January 5, 2009
Prompted by an e-mail alert from Allen Larner, I drove over toward the Stuarts Draft area today, Guthrie Road to be exact. This local birding "hot spot" which Allen often patrols is a very rural part of Augusta County, with huge barren fields and very few houses -- almost like you're in the Midwest, except hillier. I didn't see the of Snow buntings that had been sighted, but I did see a pair of small dark birds circling overhead and emitting an odd call. They were small (bluebird sized), chocolate brown, with some kind of markings on the neck or shoulders, pale bellies, and a notched, rounded tail, like that of a Red-winged blackbird. The sky was cloudy, so visibility wasn't very good, and the birds stayed at least 30 yards away from me, making it hard to see details. What was most distinctive was their strange call, consisting of harsh cheeps (tee-uw) interspersed with rapid twittering or rattling. I was stumped. Just as I was about to leave, fortunately, Allen himself showed up and helped me to identify those two birds, which were almost certainly Lapland longspurs. After going through all my field guides back home, I am 95% sure, making that my first life bird of the year, and the 381st total! Here are today's highlights:
According to YuLee Larner's Birds of Augusta County, the Lapland longspur is a "rare winter visitor," last seen in this area in 2004. So, even though it's not a definite sighting, I put the alert about it (and the Snow buntings, etc.) on the Augusta Bird Club Web site.
I saw a total of eleven life birds last year, the greatest number of new birds that I have seen in the United States in a single calendar year since 2002, which was when we first moved to Staunton.
In the Washington Post two weeks ago there was an article about the threat to certain neotropical migrant birds and other animals posed by tar sands mining in the province of Alberta. Among the many species affected by energy development in that part of Canada are the Connecticut warbler and the Blackpoll warbler. I hope they are setting aside a portion of the new oil revenues for the cause of wildlife conservation.