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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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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.


October 20, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Life Bird: Red Phalarope

Thanks to an e-mail alert from William Leigh, I saw my 454th life bird last Tuesday: a Red Phalarope, in a pond near the town of Bridgewater, about 20 miles north of here. The weather was terrible, as a massive front dumped several inches of rain along the eastern seaboard, but I didn't care. I missed a chance to see a Red-necked Phalarope in this area last spring (during a similar period of rainy weather), and I was determined not to let that happen again. I arrived at the location in question in the early afternoon, and I had to retreat to my car to wipe off my binoculars more than once. Finally, the skies started to clear a little bit, and I spotted the little bird almost right away. As you can see in this photo, it has no red feathers in its winter plumage. Very few people ever get to see their brilliant colors during the breeding season, as they nest above the Arctic Circle in northern Canada. I learned that Phalaropes are strange in that they are shorebirds but often catch their food while swimming rather than wading. Red Phalaropes spend the winter months in the Atlantic Ocean, and only one has ever been seen in Augusta County. I'm not sure about Rockingham County records.

The photos I took weren't very good, as the bird was almost 100 yards away, but they are good enough for positive identification. I was lucky to meet three local ladies who know the people who own the farm on which that pond is situated.

Red Phalarope

Red Phalarope, east of Bridgewater, on October 14.

I have also seen a few Palm Warblers over the past week, but not much else. I was going to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow on October 11, but that was rained out. (I have rescheduled that to November 1.) My two significant birding ventures this month were October 4 at Augusta Springs, and October 8 at Montgomery Hall Park. I took a closeup photo of a Box Turtle at the former location, and I'll post that soon. Plus, I have been to the Rockfish Gap hawk watch a few times, and the most notable sighting was an immature Golden Eagle on October 16. It was a great view, but I didn't have my camera! frown

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler, in Swoope, October 4.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo, in Montgomery Hall Park, October 8.

I also have seen a number of Monarch (endangered!) and Buckeye butterflies lately, and got a nice photo of the latter, but not the former. So I updated the Butterflies page, and will add a few more photos to it soon.

Buckeye butterfly

Buckeye butterfly, at the Frontier Culture Museum, October 17.


September 26, 2014 [LINK / comment]

For a few warblers more

It's been a little slow birding-wise this month, but I did come across a nice bunch of neotropical migrants at Spruce Creek Park near the Rockfish Valley trail last week. Unfortunately, the Chestnut-sided Warblers were too far away for a good photograph. On Monday, I saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler at Montgomery Hall Park in Staunton, and I saw that same species the very next day on the Blackwater Creek Trail in Lynchburg, managing to get a decent photo. (Stay tuned.) I also saw a Cape May Warbler there, as well as in our back yard earlier on Monday.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler (probably female or juvenile), in Staunton, September 22.

Warblers montage Sept. 2014

Clockwise from top left: Cape May Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, September 10. All are females or juvenile males.

I have also spent some time up at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch this month, and have seen a number of Broad-winged Hawks, Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and other raptors.


September 12, 2014 [LINK / comment]

More migrating birds arrive

Thus far in September, I haven't seen any large numbers of migrating birds, although I did have some success on the Blue Ridge Parkway on Wednesday. It was a foggy morning, with very little bird activity until later in the morning, when I finally came across a nice "fallout" of neotropical migrants south of Ravens Roost overlook. I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler (probable), Common Yellowthroats, Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, as well as the Ovenbird pictured below. I only got a few good photos, unfortunately. Darned warblers are just too fast! smile

Ovenbird, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, September 10.

Later in the day, I noticed some small birds flitting about the tree branches in the back yard, and quickly identified them as American Redstarts. Nice!

Yesterday (Thursday) I stopped at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, and saw an Osprey, two Bald Eagles, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I plan to be there for the annual open house this Sunday, hoping to see a massive "kettle" of Broad-wings! It's been a long time since I've seen that amazing natural phenomenon.


September 1, 2014 [LINK / comment]

Late summer / early fall birding

I went up to Shenandoah Mountain on Saturday, curious as to whether the neotropical migrant birds have begun their southward sojourn. Indeed, some have, as I saw and photographed a Cape May Warbler, as well as other warbler and vireo species that may be local breeders, rather than migrants. (Cape May Warblers only breed in Canada and a few northerly states.) The photo montage below shows most of what I observed during my brief outing. Individually, none of the photos was really that good, so I just put them in a bunch. Also seen: Black-and-White Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo.

Bird montage 30 Aug 2014

Clockwise from top left: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Dark-eyed Junco (imm.), Blackburnian Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Black-throated Green Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, and Cape May Warbler..

Shenandoah Mountain is a high-elevation habitat in which some "winter" birds (such as Juncos) breed. The place I visited is just south of the Confederate Breastworks. I have previously seen Scarlet Tanagers there.

Migrating shorebirds

For shorebirds, migration season starts a month or so earlier than for most songbirds and raptors. I was hoping to fill in the many gaps in terms of photographs and my life bird list. These are a few of the nicer recent sightings:

Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper, at Leonard's Pond in Rockingham County, on August 12.

White Ibises

White Ibises (immature), at Day's Inn on Bell's Lane, on August 17.

GreatEgret

Great Egret, at Smith's Pond in Swoope, on August 22.

In addition, there was a Glossy Ibis near that Great Egret in Smith's Pond, but my photos weren't good at all. I had a much better view of a Glossy Ibis in Rockingham County in August 2006.



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