As seems to happen all too often, a beautiful week was ended with a looming winter storm that kept looking worse as the time got shorter.  By Friday night, the forecast was 4-6″ of snow and ice, but at least it was moving the onset to later in the morning.  Having cancelled the Blackwater version of this trip a couple years ago only to find that the impending storm turned out to be pretty mild, I decided to be there in case, while leaving it up to the other people and to the way the storm forecast played out.  As it happened, everyone who had signed up decided to play it safe – a wise decision, as it turned out.

I was scanning the fields off Whitehall Neck Road at 9 am on Saturday, under heavy overcast and a raw feeling.  At that point, there were scattered snow flurries, but little bird activity – a Bald Eagle flyover and a few geese at first, then with increasing numbers of Canada and a few Snow Geese.  A Peregrine flew in, and a little later we had a couple of Horned Larks fly over, but then it was on to the refuge before the more serious snow, forecast for 10:00, arrived.  A quick check of the headquarters and surrounding fields turned up the usual White-throated and House Sparrows and Finches (no White-crowned this time), but little else, as the snow flurries became a constant light snowfall.

Several other people were braving the raw cold and increasing snow to check the refuge, but we found the birds increasingly hunkering down as we went.  Raymond Pool was fairly quiet – Tundra Swans, Canada and Snow Geese, plenty of Shovelers plus Mallards and Black Ducks, were about it, although the snow was becoming heavier enough to make distant viewing a bit hazy.  A couple of distant Bald Eagles at a nest, a hunting Harrier and a perched Red-tailed Hawk near the boardwalk trail were most of the visible birds.  Moving on to Shearness Pool as the snow thickened and the biting wind picked up, we came across a couple of Buffleheads, some nice Pintails, three Green-winged Teal, a Cooper’s Hawk perched near the road, a small group of Avocets near some more swans, and on the outer mudflats, plenty of Dunlin and a scattered small group of Western Sandpipers.

By this time, the wind was blowing icy snow into the face as we looked out towards the open water, so scoping the mudflats was a lot more cursory than usual.  In addition, water droplets on the objective lenses and some fogging of the glasses were becoming a bit of a problem.  It was getting on towards 10:30, the snow was beginning to lay down on the grassy areas, and visibility was becoming hazy and closer-in.  With predictions of travel problems in mind, we decided to truncate the trip with a run up to the upper end of the Shearness Pool road (where a Peregrine was sitting in a tree next to the road) and then back to the headquarters and out.  Along the way, we got both Savannah and Swamp Sparrows as well as a bunch of Song Sparrows, and then on the way out, quite a lot of Horned Larks and mixed Blackbirds in the fields along Whitehall Neck Road.

Overall, it was a very nice trip, considering, although we missed all the rarities and other nice birds reported over the past week, other than the Western Sandpipers.  I plan on trying this again next year, and hoping for better weather.  I wasn’t sure whether December would be better than January, but considering that the weather had been quite pleasant, and recent sightings had included both Hudsonian and Marbled Godwits, Ross’ Goose, White-fronted Goose, Golden Eagle and plenty of the other waterfowl and shorebirds that Bombay Hook is noted for, I think December is worth another try.