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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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Bird photos

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April 30, 2015 [LINK / comment]

Spring migrating bird arrivals

I haven't had much time to enjoy the outdoors this spring, but I try to take advantage of the opportunities that arise from teaching at various colleges.* On Tuesday after class at Bridgewater College, I went over to Wildwood Park, about a mile to the northwest, and was pleased to come across two local birders. Within a few minutes, I spotted something in the bushes, and soon determined it to be a male Prairie Warbler. After stalking him for a few minutes, I finally got some nice closeup photos.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler (male), in Bridgewater, April 28.

I continued walking along the North River, and saw an Osprey circling overhead. Fortunately, it landed at the top of a dead tree, so I was able to get a decent photo of it as well:


Osprey, in Bridgewater, April 28.

Other notable sightings at that park included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Baltimore Oriole, and Black-throated Green Warbler. On the way home, I stopped at Bell's Lane, and saw a Yellow Warbler, as well as another Osprey. And that was on top of my morning walk along the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail, where I saw some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Yellow-rumped Warbler, plus a flock of 20 or so Black Vultures circling overhead. Finally, in our back yard there have been quite a few Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and a few Purple Finches. The latter two species were unusually scarce over the winter. Some of those can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

On April 21 (Tuesday), Jacqueline and I went for a morning walk on Bell's Lane, and I heard a strange song up in the trees. Soon I spotted what I thought might be a Catbird, but it turned out to be a male Orchard Oriole. Nice!

* I haven't seen many birds at Sweet Briar College yet, but I'm hoping I'll have better luck in the next couple weeks before the semester ends. Barring a miracle of some sort, Sweet Briar will close its doors permanently this summer, a terrible tragedy. More on that soon...

Annual arrival page update

In the above paragraphs, the birds shown in bold face were the first ones I have seen this year. I am in the midst of a long-overdue updating of the Annual arrival page.

March 31, 2015 [LINK / comment]

Horned Grebe -- at last!

I noticed on the shenvalbirds e-mail listserv that someone had spotted a Horned Grebe on Lake Shenandoah recently, so I went over there after my class this afternoon. Sure enough, within a few minutes, there it was, and I was able to get close enough for a so-so photo before it dove underwater and disappeared. I waited, and looked all around the lake, but that bird was nowhere to be seen. Finally, about ten minutes later, I spotted it again, within a few feet of the shore. I got much better photos that time, including a couple in which the Grebe is devouring a crayfish it had just caught. Just like a miniature lobster -- yum!

It was overcast this afternoon, so the photo conditions were mediocre. I may give it another try if we get a sunny day in the next week or so. I have only seen Horned Grebes once or twice in my life (perhaps not since 2002), and it would be great if this bird stays in Lake Shenandoah long enough for it to change into its full breeding plumage, which is spectacular. This one was in a transition stage between winter plumage and breeding plumage.

It was my first visit to that lake in several months. I noticed that they recently built a new trail made out of crushed stone for the first hundred yards along the lake, replacing the dangerous, narrow dirt trail. The lake is managed by the Virginia Department of Games and Inland Fisheries, and a fishing permit or visitor's permit is required to enter.

Candlestick Park

Horned Grebe. (Click on the image to see it eating a crayfish.)

I also saw my first Tree Swallows of the year flying over the lake, as well as a Pied-Bill Grebe and a Ring-billed Gull. Yesterday I saw a Chipping Sparrow out back for the first time this year.

March 10, 2015 [LINK / comment]

In pursuit of elusive wild birds

Jacqueline and I took advantage of the beautiful weather on Sunday by taking a drive up north a ways. I was looking for birds, and she was just enjoying getting outside. The first stop was the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport, where I was hoping to get another look and/or photo of the Smith's Longspur, which I first saw on February 26. Others saw it there yesterday, but not us. We did get some nice closeup looks at Horned Larks, however, a species which Jacqueline had not seen before. Then we went to Bridgewater, where some Common Mergansers have been seen on the North River recently. It took a while, and finally I spotted several of them, but they were nearly 100 yards away, so the photos weren't that good. We drove back and forth between three different riverside parks in Bridgewater, but those darned Mergansers just kept eluding us.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was seeing several Common Grackles, which are supposedly year-round residents in Virginia, but are hardly ever seen during the winter. It was the first such sighting of the year for me, a definite sign that spring is drawing near! Here is a summary of the birds we saw yesterday:

  • Eastern Meadowlarks
  • Horned Larks
  • Muscovy Duck (escaped domesticated)
  • Common Mergansers
  • Northern Pintail (male)
  • Pied-bill Grebes
  • American Coots
  • Mallards
  • Canada Geese
  • Common Grackles (FOY)
  • Goldfinches
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • House Finches
  • Robins, Blue Jays, Juncos, etc.
Common Merganser, male

Common Merganser (male), on the North River in Bridgewater.

Other new photos are on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page. Today I took some great closeup photos of a male Pileated Woodpecker in our back yard (quite unusual), but haven't transferred them to the computer yet. Stay tuned!

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