, and American Goldfinch.

Our next and final stop was Kiptopeke State Park, where we limited our time to the waterfront. Perhaps the most outstanding element here were the number of Common Loon (7+), many of which came quite close, offering great views and photo ops. We also had two cooperative Savannah Sparrows in the grass and a Cooper’s Hawk flyby as we were leaving. A Peregrine appeared sitting atop the breakwater of old ships out in the harbor, and some 85 Feral Pigeons gathered together strategically we suspect at the opposite end. Among other birds, we also found here Brown Pelicans (11), Red-throated Loons (3), Bufflehead (33), and Red- breasted Mergansers (4). Elsewhere on the Eastern Shore while driving, members noted a flock of European Starlings (100+) and another of Brown- headed Cowbirds (250).

At 3 pm, we said our goodbyes. A few headed on for a night at Chincoteague, while most departed for home. All enjoyed the day and expressed thankfulness for the great weather. As I sit at my computer writing this report exactly a week later looking out on over a foot of snow and the blizzard still blowing, appreciation for our luck on the weather trip only mounts.

A total of 45 species were seen on the trip. A full list appears below with locations where each species was seen appearing in parentheses in the following abbreviated forms: CBBT Administrative Building (AB); CBBT Island 1 (1), 2 (2), 3 (3), and 4 (4); Eastern Shore NWR (ES); Kiptopeke State Park (K); Elsewhere while driving on CBBT and Eastern Shore (D)

Red-throated Loon (4,3,K)
Common Loon (4,K,D)
Horned Grebe (ES)
Northern Gannet (4,2,1,D)
Brown Pelican (3,1,K,D)
Double-cr. Cormorant (4,3,2,1,ES,K)
Great Cormorant (4)
Great Blue Heron (ES)
Great Egret (ES)
Black Vulture (ES,D)
Turkey Vulture (ES)
Tundra Swan (3)
Mallard (ES)
Harlequin Duck (3)
Surf Scoter (4,3,1)
Black Scoter (4,3,1)
Long-tailed Duck (4,1)
Bufflehead (2,1,ES,K)
Common Goldeneye (3,ES)
Red-breasted Merganser (4,3,2,1,ES,K)
Bald Eagle (ES)
Northern Harrier (ES)
Cooper’s Hawk (K)
Merlin (AB)
Peregrine Falcon (3,K)
Greater Yellowlegs (ES)
Ruddy Turnstone (2,1)
Sanderling (1)
Purple Sandpiper (4,1)
Ring-billed Gull (4,3,2,1,K)
Herring Gull (AB,4,3,2,1,ES,K)
Greater Black-backed Gull (4,3,2,1,K)
Rock Pigeon (AB,2,1,K)
Northern Flicker (ES)
American Crow (AB,K)
Carolina Chickadee (ES)
Carolina Wren (ES)
American Robin (AB)
European Starling (D)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (ES,K)
Northern Cardinal (ES)
Savannah Sparrow (K)
Red-winged Blackbird (ES)
Brown-headed Cowbird (D)
American Goldfinch (ES)

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