December 19, 2016
On Saturday, December 12, I spent several hours helping with the Augusta Bird Club's Christmas Bird Count. (There is a separate Christmas Bird Count for the Waynesboro area, usually in early January.) In recent years I have been far too busy with grading exams, etc. to spend more than a couple hours on this effort. This year I was joined by two relatively new members of the club, Joe Thompson and Kathy Belcher, and we covered five areas in Staunton:
There was light freezing rain as the sun rose, so we postponed our rendevous time until after 10:00. I began [solo] along Bell's Lane around 9:00, after taking a detour of over a mile because of ice-induced traffic accidents. I saw three cars that had skidded off the road! Within a few minutes of my arrival, I had a nice closeup view of a Red-tailed Hawk, which stayed put as I slowly approached in my car, enabling me to get some good photos. Most of the usual birds were there, with Cardinals being especially prominent. The only really noteworthy bird there was an American Kestrel. Along the entrance road to the Frontier Culture Museum, we saw a nice mixture of birds plus a flock of Mallards on the pond there. None of the hoped-for Yellow-rumped Warblers, however. (We didn't see any all day, in fact.) Next we went to Betsy Bell Hill, and saw a few of the expected woodland birds. I was somewhat surprised to see Bluebirds and Juncos in the woods. Our next stop was Montgomery Hall Park, where we saw many Cardinals, White-throated Sparrows, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and several other species. I finally heard a single Golden-crowned Kinglet, but never did see it; [the virtual absence of that species] was a bit of a surprise. After a lunch break we went to Thornrose Cemetery, but hardly saw anything there. At nearby Gypsy Hill Park we saw the expected large numbers of Canada Geese and Mallards, plus assorted semi-domesticated waterfowl. At the small pond there I spotted one of the biggest finds of the day: a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Eventually it came close enough for me to get a good photo.
That concluded our regular count activities, but I still had to get back to Bell's Lane again, hoping to spot either a Northern Harrier or a Short-eared Owl at dusk. I arrived at about 4:30, just before sunset, and saw a large flock of Canada Geese that had not been there in the morning. The ponds were still frozen, however, so no waterfowl were present there. After 15 or so minutes I spotted the Northern Harrier that has been active there for the past month or so. That was a big relief! I met a guy from Farmville named Julian who was looking for the Short-eared Owls, so I led him to the place, where Allen Larner and Gabriel Mapel were standing vigil. I was about ready to give up, but just then Julian spotted the owls. I tried my best to get photos, but because of the dim light, they were all blurry. Including those two late-afternoon raptors, I counted 36 species altogether. It was not a terribly impressive number, but overall the results were satisfactory.
Augusta Bird Club Christmas Bird Count
Staunton, Virginia, US
(Based on six separate reports I submitted to eBird (the last of which was for Gypsy Hill Park), and then combined into a single spreadsheet.)
The upside of the unstable weather conditions was that we had a nice view of a rainbow in the morning:
Other than the Short-eared Owls, there haven't been any spectacular bird sightings in this area this month. I was a bit disappointed that three birds that I had seen along Bell's Lane in the previous week were not there for the Christmas Bird Count on Saturday: Great Blue Heron (Dec. 5), Eastern Phoebe (Dec. 5), and Hooded Merganser (Dec. 8). Phoebes are rarely seen in this area during winter months.
[NOTE: I had scheduled a field trip to Lake Moomaw for Saturday, December 10, but had to cancel it because of freezing temperatures. We hope to try again on January 7. Also, on Monday, December 12 the Augusta Bird Club had a very successful dinner to commemorate the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1966. I will post several photos from that event on the club's website soon, and will have a separate blog post about my musical performance that evening. ]