I and the Bird

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

#9 Bombay Hook NWR 11/11/05

Having seen very few winter waterfowl to this point, and having never been to Delaware, I got myself up early on a Saturday and trekked across the Chesapeake into Delmarva. I had never before been to Delaware and knew little about it (see #10), but was delighted by the countryside. I stopped for gas in Sudlerville, MD and was greeted by a statue of hometown hero Jimmie Foxx. I drove among farms and fields and swamps teeming with birds, especially vultures.

The deeper I got into Delaware, the more I realized that I was just driving into the middle of a swamp. The countryside is so flat that cattails (cat-o-nine-tails?) are often the highest objects on the horizon. Arriving at Bombay Hook, and the entire coast of Delaware (as I would later see from the air) is a maze of tributaries and swampland...perfect for birds.

I entered the park and drove hurriedly to the first parking lot. There was a pond through the trees and I walked to the lookout tower. Tons of birds. Tons. Long-Tailed Ducks, Ruddys, Swans (my first Tundras), Teal, Wigeon you name it. Fantastic. At the swamp boardwalk I saw swamp sparrows and kingfishers. A the largest pond I saw my first snow geese (though not the Ross' Goose that people were talking about) and my first American Avocets (not as impressive as I had been led to believe...). Later, on a backside pond, I saw my first Green-Winged Teal (somehow I had never seen one at Montezuma).

The excitement wore off quickly, though. I had driven the ponds, seen the birds that presented themselves, and was tired. I stopped to chat up a woman at a scope to see if she had a bead on anything really special. "Not really," she said, "But you should stick around until the geese come back." I inquired. She told me that soon, at dusk, there would be large numbers of geese coming back from wherever to land in one of the ponds on the ocean side of the road. Hell, I said, I got nowhere to be. I jumped up on the top of my car and waited for the sun to set.

But I was the only one. Even the woman hadn't stuck around. The only other people on the road was a big van whose occupants were smoking weed (good thinking...no cops at Bombay). I was beginning to think that this lady was full of it when, through my binoculars, I saw a thin black line appear on the horizon. It was far away, at the very limits of my 10x binoculars on a clear day, but, I could tell, it was coming closer. And there were more behind it. Soon the evening sky, already a gorgeous wash of neon pinks and purples, was filled with black lines of flying geese like they were lines written on a page. Hundreds and thousands of geese emerged on the horizon (from where? New Jersey? The ocean? I had no idea) and pointed their formations directly at my car.

It took about 10 minutes from the time the birds inked onto the horizon until they were splashing clumsily into the pond. I had never seen this many of the same bird in one place. Hundreds of thousands of geese, bright orange in the sunset, flying in different directions, from different distances toward me. Thousands in the water, dozens flying in groups low over the pond, dipping and circling until they found a suitable landing spot. It was, simply, the loudest, most beautiful natural spectacle that I have ever seen, and made me teary with love of nature and Delaware and swamps and birds and ladies with scopes.

Bombay Hook is really great in May when the shorebirds are moving through. Last May we had about 90 species on our DC Audubon trip there.
Yeah I'll definetly be heading up there once the horseshoe crabs move in...
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