February 15, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Long-tailed Duck

This winter is turning out to be very rewarding in terms of unusual birds showing up in our area. The unusually harsh weather ("Polar Vortex") may have something to do with it, forcing birds that usually winter on Lake Erie, which is frozen over, to seek refuge further south. Already this year, I have seen two life birds: a Snowy Owl and a White-winged Scoter. (Three of the latter, actually.) Responding to an e-mail alert, last Monday I drove down to Willow Lake (located just south of Raphine, in Rockbridge County), and almost immediately spotted a beautiful male Long-tailed Duck in the middle of the lake. I was astonished and delighted by this very unusual-looking duck. That made my third life bird of this year, and my 411th overall.

At first, I had a hard time getting any good photos, because it kept diving into the water before I could get the camera aimed and focused. The Long-tailed Duck was at least 150 yards away at first, and I was very lucky that it started swimming in my direction. So, I cautiously approached the shoreline, and was able to take several photos from a range of only about 20 yards. I would have been satisfied just with a recognizable image for identification purposes, but this image far surpassed what I was hoping for:

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck (male), on Willow Lake, February 10.

It was one of my most satisfying bird sightings in a long time. As I was about two leave, two other prominent area birders showed up: Marshall Faintich and Walter Childs, both from Nelson County. Walt pointed out a young male White-winged Scoter that I had overlooked while aiming my camera at the Long-tailed Duck.

Snowy Owl leaves D.C.

One of the many Snowy Owls that have migrated south of their normal range this winter took up residence in McPherson Square, in Washington, D.C. Apparently, the pigeons and rats provided an ample supply of food. It was quite a sensation among local folks, but late last month the owl was struck by a bus and then rescued by police officers. It was taken to City Wildlife, a clinic at the National Zoo, and was gradually nursed back to health. Tests showed that it was a female. Last Sunday, the staff people took it (her) from Washington to an "unnamed facility" with a large cage for practicing flying. (Not the Wildlife Center of Virginia, I am told.) Chances are very good that the owl will be released back into the wild before long. See washingtonpost.com.