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A diary of birds I've observed, spiced up with photos and occasional commentary. Clockwise from top left: Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Gallinule, Summer Tanager, Gray Hawk, Virginia Rail, and (in center) Magnolia Warbler.

Wild bird montage shadow
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Captions identifying the birds in these photo montages are found on the Wild Birds intro page.


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March 20, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in Peru

For the first time in a dozen years (!), I traveled to Latin America last month, and one of my main objectives was to look for (and hopefully photograph) tropical and neotropical birds. I was originally going to write a single blog post about my birding adventures in all three parts of Latin America that I visited -- Peru, Colombia, and Florida -- but I saw so much in Peru alone that just describing that is more than enough. Almost all of my birding activity took place in four locations: the suburb of Ventanilla (north of Lima), the Ventanilla Wetlands, the residential district of Surco in southeastern Lima, and the Pantanos de Villa, on the south edge of the Lima metropolitan area. I'll get to summarizing the birds I saw in Colombia and Florida over the next couple days...

Feb. 20: Ventanilla (I)

Not arriving at the Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima until after midnight, I got a slow start the next morning. I was staying in the Jacobs' family home where Jacqueline grew up in the burgeoning suburb of Ventanilla, which is located about 10 miles north of Lima. (Jacqueline returned from Peru on the same day that I went there, and we saw each other briefly at Dulles Airport while I was in line getting my boarding pass.) A quick stroll outside gave me good looks at West Peruvian Doves, Croaking Ground Doves (which make a bizarre-sounding call), a Blue-black Grassquit, and an Amazilia Hummingbird. Those are among the most common "yard birds" in most of the Lima metropolitan area, and I saw all of them on my previous visit to Peru in 2004.

Late in the morning, my brother-in-law Roberto took me on a ride to the beach in Ventanilla, a.k.a. the "Costa Azul." It's a popular local resort destination, only about three miles from the Jacobs' house. On the way, we stopped at the Humedales (Wetlands) de Ventanilla, which for me was really the primary destination. (I will post photos of the locations I visited in Peru tomorrow.) I had been to those wetlands with Jacqueline in 2004, and I was delighted that not only has the precious natural habitat been preserved in the face of intensive residential and commercial development, but the facilities has been substantially upgraded. Comprising at least ten city blocks in area, it consists of a large lagoon bordered by marshes and scrub land.

My first glimpse of the lagoon left me astonished and gleeful: There were several hundred birds on the water, mostly Franklin's Gulls but also many Black Skimmers, White-cheeked Pintails**, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers such as Greater Yellowlegs. There were also a few Cinnamon Teals, Common Moorhens (now called Common Gallinules), Gray-hooded Gulls**, and a Great Egret. Roberto and I walked part-ways around the lagoon in a clockwise direction, but we didn't see anything in the marshes on the north side other than a possible Drab Seedeater.

Next we drove to the beach itself, another mile and a half from the wetlands. It was the first time since 2005 (Costa Rica) that I had been to the Pacific Ocean! Almost immediately, I saw one of my main target species, the American Oystercatcher. There were several Semipalmated Plovers as well. Flocks of gulls (mostly Franklin's) patrolled up and down the shoreline in search of food, accompanied by Neotropical Cormorants and Peruvian Boobies. Finally, we stopped at a lagoon just inland from the beach and saw over a thousand Franklin's Gulls, many more Black Skimmers, as well as several Stilt Sandpipers** and a group of odd birds swimming in a circular motion; I soon deduced that they were Wilson's Phalaropes. Not bad for the first day!

** Double asterisks will denote "life birds" (those I saw for the very first time) in this blog post, and in the blog posts about Colombia and Florida to follow.

Montage 20 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cinnamon Teal, American Oystercatcher, Franklin's Gull, (Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Moorhen), West Peruvian Dove, Neotropical Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, (White-cheeked Pintails, Gray-hooded Gull, Black Skimmer).
(Parentheses around multi-species images.) At the Ventanilla Wetlands and beach.

Feb. 21: Ventanilla (II)

Early the next morning, Roberto took me on a vigorous hike to the top of the steep ridge that borders Ventanilla on the south. I had climbed that ridge twice before, but my tender feet weren't ready for the severe pressure, and I was left with blisters that plagued me for the next two weeks. But the views of Ventanilla were spectacular, especially after the sun rose high enough to lighten the neighborhoods below. It was getting pretty warm by 8:00, which is when we returned. After resting a while, I walked around the neighborhood in Ventanilla and came across some more "yard birds." (In reality, few people in Peru have actual yards beyond a small garden.) I was delighted to see several Vermilion Flycatchers, Hooded Siskins (including young birds being fed), Blue-gray Tanagers, and others.

Montage 21 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Siskin (M), Amazilia Hummingbird, Blue-black Grassquit (M), Croaking Ground Dove, Blue-gray Tanager, and both male and female Vermilion Flycatchers. In parks and neighborhoods of Ventanilla.

Feb. 23: Villa Marshes (I)

I took it easy the next day, and stayed inside for the most part. (My original plan had been to drive south to the city of Pisco, about three hours away, and then go to the Paracas Nature Reserve in search of Humboldt's Penguins, various seabirds, seals, and other wildlife. There was a snafu with the car rental arrangements, however, and that venture had to be cancelled. It was a big disappointment, but I made up for it pretty well.) On Thursday, Feb. 23, I went with Roberto on a long drive across Lima to his house in the district of Surco, on the southeast side of the city. It had rained during the night, which was quite a surprise since it hardly ever rains in Lima, and he had to sweep up water from the top floor. En route, we stopped at some of the beaches in the Miraflores and Chorrillos, where I saw several Peruvian Pelicans. At a historic restaurant called Salto del Fraile further south, I saw several Inca Terns** swooping over the waves. At Roberto's home I saw a brown bird out the back window, and later figured out it was a Long-tailed Mockingbird.** At a neighborhood park across the street I saw a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet**, Saffron Finches**, Blue-gray Tanagers, and Vermilion Flycatchers, most of which were a dark morph that occurs in Peru. (NOTE: I had seen a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet in Arizona in June 2014.)

I was unaware of Roberto's plans, but was all too happy when he asked if I wanted to go to the Villa Marshes ("Pantanos de Villa"), about four miles to the south. That was one of the best birding locations when Jacqueline and I visited Peru in 2004, and just like with the Ventanilla Wetlands, I was impressed with the improvements to the nature preserve. After paying for entry (about $4 for foreigners), we walked to one of the observation towers. Black Vultures were everewhere, along with various white egrets, etc. In my first up-close peek at the marshy shore, I saw Least Bittern** and Least Sandpiper, as well as a medium-large dark bird with a long beak. In the distance I saw a large pink bird that was probably a Roseate Spoonbill or else a Flamingo; two weeks later I saw many Roseate Spoonbills in Florida. Cinnamon Teals, Spotted Sandpipers, Andean Duck, Pied-billed Grebes, Great Grebes**, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Andean Coots. It was much more varied, bird-wise than the 2004 visit.

After returning to the entry station, I realized that there was another trail through the marshes, so we walked on that. I was soon overwhelmed by the up-close views of many wonderful species, including a Plumbeous Rail** that was only 25 or so feet away! I also saw several Many-colored Rush Tyrants,** but my camera battery died and I could only get a couple mediocre shots of them. (If I had known where we were going, I would have brought the backup battery.) Finally, we drove out to the lagoon near the beach, where I was amazed to see hundreds more gulls, terns, and more. I was extremely frustrated not to have my second battery with me, and therefore not able to take photos, so I resolved to return to the location on a future date.

Montage 23 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Peruvian Pelican, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Band-tailed Gull, Black-crowned Night Heron, Gray-hooded Gull, Great Egret, and in center, Long-tailed Mockingbird. Along beaches of southern Lima, in the district of Surco, and in the Pantanos de Villa.

Feb. 25: Ventanilla (III)

Two days later, while Roberto drove back to Surco, I embarked on a solo venture to the Ventanilla Wetlands. I was hoping to see Many-colored Rush Tyrants (which were supposed to be present), or at least get better photos of other birds I had seen there before. I succeeded in the second objective, but not the first. After devoting more than an hour, I departed and headed west on foot, in the direction of the coast. Most of the land from the Ventanilla Wetlands to the coast is marshy, but development continually encroaches upon unprotected land. It didn't take long before I saw two life birds: a Harris's Hawk** and a Scrub Blackbird.** Those sightings encouraged me to continue walking, almost all the way to the beach, even though it was another blazing hot day and I was getting dehydrated. At the lagoon near the beach I saw several Wilson's Phalaropes, Black-necked Stilts, and various sandpipers, as well as a Great Egret. I heard some kind of bird in the bushes out in the marshy scrub land, but never did see it. I did see (and photograph) some nice white-and-orange butterflies out there, however.

Montage 25 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Andean Coot, Common Moorhen, Harris's Hawk, Black Skimmer, Wilson's Phalarope, Greater Yellowlegs, Black-necked Stilt, and in center, Scrub Blackbird. In and near the Ventanilla Wetlands.

Feb. 27: Villa Marshes (II)

On the next day, Feb. 26, I was back in Surco, and saw a goodly number of nice "yard birds" in neighborhood parks. For the most part, however, they were the same ones I had seen there three days earliers, so I didn't bother to make a photo montage for that day. However, there was one "new" bird that was a high priority for me: the Bananaquit! I had seen a few in Peru in 2004, and several of them in Costa Rica in 2005, and was beginning to worry whether I would see any at all during this trip. "No problemo!"

On Monday, Feb. 27, I persuaded Roberto to take me back to Villa Marshes, and I am lucky that he was so willing to accommodate me. (I should mention that flood damage to the Central Highway east of Lima forced me to abandon another of my planned side trips, to the Zarate Forest near the town of Chosica. Many exotic tropical songbirds and hummingbirds reside in that area.) Soon after arriving, I got some good photos of a Great Grebe, Pied-billed Grebes, and a juvenile Harris's Hawk. There were several Snowy Egrets at various places, but it was hard to get good photos of them. I spent a lot of time tracking down some small birds in the marshes, and I finally got some good photos of them: Grassland Yellow Finches.** I also had great views of Striated Herons** and brief glimpses of Many-colored Rush Tyrants.

Then we drove toward the beach, and at the same lagoon we had visited four days earlier, I saw Ruddy Turnstones, Elegant Terns,** Killdeers, Peruvian Pelicans, Franklin's Gulls, Spotted Sandpipers, Puna Ibises,** and Little Blue Herons. At the beach itself, there were some American Oystercatchers and hundreds more Franklin's Gulls, plus hundreds of Neotropical Cormorants and other seabirds flying parallel to the coast. Just as we were about to go, I spotted some songbirds flying into some nearby bushes, and before long had photographed Yellow-hooded Blackbirds** (related to but apparently distinct from Yellow-headed Blackbirds) -- another life bird! We stopped at the marsh trail one last time on the way out, and I was astounded to spot a Least Bittern barely ten feet away from me, and got some fantastic photos of it. After all the frustrations, I was fortunate at last. Soon thereafter, I also got some decent photos of Many-colored Rush Tyrants -- another small triumph! As we were leaving the Pantanos de Villa, I had a brief view of a Cormorant with a whitish front, and I am almost certain that it was a Guanay Cormorant**!

Montage 27 Feb 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-hooded Blackbird, Least Bittern (less than ten feet away!), Great Egret, Striated Heron, Harris's Hawk, Ruddy Turnstones. In the Pantanos de Villa.

My last full day in Lima, Feb. 28, was spent doing normal "tourist" things (such as shopping) in downtown Lima, but I did get a decent photo of a Blue-and-white Swallow on a wire. (It was the first time during that trip that I had seen a member of that species perch!) Then as I was heading to the airport on the morning of March 1, I spotted an odd-looking medium-size black bird with a big beak. I asked Roberto to pull over so that I could get a better look, and I'm glad I did: It was a Groove-billed Ani**, my 23rd and final life bird in Peru for this trip! A complete set of photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. In the near future, I will probably create a new bird photo gallery page just for this trip. Also, I took video clips of some of the birds, such as the amusing Wilson's Phalaropes, and may post some of them on YouTube in the near future.

Life birds in Peru

Overall, my trip to Peru was a fairly successful in terms of birds. It is striking how many birds I saw in Peru that I also saw in Arizona three years ago; obviously the desert climate is similar. How many more species would I have seen if my plans to visit Paracas or Zarate had panned out? Maybe I'll get to those places next time. Anyway, here is my provisional list of birds that I saw for the first time during my trip to Peru. It does not include species (such as Peruvian Pelicans) that I failed to list from my 2004 trip, or species that I had misidentified previously. My guide for identifying bird species in Peru was 100 Aves de Lima y Alrededores, by Alejandro Tabini and Juan Pedro Paz-Solda (Lima: Wust Ediciones, 2007). It is an excellent reference book, with fine photographs and much technical information.

  1. White-cheeked Pintail
  2. Southern Beardless Tyrannulet
  3. Gray-hooded Gull
  4. Stilt Sandpiper
  5. Inca Tern
  6. Long-tailed Mockingbird
  7. Elegant Tern
  8. Shiny Cowbirds
  9. Saffron Finch
  10. Great Grebe
  11. Least Bittern
  12. Plumbeous Rail
  13. Grassland Yellow Finch
  14. Striated Heron
  15. Puna Ibis
  16. Wren-like Rush Bird
  17. Many-colored Rush Tyrant
  18. Harris's Hawk
  19. Scrub Blackbird
  20. Andean Duck
  21. Yellow-hooded Blackbird
  22. Guanay Cormorant
  23. Groove-billed Ani

My Life bird list page has been updated accordingly, and will be further updated (and corrected, if necessary) in the days and weeks to come.

Virginia raptors

FOOTNOTE: On my way up to Dulles Airport on February 19, I counted 17 Red-tailed Hawks, 5 American Kestrels, 2 Bald Eagles, and 2 Red-shouldered Hawks. They were along I-81 and I-66.


January 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Mont... Highland County!

I was going to lead a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to Montgomery Hall Park this morning, but -- once again -- nobody else showed up! So, I quickly changed plans and hurried west to Highland County, where Allen Larner was leading a field trip that was originally scheduled for January 7. I only stopped briefly at the Confederate Breastworks (at the top of the mountain ridge which defines the county line), getting a nice view of the thick layer of fog that blanketed the lowlands. Then I proceeded directly to the house across from Snowy Mountain where Margaret O'Bryan used to live, where we always visit. I was guessing that was where the group would be, but as it turned out I arrived first. The skies turned sunny, and I was excited to see three Bald Eagles about a quarter mile away. After 20 minutes or so, I headed south and soon found the other two carload of birders. So returned to the place I had just visited, and thanks to Allen Larner's "eagle eyes," I saw a Golden Eagle almost a mile away. We both saw a probably Golden Eagle on the way back south, but I couldn't get a photo of it. (Arghh!) We then drove around looking for Snipes, to no avail, and after that searched for Rough-legged Hawks, likewise without result. We did see a few good birds here and there, including a noisy Kestrel circling overhead.

After a rest stop in Monterrey, Allen and two other birders headed south to Lake Moomaw in Bath County, while I headed back to Staunton. (I had scheduled a field trip to Lake Moomaw for Saturday, December 10, but had to cancel it because of freezing temperatures.) On the way back to Staunton I made brief stops near a wildlife preserve southwest of the town of Headwaters, at Confederate Breastworks (again), and at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see hardly any birds. Overall, it was kind of a mediocre day, bird-wise.

Montage 21 Jan 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-capped Chickadee, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel (M), Downy Woodpecker (F), and American Goldfinch.

One day earlier (Friday, which was Inauguration Day!), I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, where I had seen several Hooded Merganser the week before. The sun was finally shining after several days of gloom and doom, and I was hoping to get a better photo of those stunning ducks. After a minute, I spotted them, and got some nice photos after a few of them swam in my direction. Now if I could only get within 20 yards rather than 40 yards...

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser, in Verona on Friday. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.


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

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.

Montage 12 Jan 2017 - ducks

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.

Montage 16 Jan 2017 - ducks

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!

Greater White-fronted Goose

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, Blue Ridge

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.



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)


Yet-unseen warblers:
(western & semitropical)


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