March 14, 2010 [LINK / comment]

A little late-winter birding

Nearly all of the snow has melted, the crocuses and daffodils are starting to sprout, and the male birds are singing zestfully in preparation for mating season. But it's not spring just yet, and that means we still have a few more chances to catch glimpses of certain unusual migrant species before they head back north to Canada.

Most notably, a Rough-legged hawk has been seen by many local birders in the vicinity of Stuarts Draft for the past several weeks. I had only seen that species once before, and not very clearly, so I was very eager to see this one. From early February until early March, I must have made half a dozen or more visits to the area where the hawk was seen hunting for prey, all in vain. Then on March 4, on the way back home from teaching, I took a brief detour off of Interstate 64, and finally got lucky. Another local birder, Peter Nebel, was parked along the road, and he pointed out where the hawk was perched in a tree. Soon thereafter, it took off and made a dazzling flight display, swooping low around the fields. The black-banded white tail and the distinctively marked long wings left no doubt as to its identity. I was very relieved to have gotten a good view at last.

This past Wednesday afternoon, I was driving along Bell's Lane, where I saw a lone Snow goose mixed in with a flock of Canada geese in one of the fields. I wasn't sure just how unusual that was, but YuLee Larner later informed me that it was only the seventh spring sighting of that species in Augusta County! (For bird record-keeping purposes, Spring includes the months of March, April, and May.)

Yesterday afternoon (Saturday), I went out to see what birds may have been stranded by the heavy rains. Sure enough, at one of the ponds along Bell's Lane were five Hooded mergansers, one of the most beautiful of the ducks. In the big pond further back, there were two Great blue herons plus a few Canada geese. At another pond in the Bell's Lane area in late February, I saw a pair of American coots, Ruddy ducks, and some American wigeons, a rather unusual duck species.

Finally, I should mention that while driving a van along Route 60 in Buckingham County last Thursday, March 11, ferrying a group of students to visit the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, I noticed a beautiful male Wood duck in a small pond along the highway. That was pretty amazing, and provided a good opportunity for conversation about something other than politics!