B.A.R.B. at SongStar

Happy Hookers
y Kathie Lambert

All this started a month or so ago. Abbie had mentioned the possibility of doing Thanksgiving or some portion thereof at Assateague. Richard mentioned that he & Joan were going to Brigintine the day after T-day, so how about meeting at Bombay Hook? Hmm, this is looking interesting. After a series of email exchanges, Abbie started calling the group the Hookers. Richard & Joan, and Abbie & Don got rooms at a Dover motel for Friday & Saturday nights. Anyone who wished to join them could, and we agreed to meet at Bombay Hook at 0730 Saturday. Mom was up for the challenge. Some other Songstar folks nibbled, but none bit. CIP was a definite maybe as was Cele. Chuck had other plans so his absence would deprive us of his delectable yeasty sticky sweet buns.

Mom & I left Annapolis at 0600. We were questioning our sanity – we don’t do mornings and the prospect of more than an hour on the road was almost too much for us to contemplate. On the way to Delaware, we passed many fields that were empty save for a pickup truck or two. Yup, it was opening day of gun season for deer. Here’s hoping we don’t get shot.

Mom & I arrive at Bombay Hook at 0740 to an empty parking lot. I realize we are all of 10 minutes late, but where is everyone? A quick phone call to Abbie told us that they were running late, had lost Richard & Joan, and had made a couple of interesting turns.

In the mean time, I kicked up sparrows in a nearby field. Lots of Song Sparrows (Mom agreed this time), and one Seaside Sparrow that disappeared as soon as I realized what I was seeing. Later, no one believed this until other folks said that Seasides had been seen in the area. I kept hearing an odd sound in the field across the road, but couldn’t see anything.

Eventually the wayward Hookers arrived in the parking lot. Don & I were happy to meet each other as Abbie has been telling him of our adventures. Mom got to meet Richard & Joan and Don. Don isn’t really a birder, but he likes the fact that birding makes Abbie happy. We left a note for CIP – he said he might arrive, but wasn’t sure, and didn’t have a cell phone to keep in touch. Joan heard the odd sound from across the road and identified it as a Ring-necked Pheasant. Makes sense. I’ve seen them in the area before, but hadn’t ever heard one. The birds coming to the feeders and hanging out in the trees near the visitor center were the usual stuff, but still nice to see. A flock of Cedar Waxwings occasionally flew around. Long strings of Snow Geese frequently flew over. Then the shooting began. Yup – it’s deer season in DE too.

On to the wildlife drive. First stop was at Tour Stop #1 – at least that’s KR’s excuse. This is a field that normally has bunches of geese. None to be seen. I’m not feeling good about this. We did kick up a few more sparrows including some nice Swamp Sparrows.

Next stop is the observation tower overlooking Raymond Pool. This is always a nice stop. The walk to the tower is along the edge of a field next to a strip of trees. The alert birder can usually find something interesting. We heard Towhees but couldn’t find them. Lots of Song Sparrows. Found a Field Sparrow mixed in with some of the Swamp Sparrows. Eventually, we found a Golden Crowned Kinglet doing the perpetual motion thing that kinglets do. Didn’t sit still long enough for anyone to describe its location. As we approached the tower, we could see a couple of Towhees scratching in the leaves. We climbed the tower and viewed the nearly waterfowl free pool. We did spot some Mallards, Green-winged Teal, Shovelers, Tundra Swan, Dunlin, Avocets, and a few other things I’ve forgotten about. While looking in the mud for shorebirds, I spotted some American Pipits – small brown birds in brown mud, it was a challenge to describe the location to anyone. Something spooked the birds and some of the pipits ended up in a tree just above our heads. Should we report Tree Pipits?

It was my turn to be the subject of an interesting story – one of the adventures of having Mom along for the ride. We got to chatting about how we started birding. Mom has been able to identify birds most of her life and didn’t have any problems with the birds at our Cape St. Claire home (near Annapolis, MD) when we moved there in 1963 – I was all of almost 4 at the time. When she spotted the first Towhee of the yard, she pointed it out to me and I started calling it a Pooper. Don’t ask because no one knows – not even me. This had everyone in fits of hysterical laughter, including me as I was wiping tears from my eyes and trying not to fall off the observation tower. This, of course, lead to another discussion regarding poop. Several folks have been amused at my description of poop sizes in terms of batteries. This started when my brother described the dog’s poop as the size of AA batteries. When hubby was recovering from colon surgery, I had him eating lots of fiber and telling him to aim for D battery sized poop (we’ve settled on C size). This is one of those “you had to be there” moments that don’t translate well into writing. In case you were wondering, this is now coded as #37. If you say #37 to a Hooker, we’ll totally crack up.

At any rate, from the observation tower, we were able to look down and see several Towhees (now known as Eastern Poopers) scratching in the leaf litter. Don kind of liked it. Joan found a couple of interesting orange colored birds on a far sand bar. Rock birds. Hey, at that point, we’re trying to make anything into an interesting bird.

Abbie taking a picture of the Hookers. What’s missing from the picture? Birds!!! There aren’t any on the water.

Drove to another boardwalk. Carolina Chickadees appeared – a treat for the northerners. There were lots of little birds flitting in the trees. I knew Richard & I were looking at the same bird when we both went “WOW!” when a Ruby-crowned Kinglet showed us how it earned its name. Those red feathers positively glowed in the bright sunlight. As usual, it flitted away before anyone else saw it. We proceeded down the boardwalk. As many times as I’ve been to Bombay Hook, I’ve never been down this path. Now I know why – really unproductive. As cool as it was, there were mosquitoes buzzing around – I can imagine what it’s like in August (UGH). We encountered an amorphous stinky blob on the trail. Ick – it looks like someone gutted a deer on the trail and didn’t bother to move the stomach & intestines off the trail. The wind was starting to pick up and the temperature was starting to drop.

We drove around to the other side of Raymond Pool. Not many geese. Looking over the marsh to the east, we saw many Harriers. You couldn’t put up your binoculars without seeing one. It was amazing. We meandered down to the Avocets. There was one brown Marbled Godwit among the gray Avocets – it looked like a rock too. Getting windier & cooler.

More meandering around to other pools. Same result – no birds. Even the trees that normally have night herons were bare of birds. We finally gave up and decided to head to a deli for lunch. On the way back to the visitor’s center, Richard suddenly stopped. We got out. Richard asked “why did the pheasant cross the road?” My answer, “so Joan could see it.” They were the only ones who saw it run across the road.

The Happy Hookers – Abbie, KR, Joan, Mom, Don. The pretty blue sky belies the conditions – getting colder and windier by the minute.

Back at the visitor’s center, our note to CIP was still there. We added to it and headed to Leipsic for lunch at the deli. Oops, we get to the deli and it’s closed for renovations. We ask a local about places for lunch and he directs us to another deli in Little Creek. Good deal, we’re heading that way anyway. Typical DE deli fare.

Next is a trip down Port Mahon Rd. Normally, this road is a kidney buster. The potholes are often large enough to swallow my car. Where the road isn’t covered with potholes, it’s covered with a foot or two of sand and traversing it can be interesting. (Once upon a time on another trip, I got my Miata stuck in the sand and several guys from the local volunteer fire company happened by and literally picked up my car and moved it.) Anyway, hurricane Isabelle totally wiped out the road last year and they’ve since rebuilt the road. It’s smoother than ever and doesn’t have as much sand on it – that will change with time and storms. One of the best parts of this road is the marsh views and the frequent Short-eared Owl sightings in the marsh. Unfortunately, the phragmites have been prolific and have utterly obscured the marsh. No birds, no owls, no nothing. We did pick up a few ducks in the bay and a couple of shorebirds on a beach. By the time we got to the end of the road, it was cloudy, really windy, and getting even cooler. Tried to make a Yellow-legs into a Willet or anything else.

Abbie lead us down the road to another wildlife management area. Still no birds. Weather still deteriorating. Another observation tower. Still no birds even though the view was terrific. We decide to call it a day and stop for dinner. As the sun was going down and making its last hurrah, the hunters got in a last volley of shots before the sun set. {Several days later, I was talking to Hubby. He had been talking to a friend who hunts and had mentioned the preponderance of gun shots at sunset. Turns out that the guys shooting with black powder discharge their weapons at sunset even if they aren’t shooting at something. They have to get the stuff out of the gun and this is the easiest way to do it. Thus, all the gun shots at sunset.

After freshening up at the motel, we attempt to find the restaurant that CIP recommended and Emily seconded. It was nowhere to be found in any of the phone directories. There’s an Olive Garden across the street so we decided to go there. Oops, a 1 hour wait for a table, we don’t’ think so. Ended up further up the street at an Appleby’s. Typical fare. The company was great. Lots of chatting & stories over dinner. Can you believe this – No one got dessert!!!

It was getting late. Mom & I decided that we really needed to leave before we passed out from exhaustion. Ran in & out of rain all the way home, but we finally got home in one piece.

Years ago, when I told Mom about my Internet friends, she was skeptical and worried given the media reports of Internet meetings gone horribly wrong. Over the years, I’ve met some of my Internet pals and have introduced Mom to a few. She is no longer worried about my Internet friends – they are typical birders, eccentric, strange, wonderful people, but not dangerous. She’s long considered birders to be some of the best and most interesting people she’s met. Now she knows a few more.

B.A.R.B. at SongStar

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Copyright © 2004 by Kathie Lambert and Richard L. Becker