Sunday, November 23, 2008

November Day on the Eastern Shore

Red-Tailed Hawk

Birding in November can be a bit like the month itself, sometimes somber and even dreary, with most of the excitement left for the end of the year - with Christmas bird counts, waterfowl coming in and odd birds floating down from Canada and other points north during the winter.

So BirdCouple set out Saturday with our friend Paul Baicich en route to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near Cambridge, Maryland, just to see what was what. This is usually the time when you begin to see mass gatherings of Snow Geese on the Eastern Shore, but strangely, we did not see one all day. A lot of the ducks didn't appear to have arrived yet, either.

But we had a grand time, and some really great birds, 51 species in all. That includes the first Red-Tailed Hawk I've ever encountered that flew toward us, rather than away for us, so I could get a better picture. That's him (her?) up there. Here's another shot:

Without fail, Red-Tailed Hawks when seen at rest are normally on a wire or tree at the edge of a field, and always fly off away from you across the field just as soon as you've spotted them. This one was a contrarian.

Tooling about in Talbot County, we also encountered a flock of thousands of Common Grackles rumbling around like a motorcycle gang looking for leftover corn to vacuum up. Then with Paul at the wheel, and Lisa snuggled up in back, we were off to Blackwater, one of the East Coast's finest refuges. Top bird there was a great look at a Fox Sparrow, a bird that Princess loves. It was our first, and maybe last?, of the year.

With things a bit slow, we headed further south, on the long one-way road to Hooper's Island, which is actually a chain of three islands in the Chesapeake Bay connected by bridges. The land is so narrow that, at some points, you could literally throw a rock from one side to the other and graves are encased in concrete or other protection to protect them from the ever-present water. The population of the islands, inhabited since the late 17th Century, was 441 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Life and work revolves around the bay and seafood industry.

We had an amazingly yummy and affordable lunch at Old Salty's restaurant, which has Cream of Crab soup and fried clams to die for, and a cool gift shop. The surprise birds of Hooper's Island were four Brown Pelicans--unusual for this time of year--flying away across the Bay. We drove to where the road ends and then turned around for home, which was 90-odd miles away by Paul's odometer. We had a fun pair of Sharp-Shinned Hawks and some other nice stuff as we headed for the Western Shore....

But for birders, the road calls ever onward:

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