January 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Finally: Short-eared Owls!
Late this afternoon, I drove out to Bell's Lane once again in hopes of seeing Short-eared Owls, and wouldn't you know it, I finally got lucky! As I was approaching the high point where we saw those owls on December 17 (the Christmas Bird Count), I saw two large birds flying in the distance with distinctive swooping wing beats. Could it be? A quick look through the binoculars left no doubt: YES! One of them landed on a bare branch at the top of a tree, joining another that was already there, while the third one flew away. I stopped my car and took several photos from about 80 yards away, and then slowly moved forward to get in better photographic position a couple more times until I was only about 30 yards away. It was about 5:00, with daylight fading fast, so the photos I took weren't as sharp as I would have liked, but still much better than any of that species that I had taken before. One of them flew off, but the photos I took in mid-flight were poor quality. Nonetheless, I was gratified that my persistence finally paid off. It was also very opportune, as I was able to show those photos to other members of the Augusta Bird Club at the monthly "Birds and Brews" social hour less than an hour later!
It was almost four years ago (February 18, 2013) that I last got a good look at (and photo of) a Short-eared Owl, in the Swoope area.
Short-eared Owl, along Bell's Lane today. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Ducks on the (unfrozen) pond
The arctic blast we had a few days ago had a nice side-effect for birders, forcing many ducks to congregate in larger ponds that did not freeze over. One such pond is in the former quarry south of Fishersville, so I headed over there last Thursday after seeing reports of many different duck species there. Even though they were far away (about 200 yards), it was still nice seeing the boldly colored (and aptly named) Redheads. Also present were several American Wigeons and Ring-necked Ducks, plus a few American Coots and several dozen Canada Geese.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Wigeons (M & F), Ring-necked Ducks (3 M, 1 F), Mallard (M), Redheads (M), Canada Goose, American Coot, and in center, American Kestrel (F).
Yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, and I was surprised to see several Hooded Mergansers there, along with a Great Blue Heron. On the way home, I spotted an American Kestrel along Bell's Lane, but the photos I took were obscured by tree branches. This afternoon, I photographed a White-breasted Nuthatch out back, and then a Red-tailed Hawk at the intersection of Route 11 and Bell's Lane. I was headed there in search of Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls, but struck out once again.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Mergansers (3 F, 1 M). Enlarged photos of all four species in this montage can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
January 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Greater White-fronted Geese!
Bird-wise, it was definitely a Happy New Year's Day for me! Thanks to an e-mail alert from Shannon Updike, and some assistance from Diane Lepkowski who arrived soon after I did, I was able to see and photograph the Greater White Fronted Geese yesterday. It was the best view I ever had! (I saw several of them on Bell's Lane last February 2, about 200 yards away.) Yesterday's birds were on a pond behind (Sentara) Rockingham Memorial Hospital, east of Harrisonburg, part of a flock of nearly 100 Canada Geese and a couple dozen Mallards. Also present were two Snow Geese, one Bufflehead (female), and an American Coot. I didn't see the Cackling Goose that was reported there, however.
Then on the way back to Staunton, I checked out Strickley Road for a third time (!), hoping to get a better view of the Snow Bunting than I had last week. The field seemed utterly empty, unfortunately, but after lengthy, careful scanning, I eventually noticed a few Horned Larks quietly foraging, and then a few more. That got my hopes up, and finally I spotted the the Snow Bunting. It was still too far away for a good photograph, so I may have to go back there once again!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, American Coot, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead (F), and in center, Horned Lark. (Roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the Greater White-fronted Goose.)
The Red-tailed Hawk shown above was perched in a tree along Route 11 on the north edge of Staunton, as I was leaving town. One second later, it flew away! The Great Blue Heron was on Bell's Lane, where I stopped on the way home to look (in vain) for the Short-eared Owls just before dusk. [Enlarged versions of those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.]
Strickley Road, with the Blue Ridge in the background. (Madison Run Gap is on the right.) The brownish field to the right of the road is where the Snow Bunting and Horned Larks have been seen.
On a side note, I thought it was odd that I saw two "snow birds" (Snow Bunting and Snow Goose) yesterday, after having seen two "horned birds" (Horned Lark and Horned Grebe) on the same day last week.
December 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Another BIG year of bird photography
As the otherwise mostly awful year of 2016 comes to a close, I thought it would be fitting to present the highlights of the year in birding, more specifically, bird photography. So I reviewed my wild bird blog posts for the year, and tried to pick out the very best photos from each one. It was such a good year for me, bird-wise, that even after weeding out the not-so-great photos, I was still left with 21 photos, plus montages. I was so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College last year that I didn't have time to post a summary of my autumn 2015 birding until February 6 of this year. I have had much more free time since May, and I made the most of it.
Today, the final day of 2016, I went back to Strickley Road northeast of New Hope, in hopes of getting a better photo of the Snow Bunting, which I first saw five days ago. It wasn't there, unfortunately, but thanks to two birders from Rockingham County (Greg Moyers and Diane Lepkowski), I saw another very special bird instead: a Merlin! It is displayed as the very last entry below.
Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20. NOTE: This photo appeared in the June/July annual photography issue of Virginia Wildlife magazine.
March 26, 2016: Field trip to Chimney Hollow
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male), Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper (rotated to fit), and Red-breasted Nuthatch, in Chimney Hollow, March 26.
April 30, 2016: Migration season reaches peak
Cape May Warbler (male), at Cook's Creek Arboretum, in Bridgewater, April 30.
May 7, 2016: More migrants visit Bell's Lane
White-eyed Vireo, on Bell's Lane, May 2.
May 21, 2016: ABC field trip to Reddish Knob
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruffed Grouse, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Red Crossbill, and in center, American Redstart. (Roll mouse over to see the juvenile Ruffed Grouse.)
June 7, 2016: ABC field trip to Highland County
Mourning Warbler, on Sapling Ridge, Highland County, June 4, 2016.
June 9, 2016: FOD Prothonotary Warblers!
Prothonotary Warbler, at the Dutch Gap conservation area near Richmond, June 8.
July 1, 2016: Birding in Huntley "Meadows"
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron. .
July 3, 2016: Kentucky Warblers, and more!
Kentucky Warbler, Hightop Mountain trail head, Shenandoah National Park, July 2.
July 8, 2016: Soras breeding in the Valley!
Sora, Nazarene Church Road wetlands, Rockingham County, July 8. (Roll mouse over to see one of the juveniles.)
White Ibis, on the North River in Bridgewater, August 10.
Mississippi Kite (juvenile), in the north part of Staunton, August 19.
August 27, 2016: Common Gallinule at Willow Lake
Common Gallinule, at Willow Lake, August 27.
Philadelphia Vireo, McCormick's Farm, September 14.
NOTE: A question was raised about the species identification, since Philadelphia Vireos are similar to Warbling Vireos, which are known to breed in that location. Fortunately, this photo confirms all of the distinguishing field marks from montereybay.com:
- has bright yellow underparts with the brightest and most intense yellow on the throat and center of the breast, and
- has a prominent dark line between the eye and the bill that was thicker near the eye, and
- has a gray crown and green back contrast, and
- shows a 'different' or 'cute' facial look than Warbling because the supercilium wasn't so long and flared, and
- has a short tail and looks 'compact' compared to your experience with Warbling, and
- the date and locale make sense
September 27, 2016: Lucky! 13 warblers on Betsy Bell Hill
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Tennessee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warblers (F & M), and in center, Nashville Warbler.
American Golden Plovers, at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Rockingham County, September 29.
October 5, 2016 Shenandoah National Park birding (II)
American Pipit, at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, October 4.
October 30, 2016: Sandhill Cranes still lingering
Sandhill Crane, north of Fishersville, October 26.
November 4, 2016: New month arrives, & new birds too
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with an aphid in its beak, in Staunton, November 4.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Horned Grebe.* (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Horned Lark and Snow Bunting.)
* All birds were northeast or southeast of New Hope, except for the one marked with an asterisk, which was in Waynesboro.
December 31, 2016 Another BIG year of bird photography
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel, Merlin, Belted Kingfisher (F)*, Eastern Bluebird (M), Great Blue Heron*, American Coot*, and in center, Hooded Merganser (M)*. (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Merlin.)
* The raptors and Bluebird were northeast of New Hope; birds marked with asterisks were in Waynesboro.
December 26, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Life bird: Snow Bunting!
Thanks to e-mail alerts from Baxter Beamer and Gabriel Mapel, two young birders in our area, I was able to see a Snow Bunting today: my 463rd life bird! This species breeds in far northern Canada and only rarely ventures this far south during the winter months. In spite of the gloomy skies, early this afternoon I drove up to the designated location, a couple miles northeast of New Hope. While en route, I saw an American Kestrel but failed to get a photo. Soon after arriving (at the intersection of Strickley Road and Custard Lane), I heard some odd peeps up above. Eventually I saw a large flock of Horned Larks that kept moving around the pasture in sudden "bursts" whenever the cows approached. There must have been at least 50 of the latter, and some of them flew right overhead, quite close by. I did not see the Lapland Longspur that was also reported there, however.
A couple miles south of there, I spotted at least 20 American Pipits in an adjacent field. While on that road (Route 865) on the way to Waynesboro, I also saw an immature Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Red-shouldered Hawk which was oddly perched on the ground before it flew up into a tree. Once in Waynesboro I headed to the Invista Pond, where I spotted a Horned Grebe; it was the very same place where I had seen one in March 2015, in a transitional molt to breeding plumage. There were also three American Coots and a Belted Kingfisher. Quite a big day after Christmas!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Horned Grebe. Roll your mouse over the image to see a the front side of the Snow Bunting. Other larger-sized photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
My Life bird list page has been duly updated. I only saw two new species this year.