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Archives, 2003

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According to my calculations, I saw 35 new bird species last year, of which 24 were in Mexico. Still, 11 life birds in the U.S. of A. is not bad. (See my updated Life Bird List page.)

December 24, 2003

Christmas Bird Count, 2003

The weather was frightful on Sunday December 14: snow mixed with sleet and strong winds. (Just as I awoke, I learned that Saddam Hussein had been captured.) Nevertheless, I fulfilled my commitments and went with two other intrepid members of the Augusta Bird Club, Tom Pendleton and Angela Nebel, on back roads in the northern part of the county. We saw a fair number of birds, but the total number of species while I was with them was only 28. Tom and Angela spotted four more species during the hour or so after I returned home in the early afternoon. Here are the totals while I was there:

Mallard 1
Car. chickadee 12
YR warbler 5
Carolina wren 1
Cardinal 8
Downy WP 2
White throat sp. 75
Mourning dove 15
WB nuthatch 2
Mockingbird 4
Song sparrow 2
Am. crow 25
Purple finch 4
Titmouse 4
Red-bellied WP 4
Blue jay 5
Starling 1290
Robin 79
Goldfinch 1
Junco 69
YB sapsucker 3
White crown sp. 4
Cedar waxwing 2
Flicker 1
Sharp-sh. hawk 1
RW blackbird 1
Red-tailed hawk 1
Kestrel 1
TOTAL 1622

In November Jacqueline and I happened to spot an American woodcock while strolling in a wooded area in back of a local elementary school. It is a very strange and uncommon species, adding yet another to our life bird list.

October 24, 2003

Even though I haven't spent much time outside in the last few weeks, I've been fairly lucky on those days when I have gone bird watching. In fact, my Life Bird List has increased by four in just the last two months. Last Sunday, I posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv:

Late this morning Jacqueline and I were driving along Rt. 635 and stopped at the bridge over Christian's Creek, about 2 miles east of I-81. A ruby-crowned kinglet soon popped into view in the underbrush of a pine thicket. Not long afterwards we saw a gray-hooded, green-backed warbler with clear white eye rings and yellow under tail coverts. It was zipping around the same bushes, very close to the ground. We both got good views with the sun at our backs, confirming the field marks. The throat was NOT yellow, so even though we didn't get to observe behavior for much time, there is no doubt it was a Connecticut warbler, a life bird for us!!! Could it be the same one Brenda Tekin saw recently in that general vicinity? At the same place we also saw a yellow-rumped warbler and the first swamp sparrow of the season. Continuing our drive east to Quillin's pond proved futile, as the gate is closed.

Late this afternoon I checked out the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and was pleased to see two first-of-season birds: purple finches (5 F, 1 M) and a golden-crowned kinglet (F). Also 25 or so cedar waxwings, a hairy woodpecker (F), a swamp sparrow, and a yellow-rumped warbler, among others.

October 10, 2003

Since the cold front last week, all of the catbirds and chimney swifts have headed south for the winter. To my surprise, however, this morning I saw a Cape May warbler (first of the year!) and a black-throated green warbler out back. Slowpokes! I also saw a phoebe (with its yellowish fall colors), a red-bellied woodpecker, a downy woodpecker, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Earlier this week I saw the first white-throated sparrow of the season. Can kinglets be far off?

Last week there was an amazing event in our back yard: a Cooper's hawk swooped down and killed a pigeon with banded legs that had been frequenting our neighborhood for a couple weeks. The hawk dropped the pigeon, and I saw it writhing on the ground, so I ran outside to see if I could do anything, but it was too late. I did, however, look at the identification number on the leg band (IF2003 WRC 604), from which I was able to determine where the bird had come from, via the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers Web site. I learned that the owner lives in Chambersburg, MD, and that the pigeon had been released in Pulaski, VA. Apparently it was blown off course by Hurricane Isabel, which hit us on Sept. 20 or so.

September 28 was a truly excellent day: I took a short walk from home and saw several migrating warblers, including a chestnut-sided warbler, as well as a white-eyed vireo, a scarlet tanager, a yellow-billed cuckoo, a gray-cheeked thrush, and several others.

September 21, 2003

My new job has forced me to cut back on my bird-watching hours, but I still manage to get out once or twice a week. On Sept. 2 I saw two life birds while searching for a rare "Baird's sandpiper" that had been announced on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv. Hurrican Isabel pushed a number of seabirds into the Shenandoah Valley, and several local birders reported seeing Black skimmers, laughing gulls, whimbrels, etc. Two Sundays ago, Jacqueline and I saw several warblers, and on two occasions I saw great-crested flycatchers. In a sign that nesting season is over, for the first time since spring, we had hummingbirds in our back yard from late August until mid-September. From early July until late August, however, we didn't seen ANY goldfinches. That is because they are late nesters. Bluebirds have been ominously scant throughout the year...

I just posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv:

Jacqueline and I walked on the boardwalk/trail around the Augusta Springs wetland area early this morning, and then on some of the trails immediately to the west. We saw:
  • 5 Goldfinches
  • 4 Red-eyed vireos
  • 25 Cedar waxwings (many J)
  • 8 Black-throated green warblers (M, F, J)
  • 2 Downy WPs (F, M)
  • 4 Indigo buntings (F, J)
  • 1 Scarlet tanager (F)
  • 4 Rose-breasted grosbeaks (F, JM)
  • 1 Green heron
  • 1 Redstart (F)
  • 3 Broad-wing hawks
  • 1 WB nuthatch
  • 1 Veery (possibly a Swainson's or Gray-cheeked thrush)
  • 1 Ruffed grouse (close!)
  • 2 Yellow-throated vireos (close!)
  • 1 BG gnatcatcher (M)
  • 1 Empid flycatcher (green back)

We also heard a probable Yellow-breasted chat, a Hairy WP, some Pileated WPs, Flickers, and a Red-bellied WP, and saw the usual Titmice, Chickadees, Blue jays, etc. Ominously, NO Bluebirds...

On the way back home, we drove around the Swoope area and saw at various places:
  • 1 Great blue heron
  • 1 Kingfisher
  • 1 Great egret
  • 1 Red-tailed hawk
All in all, not too shabby!

August 11, 2003

I saw a couple orioles (females or juveniles) darting around the bushes on Bell's Lane this morning, along with lots of goldfinches, hummingbirds, two meadowlarks, and a willow flycatcher. In a sign that nesting season is over, hummingbirds have returned to our back yard for the first time since spring, but we haven't seen ANY goldfinches here since July. They are late nesters.

July 25, 2003

Jacqueline and I hiked to the top of Trimble Mountain last Sunday, an 800-foot net gain in elevation compressed into a 3 mile circuit hike. We saw a pewee, red-eyed vireos, a scarlet tanager, a hooded warbler, and a black and white warbler. Plus many indigo buntings, as usual.

This morning -- which was perfect weather -- I rode my bike northeast of town and spotted a (probable) juvenile spotted sandpiper, a willow flycatcher, and several kingbirds.

July 15, 2003

Jacqueline and I introduced her mother to the wonderful Great Outdoors U.S.A. in the Shenandoah National Park over the weekend. While picnicking and strolling around the Big Meadows area, we saw dark-eyed juncos and yellow-rumped warblers (both of which mainly breed in Canada and the northern latitudes and higher elevations in the U.S.), as well as a redstart, a bluebird, etc. Further north I spotted a scarlet tanager as we were driving, and later saw more redstarts. The biggest thrill that day, however, was seeing two black bears at two different locations along Skyline Drive.

The next day we stopped at the Virginia Arboretum at Blandy Farms, northeast of Front Royal. The variety of conifer trees was truly amazing. I saw a green heron and a great blue heron, and spotted a goldfinch, indigo bunting, and cardinal in the same tree at the same time; I think it was my first ever "primary color trifecta" (yellow, blue, red).

July 8, 2003

I posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv yesterday:

My wife Jacqueline and I hiked to the top of Trayfoot Mtn. in the Shenandoah National Park yesterday morning-noon, and were pleased to see along the way:

  • 5 Indigo buntings (M&F)
  • 6 Hooded warblers (M&F)
  • 1 Redstart -- far
  • 1 Red-eyed vireo -- heard others
  • 5 Towhees (M&F)
  • 1 Chestnut-sided warbler (M) (1st of season!!!) -- heard others
  • 1 Ovenbird -- heard others
  • 1 Scarlet tanager (M) -- heard others
  • 1 Broad-wing hawk (prob.)

The real highlight, however, came later on in the afternoon when we stopped at the trail crossing at Powell Gap, just north of mile marker 70 on Skyline Drive. I saw a small warbler skulking in the underbrush, making a repeated loud "PIT" call in response to my pishing. It had a large pink bill and pink legs, a very dark head and throat, greenish back, and yellowish underneath. Lighting conditions weren't that good, but I got several fairly good views during a period of five minutes or so, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was a MOURNING WARBLER, which is listed as an "occasional" species for the Shen. Nat. Park, and which is a life bird for me. YES!

Andrew Clem
Staunton, VA

UPDATE: I've been told by both John Spahr and YuLee Larner, two of the leading local bird authorities in these parts, that the mourning warbler is considered a rare species around here, especially given the elevation of only 2,400 feet. Stay tuned!

June 30, 2003

While hiking with my niece Cathy and her friend Yanira through the horribly muddy trails at the Bull Run Regional Park yesterday, I heard several Acadian flycatchers, and was lucky enough to see one at close range, just after it took a bath. I also saw a great-crested flycatcher and a female ruby-throated hummingbird, and heard several northern parulas, red-eyed vireos, blue-gray gnatcatchers, a yellow warbler, and a screaming red-shouldered hawk. Between the nearly impassible "trails," the mosquitos, and the poison ivy, it was a miserable experience, especially for the girls, and I'm sure that none of us are going back, at least not for a long time.

June 23, 2003

I posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv:

Jacqueline and I leaped at the opportunity to enjoy a full day of sun yesterday, taking a hike from the picnic area where Rt. 250 passes Ramsey's Draft to the top of the mountain on the Highland/Augusta County line, then retracing our steps back down. We saw:
  • 1 common nighthawk (!!!) -- over the gas station one mile west of Staunton

  • 2 pileated WPs
  • 1 N. parula #
  • 10 worm eating warblers #
  • 5 ovenbirds #
  • 2 phoebes
  • 5 black-throated green warblers ##
  • 10 black & white warblers
  • 1 scarlet tanager (M) #
  • 1 rose-breasted grosbeak (F)
  • 2 hairy WPs (F & J)
  • 4 titmice
  • 3 black-capped chickadees
  • 2 red-eyed vireos ##
  • 2 downy WPs (F & J)
  • 3 cedar waxwings #
  • 1 RT hummingbird
  • 1 Blackburnian warbler -- near parking lot, just before we left; WHEW!

  • 2 killdeers, etc. -- on lawn across from the gas station at West Augusta; the Mississippi kite which we saw there last year was not present.

  • # means several additional birds heard but not seen

At two points along the trail we heard a persistent song consisting of five or six distinct high pitch notes, all on the same note except the next to last being a little lower. That doesn't seem to match any of the warbler song descriptions in my field guides. I spent almost 15 minutes trying to track it down in the tree tops, to no avail, though I did catch a brief glimpse of a small bird flitting about. Does anyone have any ideas what it might have been?

I should have mentioned that three of those species were "first of season" sightings, of which the Blackburnian warbler was the "hit of the day" (see table below). Too bad Jacqueline was too tired after our hike to walk over and get a look at it. It was thanks to her, however, that I got a great view of the scarlet tanager in the bright sunshine, and I was also pleasantly surprised to see the female rose-breasted grosbeak; too bad the male wasn't around.

June 19, 2003

Around noon yesterday I glanced outside my office window and saw a raptor swoop down and pounce on a small bird, probably one of the many juvenile house sparrows we have seen lately. It couldn't have been more than 15 feet away! I ran outside with my binoculars to get a better look and confirmed that the predator was a male American kestrel, perched on a tree branch plucking away the feathers. Harassed by a loud female robin, he soon flew off carrying his prey in his talons; lunch time at the nest! Princess was at the window and probably witnessed the attack; she seemed frightened, at any rate.

It cleared up this afternoon, and Jacqueline and I strolled through Gypsy Hill Park, and saw several cedar waxwings (!), plus a kingfisher (1), and some northern rough-winged swallows, noted for their br-r-r-p b-r-r-p call. With all the wet weather, there haven't been many opportunities to do serious birding lately, so it's hard to be sure about year-to-year trends. One thing for sure is that there are more house wrens around here than there were last year. Their constant gurgling song is pleasant, up to a point. We still see goldfinches many times each day, but hardly any woodpeckers or nuthatches.

I just heard from my brother John, who has returned safely (?) from a bird-watching expedition to the North Woods of Minnesota. He didn't get any warbler photos this time, but I'm sure there will be other fine photos from him posted on this site before long.

June 15, 2003

During another brief respite from the almost-nonstop deluge yesterday, Jacqueline and I went to the Shenandoah National Park for a picnic and casual strolls. I saw two hooded warblers for the first time this year, as well as an ovenbird, broad-winged hawk, a towhee, an indigo bunting, and a gorgeous red and black scarlet tanager, in a far-off tree top. On the way back home we stopped at Coyner Springs near Waynesboro and saw a bright orange and black male Baltimore oriole feeding two or three fledglings, near the nest where we had seen him feeding them a week earlier. What an appropriate example just prior to Father's Day!

June 11, 2003

During a respite from the deluge a few days ago, Jacqueline and I spotted a pair of Baltimore orioles busily bringing food over to their nest at the very top of a tree near the entrance to Coyner Springs Park near Waynesboro. On the way home we stopped at the bridge where I saw a yellow-throated warbler last month. We didn't see him, but we did hear and then see a yellow-billed cuckoo, the first of the season, plus some cedar waxwings.

While riding my bike along Bell's Lane last week, I heard the distinctive FITZ-sbew "song" of the willow flycatcher, which was kind enough to fly close enough that I got a good view.

June 5, 2003

Even though we have yet to experience any real summer weather (rain, rain, rain, rain, and more rain!!!), it is clear that the excitement of spring migration season is over. A few days ago I drove up to a flooded field about 20 miles north of town, where many interesting shore birds had been seen recently. Too late! I did, however, see a couple American coots, some wood ducks, many kingbirds, and the first green heron of the season. I had the pleasure to meet Len Tuber, one of the most experienced birders in the Shenandoah Valley, and he let me get a better view with his spotting scope.

Earlier this week I saw a pair of cedar waxwings here in Staunton, one of which had a thin twig in its mouth, suggesting that they are going to nest here. Virginia is on the southern fringe of their breeding range, so that would be a pleasant surprise. This morning I heard a loud, amusingly jumbled song from the thick undergrowth near Lee High School. Unlike many birds' songs that I have to relearn every year, there was no doubt about this one. After a few minutes, I finally managed to see the white-eyed vireo, the first one of the season for me. I also heard a great crested flycatcher.

May 21, 2003

I posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv:

After seeing the weather forecast for a return to steady rain later this week, I decided I had to get out and catch the tail end of migration season this morning before it's too late. So, I hiked the trail around Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton this morning and was pleased to see:

  • Flicker
  • Canada warbler (F)
  • Magnolia warblers (M & F)
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Brown thrasher
  • Towhee
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Plus the usuals...

  • Also, I heard but didn't see:
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Great crested flycatcher
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Black billed cuckoo (distant)

Yesterday afternoon I checked out Bell's Lane, where the pond is flooded, unlike last year, and spotted two spotted sandpipers on the side.
We have had one or more blackpoll warblers around our apartment for the last few days.

May 19, 2003

On Saturday the Augusta Bird Club held its annual breakfast picnic at Coyner Springs, a beautiful wooded vale from whence the city of Waynesboro draws its water supply. I had never been there before. We saw kingbirds, Baltimore orioles, a Northern waterthrush, and a grasshopper sparrow, among others. Common yellowthroats were singing loudly, but I never saw one. It was gloomy and drizzly, a "fortunate" break from the monsoon rains we've had for the last week. Today it cleared up finally, and I saw a couple of spotted sandpipers at a pond on Bell's Lane.

I've been hearing blackpoll warblers singing their unique very high pitch tsee-tsee-tsee tunes almost everywhere for the last week or so. I've even seen one or two around our apartment. Since they are usually the last species of warblers to migrate north in the spring, it would appear that migration season is about over. Partly because of bad weather, I haven't been out birding nearly as much as I expected this year.

May 8, 2003

I just posted this on the Shenandoah Valley Birds list serv:

It was a beautiful morning with clear skies and cool breeze, so I couldn't resist the temptation to see what is going on up at Betsy Bell Hill in Staunton. Here's what I saw:
  • Towhee
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Yellow-rumped warblers (8+)
  • Blackpoll warblers (3+) -- first of season
  • N. parula -- first of season
  • Black-throated green warbler -- first of season
  • Baltimore oriole (M) -- first of season
  • Wood thrush
  • Solitary (oops, "blue headed") vireo -- first of season
  • Plus blue jays, titmice, robins, grackles, etc.

  • Here's what I heard but didn't see:

  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Ovenbird
  • Scarlet tanager
  • Cerulean warbler
  • Black-throated blue warbler

  • I should get up there more often!

May 7, 2003

Yesterday my neighbor the local bird authority YuLee Larner alerted me to a Rose-breasted grosbeak in back of her apartment, and sure enough I found it singing in one of the trees. Beautiful! In the late afternoon I was stunned to see the same bird at the feeder right in back of our apartment!

The weather was poor most of the weekend, but it cleared up late on Sunday afternoon, and I went for a brief drive southeast of Staunton, and got lucky, spotting a Yellow-throated warbler, a life bird for me! Here is the message I posted on the Virginia and Shenandoah Valley bird-watchers' e-mail listservs:

Late yesterday afternoon I stopped for a few minutes on Rt. 648 at the bridge over Mills Creek, just before you get to the county landfill, and heard what I thought was an indigo bunting singing from the top of a tree. I walked back to get a better viewing angle, and noticed that the song was weird -- high-pitched and "screechy" but with the notes slurred together and then trailing away, rather than being in distinct pairs. Also, the tone lacked the harsh "burry" quality of an indigo bunting. Soon I detected movement at a branchlet on the very top, directly above me, and was surprised to see not dark blue feathers but light gray ones. As the bird turned his head while preening I got a stunning view of a bright yellow throat and a bold black and white face pattern (black crown and cheeks, white eyebrow). The tail was small and thin, with barely a trace of darker trim. The angle of the afternoon sun was perfect for viewing, and I was able to observe the bird for several minutes before it flew away to a stand of pine trees. No doubt about it, this was a Yellow-throated warbler, a life bird for me, and apparently the first of this species observed in Augusta County since 1992, according to YuLee Larner's book "Birds of Augusta County."


Check this out: Birds on radar north of Cuba at [CORRECTED LINK]

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more certain I am that that pair of raptors I saw on the "Big Spring Day" were indeed peregrine falcons, another life bird for me. The color and wing shape could hardly have been anything else, and the way they flew aerobatic loops and made high-speed dives with their wings hunched in was utterly unlike any hawk, accipiter or otherwise.

April 29, 2003

Big Spring Day!

On Sunday I participated in the Augusta Bird Club's "Big Spring Day," a survey of birds during the early part of migration season. Unlike last year, it was a beautiful day with clear skies. Highlights included scarlet tanagers, redstarts (MANY!), cerulean warblers, a black & white warbler, and a beautiful indigo bunting. I heard several ovenbirds, some at close range, but never saw any. Towhees, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and chipping sparrows were abundant. I also saw two ospreys and two (probable) peregrine falcons swooping and screeching in tandem. Altogether I counted about 50 species. At the evening dinner where everyone gathered afterwards, I saw two more first-of-season birds (gray catbird and chimney swifts) and heard another (house wren).

Some mean predator apparently ate all the Carolina wren's eggs, and the nest on our patio is now abandoned.

April 24, 2003

For the first time this spring, a ruby-throated hummingbird showed up at our back patio yesterday. (We had put up the hummingbird feeder just two days before!) Its throat was white, indicating that it was a female. Goldfinches are now swarming around the thistle seed feeder, and the males have turned bright yellow for the summer. It's amazing to watch them engage in high-speed "dogfights" as they compete to establish dominance and impress potential mates.

UPDATE: Late this afternoon we saw both male AND female hummers at the feeder! We also saw a migrating osprey fly past as we started to play tennis.

Last weekend Jacqueline and I drove a few miles south of Staunton and observed interesting raptor displays: A kestrel was hovering over a field in a fixed position, like a hummingbird and then dove toward its prey. A sharp shinned hawk nabbed a grackle in an open field, and flew away with it as we approached. Finally, we saw a pair of red-tailed hawks circling each other in an apparent mating ritual. While hiking in Northern Virginia on April 16 I heard a Northern Parula singing above the banks of Bull Run, but I never did see that beautiful blue, yellow, and white warbler. I also saw a large raptor that another hiker informed me was an osprey!

April 12, 2003

(FINALLY) It was raining almost every day this week, with miserably cold temperatures. Friday it cleared up at last, and I went out to Bell's Lane and saw four birds for the first time this spring: Brown thrashers, barn swallows, N. rough-winged swallows, and blue-gray gnatcatchers. I also saw a phoebe, which is also a migratory species, though a small number of them spend the winter in these parts. (I saw one in December.) This morning it was just beautiful, and I saw a lot of nesting activity going on at the bluebird trail near the Frontier Culture Museum, including many tree swallows. Also, two Carolina wrens are building a large nest with a side entrance in a cardboard box on our back porch.

April 9, 2003

Trip to Mexico!

(Also see Table of birds in Mexico.)

It's now been a full month since we returned from Mexico. Looking back, I'm still amazed at how odd it was too see familiar birds such as house sparrows mingling with exotic species. I was also struck by the large number and variety of flycatchers we saw, especially in the desert areas of Oaxaca. The lack of hummingbirds was a bit of a disappointment, but it's probably a reflection of the paucity of flowers during the dry season. Our one big birding destination -- the reservoir near the town of Teotitlan del Valle, in the state of Oaxaca -- yielded fairly satisfying results, but we had to cut short our hike up that dusty road as the temperature neared 100 degrees. I was expecting more greenery in that area, but most of the trees were located higher up in the mountains, a mile or two ahead of us. Maybe next time we'll get to see the blue-hooded euphonia, red warbler, and other spectacular tropical birds!

We saw house finches in several locations, but they were different in appearance from the ones we see here: The males had bright red foreheads and throats, contrasting sharply with the plain brown color of their crowns and neck sides. House finches in the eastern U.S. have dull reddish heads, throats, and necks, blending gradually into the brownish color of their bodies.

After a close examination of the photo I took, I'm inclined to say the red bird we saw was a summer tanager and not a hepatic tanager, which has a slightly duller plumage. Too bad; a hepatic tanager would have been a life bird. Not having taken a telephoto lens, I didn't get any good close-up photos of birds, so I'll never know for sure. Note that I just got another batch of photos back from the developer, including a fairly good one of a black-headed grosbeak that was only about eight feet away from me!

I am now almost certain about identifying dusky hummingbirds, based on excellent photos that were published in the April issue of Wild Birds magazine, which by amazing coincidence had an article on birding in Mexico -- just after we made the trip!

March 11, 2003

From the very first full day to the very last full day, our vacation in Mexico was quite rewarding in terms of bird watching. That was not really the main purpose of our trip, however, so we only saw a total of about 55 species, listed below in chronological order. ("A" means "abundant," i.e., too many to count; the numbers cited are only approximate.) We saw at least 22 life birds, which will be added to my list shortly. (Jacqueline had seen many great-tailed grackles in and around Las Vegas last year. Unlike the common grackles here, they have a truly amazing musical repertoire.) About half of those 22 species are also found in Texas and the southwest U.S.A., while the rest are endemic to Mexico. Our biggest birding "triumphs" were spotting a (probable) hepatic tanager, a Mexican cacique, and several black-headed grosbeaks in Mexico City, two rufous-capped warblers in Teotitlan del Valle, and two crested caracaras (Mexico's national bird, an eagle-sized falcon) in Santa Maria de Tule. I was also thrilled to see my first Vermilion flycatchers (which are bright red, with charcoal wings), but they turned out to be fairly common. It was hard to believe how many warblers, tanagers, and orioles frequent the downtown parks in Mexico, along with pigeons and house sparrows. Other pleasant surprises: we saw substantial flocks of cedar waxwings in almost every place we visited. This seemed odd because we Virginians see cedar waxwings mainly in the winter and only rarely in the summer, whereas they thrive in Mexico as the temperatures soar into the upper 90s. I was also amazed to see American coots and some duck species that only spend the winter in Virginia. Disappointments: no roadrunners, owls, or blue-hooded euphonias, which are supposed to be found just above the reservoir at Teotitlan in Oaxaca. Also, we never made it to the Pacific Ocean, so we missed out on the Lagunas de Chacahua National Park. I'm still not sure about the identification of several orioles and warblers. As I reference I used A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico, by Ernest Edwards (1972) and Birds & Birding in Cental Oaxaca, by John Forcey (1998). Next time we go I'll bring a copy of a widely-recommended book on birding in Mexico written by Stephen G. Howell.

Birds seen in Mexico

¡Ay, caramba!

SpeciesMexico City
(Alameda /
Monte AlbanTeotitlan
del Valle
Mexico City
(Viveros de
Rock dovesA AA AA
House sparrowsAA A AA
House finchesAA  AA 
Inca doves (LIFE BIRD!) AA A AA
Cedar waxwingsAA A  A
Great-tailed grackles (LIFE BIRD!)A5108585
Bewick's wren (LIFE BIRD!)1     1
Audubon's oriole2      
Hepatic or summer tanager (M)1      
Nashville warbler1  3   
Audubon's warbler3    1 
Black phoebe (LIFE BIRD!)  1   1 
Cattle egrets 240  20 
Brown towhees (LIFE BIRD!)  2     
American robin6423  5
Clay-colored sparrows (LIFE BIRD!)  6     
Chestnut-collared swifts (PROB., LIFE BIRD?) 5      
Black-eared bushtits (LIFE BIRD!) 6  1   
Mexican cacique (LIFE BIRD!) 1      
? hawk (accipiter)  1    
? hawk (buteo)  1    
Ash-throated flycatcher (LIFE BIRD!)   4    
Turkey vulture 48  8 
Mexican crow (LIFE BIRD!)   2    
Vermilion flycatcher (LIFE BIRD!)   1125 
Northern harrier (PROB.)  1    
Cassin's kingbirds (LIFE BIRD!)    532 
Wilson's warbler   1 1 
Dusky hummingbird (LIFE BIRD?)   1   
Lesser goldfinch (LIFE BIRD!)    5  2
? flycatcher      3 
Western tanager   21 2
Blue-gray gnatcatcher    2 1
Rock wren    5  
Violet-green swallows (LIFE BIRD!)     8  
N. rough-winged swallows    10  
Orange-crowned warbler (LIFE BIRD!)     1  
Rufous-capped warbler (LIFE BIRD!)      2 
American coot     15 
Snowy egret     1 
Ruddy duck     12 
Blue-winged teal     8 
Spotted sandpiper     2 
? warbler     1 
Crested caracara (LIFE BIRD!)      2 
Black-headed grosbeak (LIFE BIRD!)       7
Song sparrow      1
Hermit warbler (LIFE BIRD!)       1
hummingbird      1
Bronzed cowbird (LIFE BIRD!)       1
Striped sparrow (LIFE BIRD!)       1
Mexican chickadee (LIFE BIRD!)       3
Rufous-backed robin (PROB., LIFE BIRD?)      2
Yellow warbler      1
Ruby-crowned kinglet      1

Summary of sightings

NOTE: This table does NOT include our trip to Mexico. Unless otherwise indicated, all sightings were in Staunton, VA.

Green-winged tealJan. 11Bells's LaneLIFE BIRD! (with Jacqueline)
Ross's gooseJan. 11Bells's LaneLIFE BIRD! (with Jacqueline)
Lesser scaupsJan. 25Bells's LaneLIFE BIRD!
American cootsJan. 25Bells's LaneFOS
Ruddy ducksJan. 25Bells's LaneFOS
RedheadJan. 25Bells's LaneFOS
Bald eagles?Jan. 25Bells's LaneToo far away to be sure
Common gracklesMar. 12behind our apt.FOS
Brown-headed cowbirdsMar. 14behind our apt.FOS
Pileated woodpeckerMar. 15behind our apt.First in months
Field sparrowsMar. 25behind our apt.FOS
Chipping sparrowsMar. 28behind our apt.FOS
Red-wing blackbirdsApr. 1Bells's LaneFOS
E. meadowlarksApr. 1Bells's LaneFOS
Tree swallowsApr. 1Bells's LaneFOS
Brown thrashersApr. 11Bells's LaneFOS
Barn swallowsApr. 11Bells's LaneFOS
N. rough-winged swallowsApr. 11Bells's LaneFOS
Blue-gray gnatcatchersApr. 11Bells's LaneFOS
Louisiana waterthrushApr. 16Bull Run, N. of Manassas Park, VAFOS
Ruby-throated hummingbirdApr. 23behind our apt.FOS
OspreyApr. 24Lee High School(Glimpsed one on Apr. 16.)
Scarlet tanagersApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
RedstartsApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
Cerulean warblersApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
Black & white warblerApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
Indigo buntingApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
Peregrine falconsApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayLIFE BIRD! ("BSD")
Wood thrushApr. 29Blue Ridge ParkwayFOS ("BSD")
Gray catbirdApr. 29Waynesboro, VAFOS
Chimney swiftsApr. 29Waynesboro, VAFOS
Yellow-throated warblerMay 5Rt. 648, S.E. of Staunton, VALIFE BIRD!
Rose-breasted grosbeakMay 6Around our apt.FOS (male)
Blackpoll warblersMay 8Betsy Bell HillFOS
Northern parulaMay 8Betsy Bell HillFOS
Black-throated green warblerMay 8Betsy Bell HillFOS
Baltimore orioleMay 8Betsy Bell HillFOS (male)
Blue headed vireoMay 8Betsy Bell HillFOS
Northern waterthrushMay 17Coyner Springs, near WaynesboroFOS (with ABC)
Grasshopper sparrowMay 17Coyner Springs, near WaynesboroFOS (with ABC)
Canada warblerMay 20Montgomery Hall ParkFOS
Magnolia warblerMay 20Montgomery Hall ParkFOS
Hairy woodpeckerMay 20Montgomery Hall ParkFirst in several months
Green heronMay 30Near Lee High SchoolFOS
White-eyed vireoJune 5Near Lee High SchoolFOS
Willow flycatcherJune 6Bell's LaneFOS
Yellow-billed cuckooJune 8Rt. 648, S.E. of Staunton, VAFOS
Hooded warblerJune 14Riprap Trail & Jarman Gap, Shen. Nat. ParkFOS
Common nighthawkJune 22Rt. 250, W of StauntonFOS
Worm eating warblerJune 22Ramsey's Draft, VAFOS
Blackburnian warblerJune 22Ramsey's Draft, VAFOS
Acadian flycatchersJune 29Bull Run Regional ParkFOS (with Cathy & Yanira)
Chestnut-sided warblerJuly 5Trayfoot Mtn., Shen. Nat. ParkFOS (with Jacqueline)
Mourning warblerJuly 5Powell Gap, Shen. Nat. ParkLIFE BIRD! (with Jacqueline)
Dark-eyed juncosJuly 13Big Meadows, Shen. Nat. ParkFOBS
Yellow-rumped warblerJuly 13Big Meadows, Shen. Nat. ParkFOBS
Northern shovelersSept. 2"Leonard's Pond," N of Weyer's Cave, VALIFE BIRD!
Lesser YellowlegsSept. 2"Leonard's Pond," N of Weyer's Cave, VALIFE BIRD!
Veery (PROB.)Sept. 21Behind Rescue Squad 
Gray-cheeked thrushSept. 28Behind Rescue Squad 
Yellow-bellied sapsuckerOct. 4Behind apt.FOS
Cape May warblerOct. 10Behind apt.FOY
Northern harrierOct. 12Afton Inn, Blue RidgeFOS (hawk watch)
Northern goshawkOct. 12Afton Inn, Blue RidgeLIFE BIRD! (hawk watch)
Red-headed woodpeckerOct. 12Afton Inn, Blue RidgeFOY (hawk watch)
Ruby-crowned kingletOct. 12McCormick Gap, Shen. Nat. ParkFOS
Yellow-rumped warblerOct. 12Behind Rescue SquadFOS
White-throated sparrowOct. 19Behind apt.FOS
Connecticut warblerOct. 19Rt. 635 & Christians Creek, E of StauntonLIFE BIRD! (with Jacqueline)
Swamp sparrowOct. 19Rt. 635 & Christians Creek, E of Staunton(with Jacqueline)
Purple finchesOct. 19Behind Rescue SquadFOS
Golden-crowned kingletOct. 19Behind Rescue SquadFOS
White-crowned sparrow (J)Oct. 25Near Frontier Culture MuseumFOS (with Jacqueline)
JuncosOct. 26behind apt.FOS
Winter wrenNov. 7behind S.A.R.S.FOS
Hermit thrushNov. 17behind S.A.R.S.FOS
American woodcockNov. 21Bessie Weller Elem. SchoolLIFE BIRD! (with Jacqueline)
Fox sparrowsNov. 27behind S.A.R.S.FOS

NOTE: "FOS" means "first of season," which applies only to migratory birds. "FOBS" means "first of breeding season," which applies to migratory birds normally only seen here in winter. "FOY" means "first of year." "ABC" means "Augusta Bird Club, and "BSD" means "Big Spring Day," a semi-official survey.