Chesapeake Road Trip
Kate and I woke up early on Sunday and started hauling ass down through Virginia. Our destination (well, my destination. She just wanted to get out of the house...) was Point Lookout State Park
, where the Potomac and the Chesapeake come together. I had spent all day Saturday without my car looking at listserv posts recounting magical seabirds (sooty and bridled terns! jaegers!) being pushed by Ernesto's winds into odd areas. I figured Pt. Lookout might be a good place to catch some of the birds on the way back to the ocean.
But, as things tend happen with Kate and I, our plan quickly went awry. We missed the turn to Point Lookout and drove for about a half-an-hour before realizing it. Ah screw it, let's not turn back. Is there anything coming up? Sure, let's try to get a ferry to Tangier Island
Whelp we obviously didn't know what was going on, and we drove into Reedville without knowing if there was even such a thing as a ferry service to Tangier Island, let alone its schedule or where to catch it. Plus, Ernesto had really inflicted a lot of damage onto this part of the coast. Just before, Kate and I had rolled into George Washington's birthplace
, but had to turn back due to a power outage.
Reedsville, too, was kind of a mess. So, everything coming together, we didn't find or catch the ferry. Anything else close? Sure, how about Plum Tree Island NWR
Fine let's roll. A hour or so later we were cruising slowly through Poquoson, trying equally hard to find the Refuge and pronounce the name of the town (Po-quo-sawn? Po-quo-sin? Paw-cwa-sin?). Whelp we followed my crappy little map to where the entrance to the Refuge should have been and we saw two interesting things: 1) a rail with a broken foot hobbling across the road. Although the bird was clearly a rail, it wasn't close enough for me to identify, which it too bad because it was the first rail I have ever seen. It was also too bad because the bird was obviously in trouble. It was hopping wildly across the road and Kate and I watched it tumble into the grass on the other side...not a promising future. 2) There was a public boat ramp and and a turnaround...and no mention of Plum Tree Island anywhere. Guh.
We backtracked about a mile and asked the owners of a convenience store where the entrance to the Refuge could be found. They had no idea (this always seems to happen). One lady said you could only get there by boat.
Another woman said something about unexploded bombs. A man kept telling us to go back down past the church...right where we had just come from. We turned around and headed for Virginia Beach.
I was familiar with First Landing State Park from listserv postings, and was hoping to finally get some good migrant looks after a long day of not seeing birds. Boy was I disappointed. Kate and I walked all along the Bald Cypress Trail and a couple other small trails WITHOUT SEEING A SINGLE BIRD. Not one. Not that it wasn't beautiful - I had never seen a cypress swamp before - but seeing no birds was depressing. We left, and headed across the street to a place called Fort Story
, which on our map was labeled as a military base but looked like it might have public access to the beach.
Kate and I rolled up to the entrance/guard post completely unready for a full car search. Thankfully, I am a completely law-abiding citizen, because the MPs checked our engine, glove compartment, center console, trunk and backseats before letting us in.
We parked in the lighthouse parking lot, walked over the dunes and were in birder paradise.
It was incredible. The first thing I saw when I crested the dune was an american oystercatcher flying down the beach. Looking out across the beach saw thousands of terns (royals, commons, forster's and a least or two), gulls, semipalm sandpipers, semipalm plovers (and one I thought was my first Wilson's, but wasn't), willet and...what the heck...pelicans! About 20 brown pelicans, which I only associate with Florida and Louisiana, were cruising around. So awesome. [note: it didn't dawn on me until just now that Ft. Story is where the Brown Booby was sighted earlier this August. A quick search proves that a lot of rare birds turn up here: razorbills, Clark's grebe, little gulls, lark sparrow, Sabine's gull, white pelicans, cave swallows...it's enough to make a man enlist!]
Happy, Kate and I decided against driving back to DC that night and instead I convinced here to cross the CBBT (where a LOT of Ernesto birds had been seen) and try Assateague for today, Monday. She agreed, and we set off.
But, our luck had run out with Ft. Story, and we completely blew the bridge. After driving all day thus far, I asked Kate to
drive across the bridge so I could better look for rare terns and (gulp) jaegers. Unfortunately, the bridge was too bumpy to hold binoculars and Kate missed the pulloff to the gift shop on the bridge. Awful. Oh well. I saw lots of terns, mostly Royal, and a bunch of Pelicans. We headed north, and slept soundly in a cheap hotel.
Cool. Up this morning and ready to get to Assateague
...but of course we didn't know what we were doing. We drove back do Virginia and crossed into Chincoteague (which was beautiful) and through to Assateague. I think because of Labor Day, there was no entrance fee and no rangers, so we just drove in and parked. In retrospect, this wasn't a good idea because we had no idea that there was a giant, awesome wildlife drive on the VA end of the island...so we just checked out the beach. It was nice, though. I saw my first black skimmer, a bird I had always wanted to see, and my first little blue heron, close enough for an easy ID. Outstanding. There was also thousands of snowy egrets, my lifer cattle egrets hanging out with the famous Ponies and lots and lots of terns and semipalm sandpipers. I was happy, and we rolled out to the Maryland end of the park.
The Maryland end was a bit more productive, although all my lifers were in the Virginia end. After checking out the beach we walked over to the "life of the forest" trail, where to hoped to see some of the passerine migrants that Mark Hoffman
mentioned in my Fall Migration
post. Unfortunately, Ernesto's damage had forced the park to close down the forest section. Undeterred, I peaked my head in just to check.
It was pretty amazing. The trees, just in the first 10 feet of the forest, were full of migrants. I only had a couple minutes, but I saw a great crested flycatcher, a foy magnolia warbler, a pair of white-eyed vireos, an american redstart, black and white warbler and common yellowthroat. After a lot of recent shorebirding, these passerines were a welcome sight.
An added bonus, and something I realized on my way home, was that the magnolia warbler was my 200th bird of 2006, breaking my 3/16/05-3/16/06 record of 199. Hooray! What a trip! Kate and I got home safely, about 24 hours later than expected, but with a lot of good memories and, for me, new birds.