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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 16, 2015 [LINK / comment]

Pintail in Bridgewater

Jacqueline and I drove up to Bridgewater yesterday, and we stopped at the North River to see if any of the interesting waterfowl reported there recently were present. There were just the usual Mallards, plus some Coots and Pied-bill Grebes the first time we stopped there, but as we were crossing the bridge on the way back home, I caught a glimpse of a Northern Pintail and yelled "STOP!" I got out of the car, walked back over to the bridge, which has sidewalks for pedestrians. I managed to get close enough to get some very nice photos, which made my day. At Silver Lake in nearby Dayton, there were a dozen or more Gadwalls, some Redheads, a Canvasback, a Mute Swan, and all the usual Mallards and Canada Geese.

Northern Pintails are elegant birds that are more abundant in western states. They are "dabbling ducks," like Mallards, and are related to Gadwalls. When I took that photo, I didn't realize that it was in breeding plumage, an added bonus. Their non-breeding plumage is rather dull, as is the case with many other birds.

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail (male), in Bridgewater, January 15.

The above photo and others can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page. I thought the Pintail might have been a life bird for me, since I knew I hadn't seen that species in years. In fact, the last two times were January 2009 and February 2007, on the (private) farm pond on Bell's Lane in both cases.

Other recent bird outings

Jacqueline and I celebrated New Year's Day by taking a drive through the countryside, passing through Waynesboro along the way. The highlight of the day was at the Eagles Nest Airport pond west of Waynesboro, where we saw a male Canvasback and a pair of Ruddy Ducks. Otherwise, not much going on.

Canvasback

Canvasback (male), Eagles Nest Airport pond, January 1.

On Christmas Day, Jacqueline and I went looking for a Cackling Goose that had been reported on Heston's Pond south of Waynesboro, to no avail. But we did see a few Hooded Mergansers on the Invista (formerly DuPont) pond in Waynesboro. There wasn't much activity in the Bell's Lane area in December, but that may reflect my busy exam schedule and being "under the weather" for about a week. I saw a Northern Harrier on Bell's Lane on December 8 and 21, but none since then. On December 5 I went to Lake Shenandoah, and saw a pair of Common Loons, as well as some Coots and a Kestrel. The previous day I went to the water treatment pond in Stuarts Draft, and some several Ruddy Ducks, a Coot, and a Kestrel. On December 1 I drove out to Swoope in hopes of seeing unusual sparrows, but failed in that endeavor. I did see an adult Bald Eagle, however, as well as some Kestrels. And finally, on November 25, the day after my last blog post about birds, I saw several Kinglets of both species, and got a nice photo of Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Life bird list recount

At the end of my November 24 blog post, I noted that I had already tied my second-best year in terms of seeing new birds: 1997, when I saw 47 (including one in Peru). I was hoping to do one better, but as noted above I was too busy (or sick) in December to do much birding. Just today I went over my records again, and discovered that I had actually seen 48 new species last year (including a probable Hooded Oriole in Arizona), so I have revised my Life bird list to show that 2014 was indeed my second-best (birding) year ever! [Obviously, my big trip to the desert southwest last June accounted for the vast majority of those species. I saw three life birds in the early winter months, a nice side-effect of the "polar vortex," and three life birds in the Virginia Beach area in November.] My current lifetime total now stands at 456 bird species.


November 24, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Tern, Tern, Tern: Birding around Virginia Beach

Jacqueline and I went for a weekend trip to Virginia Beach, and did some birding at various places in the vicinity. We knew we were off to a good start when we took a wrong turn in Newport News, looking for a place to eat lunch, and saw a Bald Eagle being chased by some crows. That was amusing, and a great photo op!

We stopped at the Norfolk visitor's center soon after crossing the Hampton-Norfolk Tunnel, and I saw at least a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers flying all around, along with some Field Sparrows and Juncos, I believe. There is an adjacent wetland, but the trail passing through it has been closed for security reasons. Our first major stop was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), which I had not visited for several years. As expected, there were gulls on top of many of the light poles along the way, many of which were Great Black-backed Gulls. At the first island, where the fishing pier, restaurant, and gift shop are located, we saw at least 30 Dunlins feeding on the algae-covered rocks. Then I saw three birds that I thought were Ruddy Ducks, but it turns out I was wrong. A woman on the pier who belongs to the local bird club there told me she thought they were Black Scoters, and after I compared my photos to the field guide later on, I realized she was right. She also pointed out a Gannet flying in the distance, and I took a couple mediocre photos that just barely serve to confirm the species identification. Life bird! There was also a Double-crested Cormorant right next to the pier, basking in the bright sunlight.

Black Scoter, female

Black Scoter (female), at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant, at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The next day we got up before dawn to watch the sun rise (beautiful colors), and then walked out to the beach to see all the birds. There were various kinds of Gulls, Cormorants in the distance, Brown Pelicans, and even some Dolphins! What I initially thought were Great Black-backed Gulls turned out to be Lesser Black-backed Gulls, based on the size and leg color: yellow, not pink. Yet another life bird for me!

Dolphin

Dolphin, about 75 yards from the shore at Virginia Beach.

[But the best part on the beach came just as I was about to head back to the hotel. I took a look through the binoculars at some of the birds that had just landed among all the gulls, and noticed several with bright orange beaks. Terns! I didn't know which species they were until I looked at my field guide. I determined that most of them (a dozen or so) were Royal Terns, and a few others were Forster's Terns -- a third life bird for me! Unfortunately, I couldn't persuade Jacqueline to come back and see for herself, but she did get a look at the Terns later on from inside the hotel, using the binoculars. I also saw a few Brown Pelicans flying along the shore, and one flew directly overhead for a nice photo op.]

Royal Tern

Royal Tern, at Virginia Beach.

Forster's Tern

Forster's Tern, at Virginia Beach.

After breakfast, we went to First Landing State Park, which has miles of trails leading through a varied habitat. I was amazed to see all the Spanish Moss hanging from the trees as we hiked along. On the bay, I saw a few Buffleheads, and in the trees I saw many Yellow-rumped Warblers. None of the hoped-for Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows, unfortunately. I was thrilled when I first heard a Brown-headed Nuthatch, but I had a hard time getting any good looks, much less a photo. Finally, just before we left, I zoomed in on one that was up in a tree about 30 yards away. The photos I took were rather blurry, but good enough.

Next we went to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where we had visited in August 2008. (Six years ago? Gracious.) There were at least a hundred ducks on the water, but the only ones close enough to identify were a few Gadwalls. In the trees were many Yellow-rumped Warblers, in the grasses were various sparrows, and in the marshes there was a -- Marsh Wren!!! I could hear its scratchy call, and caught glimpses as it moved around in the reeds just a few feet away, but never did get a good look. I also had a glimpse of a very small olive-colored bird that I thought was a Kinglet, but the photo I took clearly indicates otherwise. Based on the habitat (leafy bushes), location, and time of year, I'm pretty sure that it was a Orange-crowned Warbler. That's a very uncommon species, and I have only seen them -- probably -- once or twice before.

Sadly, time was short, and we had to hurry home to beat the forecast rain showers. After a lightning-quick tour of downtown Norfolk, seeing the ships in dry dock across the Elizabeth River, as well as the battleship Wisconsin, we headed home. The photographs I took of Brown Pelicans, the Gannet, and the Brown-headed Nuthatch weren't that great, but the Tern and Gull photos were very good. You can see all the new photos on my Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.

I have added Gannet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and Forster's Tern to my Life bird list, which now totals 455. With 47 new birds so far this year, I have already tied my second-best year ever, 1997.


November 14, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Winter birds are arriving

I was supposed to lead a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club on November 1, a Saturday morning, but the weather forecast was bleak, and nobody else showed up. But it really wasn't that bad, so I went ahead anyway, and it proved to be a fairly successful outing. I went to Chimney Hollow, one of my favorite locations, about ten miles west of Staunton, and saw two first-of-season birds: a Brown Creeper, which vanished after just a few seconds, and a Winter Wren, which graciously "posed" for a photo. Their miniature, erect tails are always amusing to behold. Also present were many Golden-crowned Kinglets, some of which came very close. Those tiny things just don't stay put long enough to get a good photo, unfortunately! Later on I went to nearby Braley's Pond, but it was too cold and windy over there, so I went home after a few minutes.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren, at Chimney Hollow, on November 1.

Then on November 4, a Tuesday afternoon between classes at CVCC, I went up to Candler's Mountain in Lynchburg. It was the first time I had been there in several months, and I heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet as soon as I stopped my car. I saw it a few times, but as usual didn't get any good photos. But I got lucky with a Brown Creeper, which responded eagerly to the songs of its species in my iPod birding app from Audubon. Bingo!

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper, on Candler's Mountain in Lynchburg, on November 4.

Jacqueline and I have been to Bell's Lane and Betsy Bell Hill during the past week, seeing a few good birds such as a Pileated Woodpecker at the latter location, but nothing really spectacular. At Bell's Lane, I saw some Hooded Mergansers at a distance, as well as a probable Green-winged Teal or two, along with all the Canada Geese. White-crowned Sparrows are becoming more numerous there.

Finally, on November 4, another Tuesday afternoon (cue the Moody Blues!), I went to yet another Lynchburg location that I had not seen in many months, and probably more than a year: the Percival Island Nature Area, along the James River near downtown. I saw several Goldfinches, Robins, various woodpeckers, sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and best of all -- a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!! It was a first-year male, to be more specific. I had been waiting for a long, long time to get a good closeup photo of that species, and I finally hit pay dirt. I had to digitally edit some of the photos (see the Wild Birds yearly page) because of the difficult lighting conditions (too much or too little), but the results seem to be worth it.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, in the Percival Island Nature Area, Lynchburg, on November 11.



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