December 27, 2018
The weather was pretty lousy for this year's Christmas Bird Count, which is why I didn't get started until mid-morning. But at least it didn't rain much, contrary to the bleak forecasts. I covered mostly the same areas in Staunton that I did last year, leaving out Gypsy Hill Park and adding Bell's Lane:
It was slow going at first in Montgomery Hall Park, but I was surprised to see so many Bluebirds. Since it was so muddy from all the rain of the night before, I didn't walk very much away from the paved streets. Getting nice views of two Flickers was a nice treat as well. The higher I drove up the hill where the picnic areas are, the foggier it became. Visibility was so poor at the top that you could barely see more than a quarter mile. I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk in a tree top about 150 yards away, but it got away just before I could snap a photo.
Then I drove to Betsy Bell Hill, where there were several Juncos on the ground, as well as various woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches. Just before I was about to leave I was startled to hear an odd, high-pitch song. I looked up in the trees and saw two Brown Creepers chasing each other. That was quite a treat! I also saw a probable Ruby-crowned Kinglet high in the tree tops. I followed it to try to see whether it had the black facial markings of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, and I'm almost certain that it did not.
The next stop was the Frontier Culture Museum, fairly close as the crow flies, but over a mile if you are driving in a car. I finally saw Blue Jays, Mockingbirds, and Robins there, as well as two Field Sparrows and two distant House Finches. For the second year in a row, I didn't see any Bluebirds in that area, even though it features many Bluebird boxes that are part of an effort to conserve that species. There weren't any ducks or geese on the two ponds, either. Then I headed over to nearby Starbucks for hot coffee and a danish to warm up and rebuild my energy reserves.
My fourth and final area to cover was Bell's Lane. (Due to the weather, I just didn't bother with Gypsy Hill Park.) In the bushes along the road, I saw several Cardinals and Carolina Wrens, and I saw three Mallards in the overflowing stream, and 13 Canada Geese flying overhead. I saw ten White-throated Sparrows, but no White-crowned Sparrows, which was a disappointment. As I approached the north end, I saw two Kestrels and a flock of Starlings that included at least one Red-winged Blackbird. At the beaver pond, I spotted a Kingfisher and Great Blue Heron, but didn't see the hoped-for Snipes. It was starting to rain steadily by then, and I just didn't have enough desire to stick around any longer. My species total of 34 was three less than last year.
TOTAL SPECIES: 34
TOTAL NUMBER OF BIRDS: 299
On Christmas Jacqueline and I went for a brief drive to Bell's Lane and then I took her to Mill Place for the first time. She was quite impressed! I heard the "oika, oika" call of a Flicker nearby, and soon we saw four of them emerge from a pile of brush. The big highlight was seeing an Eastern Phoebe on the other side of the pond, and I was lucky to get a photo. There were lots of Juncos and various sparrows in the bushes, but I didn't see the lame male Cardinal which I had seen on my previous two visits. I hope he's OK. On the pond near the Mill Place entrance (in back of Hardees), I saw a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers. Later in the day I saw several Common Mergansers on the distant pond on Bell's Lane, and my photos were just good enough to be sure about the species ID.
On Sunday December 23rd Vic Laubach alerted local birders that he had seen a Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane. I didn't see the message by mid-afternoon, and by the time I got there it had either left or else become inactive. Today Vic sent another alert, and I went out again and spent several minutes scanning the fields around the ponds. And all of a sudden, there it was!!! The bluish gray color really stood out even though the skies were cloudy and the light was dim. Conditions for photography weren't good, but it was at least close enough (about 100 yards) for me to get an adequate image. I saw it dive after something on the ground, but didn't see it again before I had to leave. I'll try again to get a better photo once the sun comes back -- if the Shrike is still here, that is. I had seen and photographed one of that species at close range in March 2017 while birding in Florida, and saw them at a distance two or three times before that in the Swoope area of Augusta County.
Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
What I'd really like to see for Christmas (the season which lasts until January 6) is an Evening Grosbeak! Some of them have been reported in the Shenandoah Valley, and apparently there is a southward "irruption" of this northerly species this year because one of their main food sources is scarce. Never having seen one before, this would count as the 504th bird on my life list. Unless I get lucky in the remaining few days of the year, this will be the first year since I began birding (1997) that I have not spotted at least one new "life bird."