Saturday, May 8, 2010
On The Road Again
Today is Saturday, the 2nd day of Week 19. I was traveling on Thursday, the last day of Week 18, so no active birding happened, but as we were leaving our house we had a female rose-breasted grosbeak visit our feeders--a usual occurrence in early May. We stopped in Fairfax, VA, just outside of Washington, DC, to spend the night with my wife's sister and husband. A cousin and his partner were also in DC on business, so all of us got together for dinner at my in-laws' home.
We brought some wine--an '08 chenin blanc from Mulderbosch, an '07 albarino from Do Ferriero, and an '06 pinot noir from Rivers-Marie--to accompany the food. A yummy guacamole and chips, and 2 cheeses from our neighboring dairy got us all started. The delicious main course was grilled marinated chicken breasts, zucchini squash, salad, risotto and bread. Dessert was fresh strawberries, poundcake and vanilla ice cream. Everyone pushed back from the table with a smile on their face.
Friday my wife and I were on the road before 7 AM heading for Delaware first to see what birds might be about. Port Mahon, a coastal site, was a bit slow--no red knots yet. There were loads of ruddy turnstones, dunlins and laughing gulls. Bombay Hook, a short way down the road, was also just so-so. The picture above is of purple martins nesting at Bombay Hook.
Our main birding goal for the day was over in New Jersey at Heislerville where we were hoping for a curlew sandpiper (for the non-birders out there, this is a very rare vagrant to the U.S.). This has become a hot spot in the spring for shorebirds in migration, and last year 3 curlews had visited for about a week in early May.
On our way to New Jersey we stopped for a Jake's hamburger in Delaware. The place and burger reminded me of a successful chain on the east coast called Five Guys. Solid burger, good onion rings, but nothing to rave about overall. After our lunch stop we drove straight to Heislerville, arriving about 3 PM.
There was a bird banding station set up along the fresh water impoundment, and several people seemed to be manning the nets. We asked if the curlew sandpiper that had been seen earlier in the week was still around only to hear that it had not been seen since Monday. Not to be deterred by the negative report or the chilly wind that was beginning to blow, we spent the next 3 hours scanning the thousands of shorebirds that were in the impoundment. There were lots of short-billed dowitchers, with a few long-billed mixed in; probably a couple of thousand dunlins; plenty of semipalmated plovers and sandpipers; a good number of least sandpipers; and a smattering of black-bellied plovers, and greater and lesser yellowlegs. There were also laughing gulls, herring gulls, least and forster's terns, and black skimmers. But no matter how hard we looked, no curlew sandpiper could be found.
At 6 PM we had to give it up in order to make the hour+ drive up to Philly where we were staying for the nite. Last year we had stopped in Philly on our way to New England, and had a wonderful meal at a place called Osteria. We wanted to eat there again, so Philly was our nite spot. And once again Osteria did not disappoint. We started the meal by sharing a wood fired pizza lightly covered with chopped cherrystone clams in a bechamel sauce, charred scallions, parsley and mozzarella. 5 cockles in their shells were resting on top. It was a very nice opening course.
For her main course, my wife had wild halibut cooked in parchment with olives, roasted potatoes and oregano. She also had a side dish of fresh asparagus and lemon. I had been salivating all day thinking about a dish they serve called "robiola francobolli" which I had on our last visit, and loved so much that I ordered a second round of it. This dish is a tiny, paper-thin ravioli the size of a postage stamp (francobolli in Italian) filled with robiola cheese (only cow's milk in this case instead of the more normal cow and goat milk type). The sauce was very thinly sliced trumpet mushrooms and thyme in olive oil. This oh so delicate pasta once again all but brought me to tears. It has to be the best ravioli I have ever eaten.
An '08 falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio accompanied all the food, and as is often my wife's wish, her dessert was a glass of '03 Taylor late bottle vintage port. I simply kept savoring the afterglow of the ravioli as I sipped the last bit of the falanghina.
We made the drive back down to Heislerville in just over an hour this morning to once again look for a curlew. The wind was howling, and the shorebirds were not too happy looking. No curlew had come in during the nite, but 2 white-rumped sandpipers had. After about an hour every shorebird in the impoundment flew up and disappeared. So we headed down to Cape May to see if there were any land birds stopping in today.
At Higbee Beach WMA things were quite slow except for the scissor-tailed flycatcher that had arrived yesterday and was still making birders happy. This bird is normally only seen in Texas and the neighboring states, so it was way out of its range. A week ago the even rarer fork-tailed flycatcher made a brief appearance at Higbee, so this has been quite a spring so far.
We then drove up to the Brigantine Division of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR near Atlantic City. I usually love birding here, but today with the wind roaring it was not very pleasant, and the water levels were quite low. Returning to Heislerville, we found that the high winds had pushed the impoundment water to one side, leaving much larger mud flats. There were still some shorebirds, but after 10 minutes we called it a day.
For this new week, we have seen 73 species of birds, but no new birds for the year. There is an updated map at the top. Tomorrow we will try one more time for the curlew, and then will begin driving to Ohio. Stay tuned!