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January 7, 2013 [LINK / comment]

Br-r-r! Winter field trip to Highland County

The arrival of the frigid months has one silver lining that more people should know about: the winter birds! Yesterday I joined Allen Larner and three other people on the Augusta Bird Club's annual winter field trip to Highland County. We didn't see everything we hoped for, but there were some very exciting moments. Early in the trip, I spotted what turned out to be Golden Eagle flying high above, and managed to get an adequate photograph of it, showing the distinctive tail markings of an immature bird. We saw two or three other Golden Eagles a short while later. John Spahr found a red-phase Screech Owl in a hole in a large tree, and once again I was fortunate to get a good photo. Not long afterwards, we stopped where a Wilson Snipe had previously been seen feeding next to a farm pond. It didn't take long for us to find it, and soon we realized why it had not gone elsewhere: the bird has a broken wing and can hardly fly. frown We also saw an immature Bald Eagle, various woodpeckers, Goldfinches, House Finches, a Purple Finch, and hundreds of Juncos. (Allen Larner got tired of seeing all those Juncos!) Unfortunately, there were no Rough-legged Hawks, one of the main "target" birds.

(The preceding paragraph is based in part on the e-mail report submitted by Allen Larner, and the first three photos below are also shown on the Augusta Bird Club Web site.)

Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle (immature), near Snowy Mountain.

Screech Owl

Red-phase Screech Owl, in a tree on Route 643.

Wilson Snipe

Wilson's Snipe, in a stream along Route 642.

Snowy Mountain, silo, barn

Snowy Mountain, about six miles north of this barn and silo, along Route 637.

While stopped along Route 637, northwest of Monterey, we saw a still-wet newborn calf with its mother in a muddy feed lot. What a rude shock to be born into the world on such a cold, bleak day!

After returning to Staunton, we stopped briefly at Bell's Lane, and saw a pair of Hooded Mergansers at one of the farm ponds, along with some Mallards, but not much else. Hopefully I'll get closer next time.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers (female on left, male on right), on Bell's Lane.

New digital camera!

That trip to Highland County gave me a great opportunity to try out my new digital camera, which was literally "years in the waiting." It's a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS digital camera, with 12 megapixels and a 50x optical zoom lens, the equivalent of a 24-1200mm lens. On the ninth day of Christmas (January 2), my true love and I went up to Crutchfield in Harrisonburg, because we have had great service from them before. I could have saved about $20 if I had gone to one of the big box retailing chain stores, but I really count on honest, good advice from well-trained store employees. The camera is a little tricky to operate (inevitable with such a powerful lens), but overall I am very satisfied with the purchase. Some of the images are just amazing!

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier, on Bell's Lane, the first wild bird photo that I took outdoors with the new camera. (January 4, 2013)

The above bird photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

Field trip to Chimney Hollow

On Saturday December 1, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Chimney Hollow trail, joined by five other members. It's one of my favorite birding locations, about ten miles northwest of Staunton. The main highlight of the day came within the first ten minutes: at least ten Wild Turkeys flushed from the trail ahead, only about 20 yards away. We also saw some Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Brown Creeper, a few White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, a Raven or two, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. We hiked a little more than three miles total.

Birding in South Dakota, 2012

Just for the record, I had some successful bird outings in South Dakota last summer, including two life birds (see below): a Sora in a roadside marsh near Utica, and a Buff-bellied Sandpiper on The Bluffs golf course in Vermillion. They nest in the Arctic tundra, and winter in Patagonia; the long distance traveled necessitates early migration. Other notable sightings: Upland Sandpiper, Black Terns, American White Pelicans (20+), Bald Eagle (imm.), Greater (?) Yellowlegs, Blue-winged Teals, Spotted Sandpipers, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Yellow Warblers, Flickers, Western Kingbirds, Franklin's Gulls, Spotted Towhee, E. (?) Wood-Pewee, Clay-Colored Sparrow, and an Orchard Oriole (F). Most of those species were seen at Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, and at Fort Randall Dam, nearby.

SD 2012 bird montage

Clockwise, from top left: Yellow Warbler, Barn Swallow, Dickcissel, Ring-billed Gulls with Franklin's Gulls, Green Heron, and in center, Common Nighthawk.

One of the unusual encounters was with a juvenile Mourning Dove, on the back porch of my brother Chris' house. It and a sibling hatched in a nest that was built in a flower box, and Chris got to watch it grow up and fledge.

Three life birds in 2012

I only saw three life birds in 2012, but that's as many as the previous two years combined! Obviously, I am in a real long-term slump, birding-wise. That means I'll have to do more travelling this year! The table below shows the lines of data that have been added to my life bird list.

Blue-winged Warbler June 30, 2012 near Reddish Knob, Rockingham Co. on a solo nature hike
Sora July 28, 2012 Near Utica, SD with John & Alan Clem
Buff-bellied Sandpiper July 30, 2012 The Bluffs Golf Course, Vermillion, SD with Alan Clem

I only had a brief glimpse of the Blue-winged Warbler, but there are only two other warblers with a head that is nearly all bright yellow: the Yellow Warbler, and the Prothontary Warbler, and neither of them are found in thick mountain woods during breeding season.

While updating my life bird list, I realized that I had failed to record my first-ever sighting of a Great Horned Owl, in a nest at Coyner Springs Park, Waynesboro, VA on on April 8, 2007. That correction raised the annual totals for that year, and the cumulative totals for 2007-2011.

I am now officially caught up on my wild bird blogging. Now back to politics, baseball, etc.

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 07 Jan 2013, 10: 42 PM

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