Birding in November and December
This will be a relatively brief summary of the last two months of birding in 2021, as I struggle to get caught up with online things. Rather surprisingly, given my suddenly busy schedule with teaching, the month of November turned out to be quite successful. On Saturday November 6, after picking up bird seed from the Augusta Bird Club annual seed sale in Verona, I headed over to the nearby Mill Place trail just in case something interesting happened to be there, aside from the usual American Kestrel. Well, there was! Over in the marshes on the south side of the pond I spotted my second Swamp Sparrow of the season, and heard some odd chattering deep in the cat tails. The bird was less than ten feet away but I just couldn't get a look at it until I played its call on my iPhone and quickly it popped into view: a beautiful Marsh Wren! I managed to get a decent photo of it, but it wasn't easy, since they move very quickly. Later I drove out to Guthrie Road, south of Stuarts Draft, in hopes of seeing a Rough-legged Hawk that had been seen there. I didn't see that, but I did get a nice view of my first Northern Harrier of the season, flying low over a nearby field. While I was walking along Guthrie Road I spotted some kind of raptor in a tree about 100 yards away, and as I approached it I realized to my utter amazement that it was a Peregrine Falcon! It was the second one I had seen that year, the first being in the Shenandoah National Park in June. In both cases, they were juveniles. Along the road near Fishersville on the way home I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk on a wire and stopped to take its picture.
The following week I made it out to Bell's Lane twice, and saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler (on Tuesday) and a Northern Harrier (on Thursday). On Friday November 12, Jacqueline and I took advantage of the clear skies by driving around the Swoope area in western Augusta County. It was the tail end of the fall foliage season, and was really the only time we went to see the colored mountain slopes. At the Boy Scout lake (which was mostly mud flats because they had drained most of the lake) we saw a Great Blue Heron. Heading north we saw an Eastern Phoebe, rather uncommon for that late in the season, and finally an adult male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier! I was lucky to get a good photo of him with the sun illuminating the underside of his wings.
The very next day, Saturday November 13, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Braley Pond, in the western foothills of the county. It was bitterly cold and windy, unfortunately, and only three other members showed up. We started hiking along the north side of the pond, and soon I noticed some birds along a fence line that keeps people away from the spillway. They turned out to be a small group (maybe five or six) Fox Sparrows, one of the "target species" that I had indicated to the other folks. It was a very encouraging start, but frankly after that there just weren't that many birds. I had originally hoped to do a three-mile loop hike, but the cold weather and high water at one of the stream crossings convinced us that we should turn back. After returning to the parking area, we hiked north about a quarter mile and saw a few woodpeckers, etc. And that was about it.
About two weeks later, on November 25, I went for a walk on Bell's Lane, since it was such a sunny day. I had great looks at several different birds, most notably Yellow-rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, and a Northern Harrier. Over at the pond behind Hardee's in Verona I saw a Great Blue Heron, a Belted Kingfisher, and some Hooded Mergansers -- my first ones of the season! A quick trip to Bell's Lane late on the afternoon of November 28 closed out the month, bird-wise.
On Saturday December 4 Jacqueline and I went to the trail behind the Murphy-Deming School of Health Sciences in Fishersville, and I was pleased to see some Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Hermit Thrush (first of the season!) in the bushes. As I was about to leave I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling, but figured it was probably just a Blue Jay doing an imitation thereof. To my surprise, I spotted the real thing perched on a corner of the roof of the building, and snapped a picture just before it flew off. Then we stopped at the quarry pond on the south side of Fishersville, and I saw several American Coots -- my first ones of the season.
For the next two weeks I was very busy with classes, but squeezed in some time along Bell's Lane at dusk on Tuesday the 12th. There were a couple other birders there, and after waiting a while in the cold we finally spotted two Short-eared Owls, my first of the season. I got one photo that shows a dull profile, and that's it. On Friday the 17th I stopped briefly at the Mill Place trail in Verona, and saw a Swamp Sparrow (perhaps the same one as before), a Northern Flicker, among others.
On Saturday December 18, I participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count. I got started late, and began with Montgomery Hall Park. There were several dozen American Robins flying around the picnic area at the summit of the big hill, along with woodpeckers, etc. I glimpsed a Red-tailed Hawk in a tree top not too far away and managed to get a photo before it flew off. Next I stopped at Bessie Weller Elementary School, just on the spur of the moment, and it turned out to be a smart move! I heard and eventually saw an Eastern Towhee, and got a great closeup look at a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet displaying his namesake red crown. My next scheduled stop that day was Betsy Bell Hill, but to my surprise, that turned out to be a big bust. So I finished the day over at the Frontier Culture Museum, where I managed to spot a Swamp Sparrow and a few other birds.
The day before Christmas I spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker out back, as well as a Downy Woodpecker. The day after Christmas I went to Bell's Lane and saw a few Cedar Waxwings, White-crowned Sparrows, and some Common Mergansers (first of the season) on a distant farm pond. And that wraps up the year 2021, in which I saw exactly one new life bird: a Black-bellied Whistling Duck at Willow Lake on June 1, 2021; see my July 10 blog post and my life bird list, which now totals 508.
More bird photos can be seen on my Wild Birds chronological page.