An Ohio Young Birder at Camp Avocet

A Cape May Sunset

 This summer, I went to an American Birding Association (ABA) birding camp called Camp Avocet thanks to the generous scholarships from Columbus Audubon and the American Birding Association. The camp was located in Cape Henlopen State Park, Delaware, across from Cape May, New Jersey and ran from August 11th to August 17th. I arrived one half day late to the camp because my flight to the camp was delayed multiple times. Nonetheless, my experience at the camp was unforgettable.

Immature Yellow-crowned Night HeronOn the first day at camp, I rode in a van with the campers to a place called Chincoteague Island, Virginia. On the way to the place, our group would spot birds. We spotted a pair of Ospreys on their nest, Cattle Egrets near a group of horses, large flocks of vultures. Our birding group also spotted a Bar-tailed Godwit, which was a noteworthy sighting. Besides the bird species mentioned before, there was a countless number of shorebirds. After an extensive time of birding, our group returned to Cape Henlopen to listen to a presentation.

A Least Tern at ChincoteagueThe name of the presentation was “Beach Nesters”, and it was presented by Christina Davis. The presentation was about the conservation of endangered and threatened coastal nesting bird species in New Jersey. The four species that were discussed were the Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher, Least Tern, and Piping Plover. I thought this presentation was extremely interesting because the topic of the presentation was bird conservation, and bird conservation has been an ever growing interest for me.

On August 13th, we went on a trip to Great Cypress Swamp, which is managed by Delaware Wild Lands. The place consisted mostly of forests and wetlands, which created a large diversity of birds. I was able to spot a Carolina Wren, Summer Tanager, Worm-eating Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and a Red-headed Woodpecker. After our group was done birding, we took a brief tour of the replicas of farm buildings. Then, we began our return trip to Cape Henlopen. We stopped to look at birds on the trip back. The campers and I spotted Forster’s Terns, a Little Blue Heron, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, an Osprey, Black Skimmers, and Snowy Egrets. Later, we returned to our camp to listen to another presentation.

The Great Cypress SwampPaintings by artist Jonathan Alderfer

The presentation was presented by Jonathan Alderfer, co-author of the National Geographic Field Guides. He described his occupation and reasons why bird paintings can be better than bird photos in a field guide. For example, he said bird paintings are usually more visually appealing than bird photos. He also said the lighting of a bird in a photo can affect the colors of it, but bird paintings do not have that problem. Alderfer discussed useful field marks to distinguish similar birds, such as the Arctic Loon and the Pacific Loon. He discovered the field marks when he painted the two birds. When the presentation was finished, Jonathan Alderfer displayed his actual paintings on tables, and I was awestruck by the complexity and detail of the paintings. Afterwards, we traveled to a fishing pier near the camp. Once we arrived, we saw a large number of Double-crested Cormorants. After a few minutes, I used one of our group’s scopes to look at the moon. I could see the moon’s surface with immense detail. I was also able to see Saturn and its rings through the scope.

On the third day at the bird camp, we went to a place called Fort Miles in the early morning. Our group walked along paths near the fort to find birds. I was able to spot a Blue Grosbeak, and I captured an excellent photo of it. Later in the morning, we headed to Fowler Beach. At the birding spot, there was a tremendous number of birds in a small area. There were American Black Ducks, Black Skimmers, a Clapper Rail, and Seaside Sparrows. Then, our group went on a trip to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, and we saw American Avocets, Dowitchers, Glossy Ibises, and a Bonaparte’s Gull. Afterwards, we headed to the DuPont Nature Center. When we arrived at the center, we entered the building, and a person talked to our group about the significance of the areas around the building. The person said that huge flocks of seabirds begin to arrive in the third week of May to feed on the eggs of Horseshoe Crabs. While we were at the center, we caught sight of an American Oystercatcher, a King Eider, Herring Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Forster’s Terns, Least Terns, and a Common Tern.

Blue GrosbeakWe returned to our camp after we were done birding to listen to a third presentation. It was presented by Dr. David La Puma, and it was about Radar Ornithology. He defined Radar Ornithology as using weather radar to determine bird migration patterns, and he said the main purpose of Radar Ornithology is to locate areas where migrating birds stop to rest and refuel. The presentation increased my interest in Radar Ornithology, and I would like to get involved in it in the future. After sunset, we walked to the edge of a forest that was extremely close to the building of the camp. Once we stopped, one of the ABA associates began to make imitations of Eastern Screech Owl calls, so we could lure it into close view. After several attempts, we were able to get a one second glimpse of the owl before it flew away. The second activity at night that we did was we examined moths. The moths were attracted to a sheet that was illuminated by UV light. Once I saw the moths, I could not believe how diverse species of moths could be.

August 15th was one of the most extraordinary days at Camp Avocet. This was the day that our group went from Cape Henlopen to Cape May, New Jersey. We went on the shortest and quickest route to Cape May, which was by ferry. The ferry ride provided many opportunities to view gulls and shorebirds. Throughout the voyage, gulls would follow the ferry because the propellers at the back of the boat would stir up fish for the birds to eat. The gulls we saw were Great Black-backed Gulls, Laughing Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, and Herring Gulls. At Cape May, we spotted Mute Swans, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Terns, Black Skimmers, a Solitary Sandpiper, Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, Tree Swallows, Eurasian Collared-Doves, a Boat-Tailed Grackle, American Oystercatchers, and a Tricolored Heron. On the way back from Cape May, we saw gulls following the boat again, and I witnessed a spectacular sunset over the water.

Gulls following the ferry from Cape May to Cape Henlopen  Mute Swans at Cape May Black Skimmers on the beach at Cape Henlopen

August 16th was another interesting day at the camp. In the morning, the campers and I separated into small groups for a competition called Big Green Hour. The rules of the competition were that each group must bird within Cape Henlopen State Park, and each group had one hour to spot and identify as many birds as possible. My group was able to find over 40 species of birds, which was considered excellent for the amount of time that we were given. After the competition, we returned to the center to review the results, and we headed to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge.
Then, we returned to Cape Henlopen to do a photo ID quiz over birds that can be found in the state of Delaware throughout the year. I did fairly well on the quiz, but there was room for improvement. For example, I misidentified a species of bird because of the lighting in the photo. The quiz was similar to one that was done at last year’s Ohio Young Birders Conference. At night, we used a different method to attract moths. The method that was used was that the trunks of some trees next to a trail were partially coated in a special substance that attracts moths. Afterwards, we did another attempt to lure Eastern Screech Owls into our sight. After a few minutes, the owl came to the edge of the forest and perched on a tree. The ABA associates shined a light at it, so we could get a better look at it. I was amazed because this was only the second time I have ever seen an Eastern Screech Owl in the wild.

A Cape May SunsetAugust 17th was the last day at Camp Avocet. I did some birding with the group in the morning before I had to go to the airport with other campers. We did the birding on a beach near the camp building. I caught sight of a countless number of Sanderlings near the ocean waves. When the waves receded, the Sanderlings rushed to the ground that was uncovered by the waves to look for food. As the waves were returning, the Sanderlings ran inland to avoid the waves. I found this amusing to watch. In addition to Sanderlings, there were Ospreys flying overhead, a Black Tern, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

In conclusion, my experience at Camp Avocet was phenomenal, educational, and valuable. I was able to have many conversations with the other campers about their birding experiences, and I enjoyed seeing new interesting birds. The camp was educational because I had opportunities to learn new types of birds that are not found in Ohio, such as the Black Skimmer and American Oystercatcher. It even exceeded my own expectations. I also learned about more ways to participate in conservation and ornithology. This camp opened the door to even more learning experiences related to birds, and it was valuable to my birding career. I hope to attend another camp next summer. I would again like to extend my thanks to Columbus Audubon for helping to make this camp possible.