Delaware’s biggest listing competition, the annual Backyard Birding Challenge came to another stunning finale in 2017. Seventy-five birders in Delaware opted to bird in the yard when given the chance, and recorded their sightings in eBird. These friendly contestants kept feeders stocked, listened for distant warbler “chips” in their trees, scanned flocks of flyover geese, and tried very hard to record as many species of birds in their yard for the year. 2018 looks to rival last year for excitement, as Michael Moore photographed a male Painted Bunting at his feeder in January, sure to give him the nudge he needs to possibly take first place this year. Our top five yard-birders in 2017 were as follows:
1. Sharon Lynn – 128 species (Rehoboth Beach).
2. Aaron Reb – 126 species (Frederica).
3. Amy and Jim White – 121 species (Hockessin).
4. Michael Moore – 119 species (Newark).
5. Philip Thompson – 115 species (Wilmington).
If you want to participate, it is easy. Just go to the DOS Website and click activities then Backyard Birding Challenge for rules. Now, let’s hear some highlights from a few of our top Yard-birders in 2017 in their own words…
Good Yard Birding!
Joe Sebastiani, DOS Council Member
Sharon Lynn’s Yard in 2017 (1st Place)
I have enjoyed participating in the Yard Bird Challenge for the last few years. I had 128 species in 2017, which was the second highest count since I began keeping track. Winter and Summer can be kind of slow, but I did have 2 new species during these seasons- a Bonaparte’s Gull and a Little Blue Heron. The real excitement came during Spring and Fall migration! I had 18 species of Warbler last year, the highlights were Wilson’s, Blackburnian, Nashville, and Cape May warblers. I also had all 3 Nuthatch species, and 4 species of Vireo. Brown Thrasher has become regular in Winter.
I live in a Townhouse, so I have a small physical yard, but I live near Rehoboth Bay and benefit from lots of flyover activity. There is increasing development in my area, so I fear the number of species may diminish, I look forward to seeing what shows up this year!
By Sharon Lynne
Yard Birding “White Yard C” in 2017 (3rd Place)
We had a lot of fun “yard-birding in 2017, observing 121 species in our “White Yard C” [our highest count yet in the 5 years we’ve been participating]. We have the distinct advantage of living on a nature preserve with varied habitats within our defined Yard. Our favorite bird sightings included: Black-billed Cuckoo (a first for our yard), which we both got great looks at during a yard walk in May; and a migration of 68 Common Nighthawks over the yard in early September – by far the highest number we’ve seen migrating here. We think our biggest miss in 2017 was Fox Sparrow, a bird we’ve seen most years at least once at our ground feeder in the winter.
Our best/favorite yard birds this year (in date order):
Merlin – seen numerous times in January & February -perched at the top of a neighbor’s tall tree.
Black-billed Cuckoo* – great looks during a yard walk on May 10.
Laughing Gull* – a surprise flyover on August 20.
Olive-sided Flycatcher* – hawking for insects (including 2 bumblebees and a wasp!) from dead branches high in trees; August 28 and 29.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher* – gleaning insects in oak and sassafras trees on September 1.
Common Nighthawks – we counted 68 fly over the hilltop on September 3. Very cool.
Common Raven – observed flying over twice this year: October 14 (Jim) and November 24 (Amy).
( *new in our yard this year)
We had a lot of fun birding our yard this past year. Can’t wait to see what we’ll find in 2018!
By Amy & Jim White
Mike Moore’s Yard 2017 (4th Place)
I took on the challenge for the first time this year and it far exceeded my expectations. I have always enjoyed friendly competition, but traditional Big Years involve too much chasing of other people’s birds. Yard List birding is the opposite. It’s up to you find everything. I thought I had a terrible yard for birds. I own an acre of grass with a row of trees in the back. My previous yard record was 84 species in a year. However, the competition got me out in my yard more and fall migration was spectacular and I discovered my yard had more to offer than I thought. My original goal was 90 species for the year, so reaching 119 was mind boggling to me.
Fall migration was the unquestioned highlight for me. Previously I had had 5 species of warblers in the yard. This fall I found 19! This included multiple Tennessees, Bay-breasts, Blackburnians and Northern Parulas and a single Canada. While my yard does not have much cover, I have an expansive view of the sky so flyovers are very important to building a list. Highlights of these flyovers were Cliff Swallow, American Bittern, American Woodcock, Broad-winged Hawk, and Lesser Yellowlegs. Other highlights were Long-eared Owl, Bobolink, and Black-capped Chickadee. My biggest surprise in my fenced yard was when a friend looked out the window and said “What is that Turkey doing in your backyard?”. Sure enough a male Wild Turkey was in my yard trying to get out over the fence. Eventually it resorted to taking a running start and flying over the trees in the back. The first time I had ever seen a Turkey fly that high. The biggest miss was Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The first time in 9 years I have not at least heard this species in my backyard. I think the most important thing I learned was that even a suburban yard with little cover can be an important resource for birds. Every bit of open space matters.
Featured Image: Canada Warbler in Mike Moore’s Backyard by Mike Moore