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Wild Bird Watching

A diary of birds I've observed, with occasional commentary on wildlife conservation issues, spiced up with photos of varying quality. Captions identifying the birds in these photo montages are found on the Wild Birds intro page.

Wild bird montage shadow
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January 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Christmas Bird Count 2015

CATCHING UP: For the first time since 2011 (but not recorded on my blog until June 11, 2012), I participated in the Christmas Bird Count this winter. It was held on Saturday, December 19, while I was in the middle of grading final exams, so I could only devote a couple hours to the "census." As usual, Allen Larner coordinated the count, and assigned me to two locations in Staunton. The first was Montgomery Hall Park, where I began in the early afternoon. I saw a fair number of birds, including quite a few woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, and Juncos, but nothing really noteworthy until I spotted a male Golden-crowned Kinglet, and lured him into close range by playing that species' song on my iPod. Bingo!

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet (male), in Montgomery Hall Park, December 19, 2015. Roll your mouse over the image to see the same bird displaying his bright orange crown feathers, as males do when they are courting females or warning other males away from their territory.

Later I headed over to Betsy Bell Hill, where I saw a couple Pileated Woodpeckers, a Raven, and most importantly, a Brown Creeper. At the dinner at which the bird count participants gathered to share their results that evening, I learned that I was the only one to observe a Brown Creeper that day. That made my efforts seem worthwhile, even though I only tallied 20 species altogether. Altogether, 76 species were seen or heard in this season's Augusta County Christmas Bird Count, plus four more during the count week. Here is my complete count, with subtotals for the two locations:

Species Montgomery Hall Park Betsy Bell Hill Total
Turkey Vulture 1 2 3
Mourning Dove 7 0 7
Red-bellied Woodpecker 6 3 9
Downy Woodpecker 5 1 6
Hairy Woodpecker 2 0 2
Northern Flicker 0 1 1
Pileated Woodpecker 0 2 2
American Crow 3 0 3
Common Raven 0 1 1
Carolina Chickadee 9 2 11
Tufted Titmouse 3 2 5
Brown Creeper 0 1 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 4 2 6
Carolina Wren 5 4 9
Golden-crowned Kinglet 1 0 1
American Robin 3 1 4
European Starling 20 0 20
White-throated Sparrow 8 0 8
Dark-eyed Junco 14 0 14
Northern Cardinal 11 0 11
TOTAL # OF SPECIES: 20 102 22 124

January 17, 2016 [LINK / comment]

ABC field trip to Highland (& Bath!) County

Yesterday I joined Allen Larner and John Pancake on the Augusta Bird Club's semi-annual field trip to Highland County. The weather was chilly and breezy, with occasional sleet or drizzle, frequently shifting between overcast and partly sunny skies. Those rough conditions probably accounted for the absence of any hoped-for Golden Eagles, although we did come across many Ravens and Juncos in several locations, as well as a nice mixture of songbirds at various backyard feeders. Overall, however, it was a big disappointment.

So, late in the morning we gave up on Highland County and headed south to Bath County, where things immediately got busy. At some ponds along Route 220, we saw several Hooded Merganser and about 100 Ring-necked Ducks, along with several other species. Driving along Back Creek toward the reservoir, we finally saw some Bald Eagles. Approaching Lake Moomaw, we were startled by a Ruffed Grouse which flushed just a few feet away from the car. Once we arrived at the lake, we were even more surprised to see a Double-crested Cormorant, far from its normal wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast. Along the upstream portion of the lake we saw two groups of Common Mergansers, numbering eleven altogether. There were quite a few woodpeckers and songbirds in the trees and bushes in that area, most notably a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Fox Sparrow. All those sightings made the venture quite worthwhile.

On the way back to Staunton, we checked out the Swoope area, hoping (in vain) to find some Short-eared Owls. We did see a pair of Bald Eagles near Smith Pond, however, presumably the same ones which have raised young ones there in recent years.

The following list (not necessarily complete) includes 44 species altogether, four of which were heard only. Many thanks to Allen Larner for leading this trip!

  • Canada Goose
  • American Wigeon
  • American Black Duck
  • Mallard
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • Bufflehead
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Common Merganser
  • Ruffed Grouse
  • Horned Grebe
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Bald Eagle
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • American Kestrel
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Mourning Dove
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Northern Flicker
  • Pileated Woodpecker*
  • Blue Jay
  • American Crow
  • Common Raven
  • Carolina Chickadee
  • Black-capped Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Carolina Wren*
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet*
  • Eastern Bluebird*
  • European Starling
  • Fox Sparrow
  • White-throated Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed Junco
  • Northern Cardinal
  • House Finch
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Goldfinch
  • House Sparrow

* = Heard only.

Montage 16 Jan 2016

Clockwise from top left: Goldfinch, Red-tailed Hawk (J), White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Merganasers (M), Ring-necked Ducks (M & F), Pine Siskin, Bald Eagles (M & F), Double-crested Cormorant, Fox Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, and in center, Hooded Merganser (M).

Enlarged versions of most of the photos in the montage above can be seen on the Wild Birds, yearly photo gallery page.

tiny tanager

Favorite warblers
(already seen):

  1. Chestnut-sided warbler
  2. Magnolia warbler
  3. Prothonotary warbler
  4. Blackburnian warbler
  5. Yellow warbler
  6. Northern parula
  7. Black-throated green warbler
  8. Canada warbler
  9. Common yellowthroat
  10. American redstart

Yet-unseen warblers:
(eastern species)

  • Blue-winged warbler
  • Kirtland's warbler
  • Swainson's warbler
  • Bachman's warbler (extinct?)

Yet-unseen warblers:
(western & semitropical)

  • Virginia's warbler
  • Lucy's warbler
  • Colima warbler
  • Crescent-chested warbler
  • Tropical parula
  • Black-throated gray warbler
  • Golden-cheeked warbler
  • Townsend's warbler
  • Hermit warbler
  • Grace's warbler
  • MacGillivray's warbler
  • Bahama yellowthroat
  • Belding's yellowthroat
  • Gray-crowned yellowthroat
  • Bahama yellowthroat
  • Red-faced warbler
  • Painted redstart
  • Slate-throated redstart
  • Fan-tailed warbler
  • Golden-crowned warbler

"Abundant" birds
(ones I normally don't bother counting):

  • European starlings
  • House sparrows
  • Cardinals
  • Tufted timice
  • Carolina chickadees
  • Carolina wrens *
  • Song sparrows
  • House finches *
  • Gray catbirds *
  • Mockingbirds
  • American robins *
  • Blue jays
  • Common grackles *
  • American crows
  • Fish crows *
  • Turkey vultures
  • Canada geese
  • Mallards

  • * Sometimes less common