Andrew Clem home

WARNING: Bird watching is probably more addictive than crack cocaine. It has been known to cause severe neck strain, especially during migration season, and can be more frustrating than a round of golf. On the other hand, there are those occasional moments of bliss when seeing something new just sets your soul free."

Clockwise, from top left:
Eastern bluebird, Tree swallow, Ruby-throated hummingbird, Northern cardinal, Magnolia warbler, Barred owl, Painted bunting.

Clockwise, from top left:
Magnolia warbler, Yellow-rumped warbler, Chestnut-sided warbler, Yellow warbler, Mourning warbler, Black-and-white warbler, Common yellowthroat, and in center, American Redstart

Clockwise, from top left:
Cedar waxwing, Hooded siskin (Cuzco, Peru), Scarlet tanager, Ruby-throated hummingbird, Wood duck, Red-headed woodpecker (Burbank, SD), Yellow warbler, and Indigo bunting in center

Clockwise, from top left:
Great kiskadee, Blue-gray tanager, Silver-throated tanager, Red-footed honeycreeper, Scarlet-rumped tanager, Scarlet macaw, Pacific screech owl, and in right center, a Coppery-headed emerald hummingbird.

Clockwise, from top left:
Black-necked stilt, Pacific cormorant, Hooded siskin, Common moorhen, Green and white hummingbird, American oystercatcher.

Clockwise, from top left:
Red-headed Woodpecker, American White Pelican, Ring-necked Pheasant (the official state bird!), Lark Sparrow, Dickcissel.

Clockwise, from top left:
Purple gallinule, Painted bunting, Western tanager, Pacific loon, Bald eagle, Green jay, and Chestnut-sided warbler in center. (Taken by my brother John.)

Wild Birds:

Montage shadow

~ Wild Birds blog ~

Other wild bird pages:

Bird photo galleries

(Mouse rollover)

From 2004 to 2008 I mostly used a Canon ZR-645MC digital video camera for taking birds photos. It has a 20X optical zoom lens and can take adequate still images as long as lighting conditions are good, but the resolution is low: only one megapixel. From 2009 to 2012 I relied primarily on a Nikon D-40 digital SLR camera with six megapixels and a wide-angle zoom lens (18-55mm) which was only good for closeup shot. In January 2013 I began using a Canon PowerShot SX50 HS with 12 megapixels and a 50x optical zoom lens (24-1200mm equivalent). My brother John took up bird photography several years ago, and over the course of a dozen or more trips throughout North America, has achieved a skill level on par with professionals. He uses a Canon Digital Rebel with a telephoto zoom lens and adapter that yield 20X magnification. Roll the mouse over the three links below to see each of the montages, and click on any of those links to go to the respective part of our photo gallery.


For beginning birders

Even the casual observer is aware that some birds are more likely to be seen in summer than in winter, or in coastal areas rather than mountains. The sections below on this page highlight the "familiar" bird species that are regularly seen in Virginia at various times of the year. Parts of this page are still "under construction"...

Familiar resident birds

These birds are regularly seen in most lowland areas of Virginia throughout the year, with very little variation in relative abundance from one season to the next. The relative abundances are based strictly upon my own personal observations, and are not official.

Species Relative abundance Seasonal variations
New River Valley
Shenandoah Valley
Red-shouldered hawk C U R .
Black vulture C C C In flocks except in summer
Wild turkey R R R .
Northern bobwhite R R R .
American crow A A A .
Fish crow U R C Slightly smaller, with a high-pitch nasal call.
Rock pigeon A A A .
Mourning dove A A A .
Belted kingfisher U U U .
Downy woodpecker C C C .
Red-bellied woodpecker C C C .
Hairy woodpecker U U U .
Pileated woodpecker U U R .
Northern flicker C C C .
White-breasted nuthatch C C C .
Carolina wren C C C .
Eastern towhee C C C .
Blue jay A A A .
Mockingbird A A A Noisy early summer & fall
Northern cardinal A A A .
Carolina chickadee A A A Black-capped chickadees to northwest
Tufted titmouse A A A .
American goldfinch C A A Dull plumage; in flocks in winter
House finch A C C .
Song sparrow A A A .
House sparrow A A A Always in flocks
European starling A A A In huge flocks (1,000 +) except in summer
Meadowlark R C C ???
KEY: A = Abundant C = Common U = Uncommon O = Occasional; R = Rare

Familiar semi-migratory birds

These birds are migrants but remain in North America all year. The individual birds seen in Virginia during the summer head further south in the winter, and those seen in winter spend their summers further north.

Species Winter Spring Summer Fall Notes
Mallard A A C A .
Wood duck U U R U .
Canada goose A A C A Many have become semi-domesticated pests, and no longer migrate.
Great blue heron U C C C .
Killdeer U C C C Nest on bare ground; often fly at night.
Turkey vulture A A A A In flocks except in summer
Red-tailed hawk C C U C More common in winter
Cooper's hawk U U R U More common in winter
Sharp-shinned hawk C C U C More common in winter
American kestrel C C U C More common in winter
American robin U A A U Big flocks (100+) during winter, more nervous than during the summer.
Cedar Waxwing C C U C Very unpredictable movements, based on the availability of berries.
Common Grackle R A A R Enormous flocks (10,000 +) during winter, rarely seen in towns.
Red-winged Blackbird R A A R Huge flocks (1,000 +) during winter, rarely seen in towns.
Bluebird U C C C Recovering from a steep population decline thanks to bluebird box building.

Major orders of birds in North America
(and families of the songbird order)

  • ANSERIFORMES -- Ducks, Geese
  • GALLIFORMES: Quails, grouses, etc.
  • PELECANIFORMES: Pelicans, cormorants, etc.
  • CICONIIFORMES: Egrets, Herons
  • FALCONIFORMES: Vultures, Hawks, etc.
  • GRUIFORMES: Rails, Coots
  • CHARADRIIFORMES: Plovers, Sandpipers, Gulls, Terns
  • PSITTACIFORMES: Parrots, etc.
  • CAPRIMULGIFORMES: Nighthawks, Nightjars
  • APODIFORMES: Swifts, Hummingbirds
  • CORACIIFORMES: Kingfishers, etc.
  • PICIFORMES: Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers
  • PASSERIFORMES (songbirds):
    • Flycatchers
    • Vireos
    • Jays
    • Swallows
    • Chickadees, Titmice
    • Creepers, Nuthatches
    • Wrens
    • Kinglets
    • Gnatcatchers
    • Thrushes
    • Thrashers, etc.
    • Starlings
    • Warblers
    • Tanagers
    • Sparrows, Buntings, juncos
    • Blackbirds, Grackles, Orioles
    • Finches, Grosbeaks

My background

When I was a young lad, my main interest in nature centered around rocks. Yes, rocks. I disdained my brother Chris's interest in birdwatching, but eventually gained a broader appreciation for nature in general during the 1980s when I began hiking and biking on a frequent basis. Then, during a cross-country trip to our grandma's funeral in 1996, my brother John enticed me into this hobby, calling our attention to indigo buntings, scissor-tailed flycatchers, and the like. I was hooked.

One of the particular aspects of my interests in birds is that it overlaps nicely with my interest in Latin America, since many of the migrating species that spend their summers up here go back south to the tropics during the winter. This includes many warblers, vireos, tanagers, hummingbirds, and thrushes, just for starters. North Americans' interest in wildlife conservation is now starting to take root in Latin America, and many people are trying to connect the issue of economic development and foreign debt relief with protecting the Amazon rain forest and other irreplaceable tropical habitats.

A related issue is shade-grown coffee, which is much less damaging to wintering birds, who thrive in diverse vegetation, but are threatened by monoculture plantations. Coffee drinkers (like me) need to put pressure on Folgers, Maxwell House, etc. to pay more attention to their coffee sources.

Most memorable experiences

(An asterisk means it was the first ever sighting of that species.)

  1. Jan 17, 2000 ~ Bald eagles *, Gavins Point Dam, NE. My father and I were taking a drive west of Yankton and I caught a glimpse of what I thought was an eagle on the ice of the Missouri River, and a few minutes later spotted another one in a tree. As we got closer we got great looks at two adults and two juvenile eagles; I was surprised they let me approach so closely. Awesome!
  2. Sep 30, 1996 ~ Ruby-crowned kinglet *, in back of 1904 JPA, Charlottesville, VA. I was just standing at the edge of the parking lost when this tiny little angel landed right at my feet! We looked at each other for several seconds before it flew away, and I amazed at its exquisite olive-green plumage, but didn't even know what it was until I consulted a field guide later.
  3. Jan 20, 2002 ~ Short-eared owl *, Bells Lane, Staunton, VA. Jacqueline and I were just driving along a country road and spotted what I thought was a hawk perched on a fence post up ahead. I soon realized that it was an owl, and we were able to get close enough to see its blazing yellow eyes before it flew off. I later learned that there was a group of these owls spending the winter in the area, and people came from miles around just to see them.
  4. Jun 29, 1997 ~ Barred owl *, Meadow Creek, Charlottesville, VA. Jacqueline and I were hiking in broad daylight, when we noticed this huge ominous raptor perched on a nearby tree. After a minute it got nervous and flew away. Yikes!
  5. May 23, 1999 ~ Wild turkeys, Ragged Mtn. Road, Charlottesville, VA. I was just walking along a gravel road in the woods when I came upon a mother turkey sitting on nest. I was no more than five feet away! She quickly flushed, and five or so nestlings scurried away into the bushes.
  6. Aug 24, 1998 ~ Western tanager *, Devil's Tower National Park, WY. Jacqueline and I were nearing the end of a 3-mile hike around that huge basalt monolith, when we saw a gorgeous yellow, red, and black bird at fairly close range. It was in a tree in the parking lot of the visitor's center.
  7. Aug 20, 1998 ~ Red-headed woodpecker, Clay County Park, SD. Jacqueline, my father, and I had just parked near the bank of the Missouri River and saw it land on a fence post only about 60 feet away from us. I remember seeing these spectacular birds many years ago when I was a kid, but they are quite rare in Virginia, and it was a big thrill to see one again. I saw several others in South Dakota over the next few days.
  8. Oct 28, 1996 ~ Cedar waxwings, in back of 1904 JPA, Charlottesville, VA. I remember these as one of my Dad's favorite birds when I was young. I had been for several months I had been trying in vain to find one of them, which can be hard since they migrate from one place to another very erratically, in search of berries. Finally, one day, I heard a lot of strange high-pitched whistling calls (hsee - hseee) in the trees, and soon saw at least two dozen of these elegant beauties.
  9. May 17, 1997 ~ Black-billed cuckoo *, Ashbourn Dr., Burke, VA. My niece Shary and I were going for a walk in the neighborhood and I noticed a strange long-tailed bird perched on top of a telephone pole. With my binoculars I could see it was brownish and had RED eyes! What?! I guessed correctly that it was a cuckoo, and later identified the species with my field guide; it is much less common in Virginia than the Yellow-billed cuckoo, and I haven't seen another one since then.
  10. May 18, 1997 ~ Canada warbler *, Royal Lake, Burke, VA. My niece Cathy and I were walking in the woods and I was ecstatic to spot a warbler with a bright yellow breast and an odd black "necklace." I didn't know what it was until later. It's quite uncommon and still one of my favorite warblers.