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March 31, 2006 [LINK]

End of March, onset of Spring

Mourning Dove Now that it has finally warmed up, many flowers are in full bloom, including these daffodils. I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, but no new migrants were present, just Purple finches, Cedar waxwings, a Golden-crowned kinglet , a Towhee, and the usuals.

Roll the mouse over this image to see a Mourning dove that was in our back yard yesterday. Click to see the Golden-crowned kinglet.

Can it really have been six whole weeks since I took the jonquil* photo? Global warming or not, Spring has been s-l-o-w to arrive in Virginia this year.

* According to the usually-reliable Wikipedia, "jonquil" is just a name variation of the daffodil, part of the narcissus family, not a separate species.

March 28, 2006 [LINK]

Just your average back yard birds

Robin A Robin was looking for worms and bugs in our back yard this morning. [The photo I took of it was later replaced by a better one.] Most people think of Robins as a sign of Spring, but in fact, they spend the winter in most of the Lower 48 states, confining themselves to wooded ravines for the most part. Male Robins (such as this one) are slightly darker in color than females.

Later on, a group of Grackles came by to snarf up what was left under the bird feeder; roll the mouse over the image to see one glaring at the camera.

March 27, 2006 [LINK]

Brown thrasher arrives

Mockingbird on Forsythia bush While walking behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, I heard some very odd bird calls in the bushes. After several minutes I caught a glimpse of a Brown thrasher, the first time I had ever seen one before April. (Global warming? Not here.) I also spotted quite a few Purple finches (all female), Goldfinches, and a Golden-crowned kinglet (female).

This Mockingbird (which is a relative of the Brown thrasher) posed for me on this Forsythia bush. Roll the mouse over this image to see the [Hyacinth] in full bloom, at the bottom of that same bush.

The Wild birds introductory page, which shows the first sighting date each season/year for migratory bird species since 1997, has been reorganized. There is a new, separate table for migratory birds that spend the winter in Virginia, as opposed to those that spend the summer in this region or further north.

March 26, 2006 [LINK]

Spring!? Swallows arrive

Notwithstanding the fact that Spring has supposedly arrived, yesterday it snowed! Not much, just enough to cover the grass. As I was driving across the Blue Ridge at Afton in mid-afternoon, I encountered a veritable blizzard, with minimal visibility. That is one of the biggest accident-prone traffic chokepoints in all of Virginia, so it was rather scary. Today was a bit milder, so on my way back from Blockbuster's this afternoon, I headed out to Bell's Lane. Today's list includes two first birds of the Spring, and one first bird of the Winter:

  • 5+ Tree swallows (FOS)
  • 5+ N. rough-winged swallows (FOS)
  • 15+ American coots
  • 8+ Ruddy ducks
  • Pied-bill grebe
  • Meadowlark
  • Kestrel (F)
  • 7 Killdeers
  • Great blue heron
  • 2 Buffleheads ! (FOS)
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • 200+ Canada geese
  • 20+ Red-winged blackbirds

Several Grackles appeared in our back yard today for the first time since last summer, and two Great blue herons flew overhead just before dusk. Also, two Downy woodpeckers have been visiting our suet feeder every day, so we hope they build a nest near by.

March 24, 2006 [LINK]

Ospreys on Candid (Web) Camera

Ospreys Webcam Prompted by an inquiry from Brenda Tekin about recent sightings of eagles in this region (I saw three of them on Nov. 6), I checked the Webcam at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and sure enough, two Ospreys were there. No eggs or chicks, though, as far as I can tell. To see for yourself, just click on this image. (If you are curious about Nature and not too prudish, there is even a photo of the Ospreys mating! ) The first time I saw that Webcam on Nov. 27, a Bald eagle was there.

March 19, 2006 [LINK]

Birding around Appomattox

During our day trip to Appomattox yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at a few spots to soak in the solar rays and enjoy nature. I heard a Phoebe at the James River, and saw a Pine warbler at Holliday Lake State Park; both observations were the first of the season. I managed to get a decent photo of a Turkey vulture at the James River, and a Bluebird (mostly obscured by shade, unfortunately) at Appomattox. Yesterday's list:

  • Turkey and Black vultures
  • Pine warbler (FOS)
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Cedar waxwings
  • Bluebirds
  • House finches
  • Golden-crowned kinglets

March 15, 2006 [LINK]

Beware the Ides of March (II)

Yesterday, coincidentally, a friend brought to us a bird he thought was injured, figuring we would know how to take care of it. It turned out to be a fledgling Mockingbird that was probably blown out of its nest by the high winds we've been having for the past couple days. The gray plumage, white wing bars, and yellow eyes were unmistakeable. It wasn't much bigger than a sparrow, and didn't even have a tail yet. (CAUTION: If you ever see a small bird flapping around on the ground, think twice before you try to rescue it. Most young birds spend a day or two on the ground before they can fly, and their parents protect them and feed them during this time.) If it didn't improve, I was planning to take the Mockingbird to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, which specializes in animal rescue and rehabilitation, the next morning. We tried to feed it and give it water, but unfortunately, it went through cycles of lethargy followed by convulsions, and died last night. What is it about mid-March?

Yesterday Jacqueline and I went for a brisk walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, but few birds were in view because of the strong winds. I did spot one bird that I hadn't seen recently, however: a Yellow-rumped warbler.

March 12, 2006 [LINK]

Spring arrives; amphibian rescue

Downy woodpecker M The temperatures climbed into the seventies yesterday and today, accelerating the pace of bird migration that is now underway. Yesterday I saw a male Bluebird out back, which is unusual around here, as well as a female Purple finch, and a dozen or so Cedar waxwings flying over head. Early this morning I walked behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad in hopes of spotting arriving migrants, but the only first-of-season bird was a Field sparrow. Today's list:

  • E. towhees
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker (M)
  • Purple, house, and gold finches
  • Field sparrow (FOS)
  • Killdeer
  • Golden-crowned kinglet
  • Junco

After I returned, I saw this Downy woodpecker at our suet feeder, which was almost empty thanks to the Starlings, so I put in a new chunk of suet. I also saw what I thought was a large worm (three inches or so) that was helplessly stranded on the asphalt, but it turned out to be a very young salamander that was very dry and barely alive. I brought it home and kept it moist until it finally revived and crawled away into the mud. "Born free..."

March 7, 2006 [LINK]

Bell's Lane again

Sunny, clear skies and milder temperatures drew me out to Bell's Lane late this afternoon. I spotted the Harrier as soon as I got out of my car, and admired its low-altitude hunting flight for several minutes. Seeing two semi-migratory birds for the first time this spring was an encouraging sign. Today's highlights:

  • Northern harrier (M)
  • Short-eared owl (prob., far)
  • 300+ Canada geese
  • Mallards
  • Red-winged blackbird (FOS)
  • 3 Grackles (FOS)
  • Bluebirds
  • Meadowlark
  • 11 American coots
  • 4 Ruddy ducks

February 27, 2006 [LINK]

Bell's Lane

It's been pretty nippy for the past few days, which is often a good sign of finding water birds, so I drove out to Bell's Lane yesterday afternoon. I saw:

  • 200 Canada geese, many on the pond
  • 9 American coots
  • 3 Ruddy ducks
  • 2 Mallards
  • 2 Northern shovelers !

I didn't see any Short-eared owls, Northern harriers, or other raptors this time. There seem to be more birds in our back yard lately, possibly because the menacing Sharp-shinned hawk has left the area.

February 22, 2006 [LINK]

More bird photos

John sent me two more great closeup bird photos from South Dakota: Horned lark (you can see one of the "horns"!), and a (Lapland?) Longspur, which, in its winter plumage, probably looks like a sparrow to the untrained eye.

Here in Virginia we woke up to a surprisingly heavy snow fall, probably two inches total. I hope that Goldfinch is OK...

February 20, 2006 [LINK]

Emotional Goldfinch rescue

Goldfinch closeup A few days ago I spotted a Goldfinch that was seemingly stuck on the ground out back. After determining that it indeed was unable to fly, I brought the poor thing inside to recuperate and regain its strength until it was ready to return to its natural, free state. Based on the lack of yellow feathers in the throat area, I would say it is probably a female or a first year "adolescent." Little by little, it started flying again, to the amusement of Princess and George, who were very curious. Today the Goldfinch became quite anxious at seeing its own kind at the feeder just outside the window, calling repeatedly and flapping all around, so I finally decided to let it go. It quickly flew across the yard to the upper branches of a nearby tree, so I assume it will survive -- as long as there are no hungry hawks in the neighborhood, that is.

"Born free, as free as the wind blows..."

Bald eagles: out of danger?

UPDATE: For us folks in the Lower 48 states, it's a special treat to see a Bald eagle. Even so, our National Symbol has recovered sufficiently over the past thirty years that it will probably be taken off the list of "threatened species" in the near future. In some parts of Alaska, meanwhile, Bald eagles are so abundant that they are considered annoying pests by local residents! See Washington Post.

February 16, 2006 [LINK]

A tantalizing taste of Spring

Jonquil The temperatures soared into the sixties today, melting almost all of the snow that fell just four days ago. On my way to a quick stroll behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad today, I saw this Jonquil flower, a hopeful sign of more blooms to come. I didn't see that crazy Catbird, but did see:

  • House finches
  • Purple finch
  • Goldfinches
  • Downy woodpecker (F)
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Bluebirds
  • Plus the usuals...

UPDATE: Roll mouse over the photo to see the "winter wonderland" last Sunday morning.

February 16, 2006 [LINK]

"Important bird areas"

This month's Augusta Bird Club meeting on Monday evening featured a very interesting and informative presentation by Aimee Weldon on the National Audubon Society's Important bird areas program. It is part of a systematic worlwide attempt to survey specific locations that various migratory bird species depend upon for their survival. This project depends on the coordinated efforts of thousands of grass-roots volunteers who have detailed knowledge of wildlife and geography in their respective localities. The Atlantic coast of Virginia, from Assateague to Chincoteague, is one of those "Important bird areas"; see my recent post about the plight of the Red knots. The Blue Ridge is the summer home of many Cerulean warblers, which are declining in numbers, and the mountains of Highland and Bath County are home to breeding area for Golden-winged warblers, which I only glimpsed once -- just last summer, in fact.

More of John's photos

Once again, they are exquisitely clear and detailed: one is of a Widgeon, a kind of duck, and the other is of a Varied thrush, a relative of the American robin that lives in the Great Northwest.

February 12, 2006 [LINK]

Catbird weathers snow storm

Catbird, snow #2 We had about six inches of snow altogether yesterday and last night. After cleaning off the cars this morning I took a walk trudge behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. Sure enough, I soon heard that hardy Gray catbird that has been lingering here since November. This time I had my camera ready to get a quick photo when it popped into view. I also saw:

  • 8+ Bluebirds (M, F)
  • Hairy woodpecker (F)
  • Downy woodpecker (F)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker (F)
  • Purple finches (M, F)
  • House finches (M, F)
  • Goldfinches
  • Juncos (finally!)
  • Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, etc.

February 11, 2006 [LINK]

New bird photos from John

John's bird montage #2 Just back from a trip to the Oregon coast, my brother John sent another batch of stunning bird photos, the best of which is the Hooded merganser, shown at the bottom left in this new "all-digital" montage. The others in this montage were previously posted to this Web site.

For much more "all-natural" eye candy, see John's wild bird photos page.

Clockwise from the top left: Vermilion flycatcher, Blue-headed vireo*, Bullock's oriole, Broad-tailed hummingbird, Hooded merganser, and in the center, Mountain bluebird. *(All males except for the Blue-headed vireo, the genders of which are indistinguishable.)

It snowed all day here in Virginia, but only about two inches have accumulated as of late afternoon. Several Cardinals, Goldfinches, Song sparrows, a White-throated sparrow, and even a Purple finch (female) showed up at our feeders, the most variety we've had in the last few weeks. Oddly, however, Juncos have been totally absent from our neighborhood since December. I heard several Cardinals singing before daybreak, so spring can't be too far off!

February 3, 2006 [LINK]

Bell's Lane P.M.

A quick drive to Bell's Lane late this afternoon provided a few nice surprises:

  • 12 American coots
  • 5 Ruddy ducks
  • 3 Shovelers !
  • Belted kingfisher !
  • 500+ Canada geese
  • 2 Short-eared owls
  • Horned lark !
  • Great blue heron

I'm really getting spoiled by seeing those owls on a routine basis; I just wish they would come close enough for a photo! It was the first time I had heard their drawn-out screech call. The Horned lark was rather close, but flew away before I could get a photo. The absence of Mallards was somewhat surprising, but they tend to cluster together in bigger flocks during the winter.

Horseshoe crabs and Red knots

The National Audubon Society has a campaign to protect Horseshoe crabs, whose populations have been declining sharply in recent decades. The main problem is that fishermen are overusing them for bait. A species of sandpiper called the Red knot depends on Horseshoe crab eggs as a food source during its long annual migration from the south Atlantic coast to the shores of the Arctic Ocean. To send an e-mail message to your governor and legislators urging them to support a conservation bill introduced by Del. Morgan Griffith (R), just click on that link.

January 30, 2006 [LINK]

Spring preview; Catbird again

It was a beautiful, sunny, mild morning, so I went for a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. The forsythia bushes are already sprouting some yellow flowers, and songs of Chickadees, Song sparrows, and White-rumped sparrows filled the air, more hopeful signs of spring. I was glad to spot that noncomformist "rugged individual" Gray catbird foraging in the tree vines once again; I may have seen a second one, but couldn't be sure. Other birds seen:

  • Downy woodpecker (F)
  • Purple finches (M, F)
  • Golden-crowned kinglet
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Cedar waxwings (5+)
  • Cooper's hawk (imm.)
  • E. towhee (JM)
  • Goldfinches

In Montgomery Hall Park two weekends ago, I saw a reclusive Hermit thrush, plus a Golden-crowned kinglet, Downy woodpecker, Hairy woodpeckers, and White-breasted nuthatches.

January 18, 2006 [LINK]

Catbird is still here

I took a quick walk along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time since January 7 this morning, and soon saw the Gray catbird that has been lingering here in these cold climes, while the rest of its species has migrated south. Talk about a "rugged individualist"! I also saw several Bluebirds, House finches, Goldfinches, Blue jays, Chickadees, White-throated sparrows, and a Towhee. One of the Blue jays was imitating the scream of a Red-shouldered hawk, as they often do. For such a chilly and blustery day (a mixture of snow and sleet fell for a few minutes), the birds were surprisingly active and plentiful. Oddly, however, no woodpeckers or nuthatches were to be seen. There were 20 or so Goldfinches in our yard, the most we've seen in several days.

January 12, 2006 [LINK]

Bell's Lane P.M.

I stopped at Bell's Lane on the way home late this afternoon (sunny and mild!), and saw two or three of the Short-eared owls that showed up for Allen Larner's ABC field trip last Sunday. The adult male Northern harrier was patrolling the fields, and a Sharp-shinned hawk and a Great blue heron were also present. The flock of Canada geese was much smaller than before, probably no more than 200, and no Snow geese appeared. Several white-crowned sparrows were in the bushes along the road, and I heard some Meadowlarks as well.

January 8, 2006 [LINK]

ABC field trip on Bell's Lane

Snow Geese, Canada Geese This afternoon I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Allen Larner on Bell's Lane. Somehow he arranged to have three Short-eared owls * and two Northern harriers (one adult male, one female or immature) show up right on cue for the 12-person "audience." One of the owls briefly chased a harrier, which was entertaining. Too bad they didn't come closer. Allen pointed out to us a distant flock of Horned larks *, which I would not have recognized otherwise. Across the field several hundred Canada geese were grazing, as well as two adult Snow geese (white, of course) and one juvenile (which is pale gray, discernible on the left in the adjacent photo). I also spotted the "dark phase" or "Blue-morph" Snow goose which I had seen on Thursday, but it was too far to get a decent photo. I didn't stay for the last part of the trip, but I did catch a glimpse of a Red-tailed hawk perched in a tree on the way home.

(* = first of the season for me)

January 7, 2006 [LINK]

Catbird is still here

I took a walk behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad for the first time this year this afternoon, in hopes of spotting the Gray catbird (see PHOTO taken Dec. 6) that has been stubbornly lingering in these northerly latitudes. I saw several Eastern towhees, White-throated sparrows, Blue jays, House finches, and Goldfinches, plus a Downy woodpecker. After a half hour or so, I gave up turned back. Just in time, I heard the familiar "mew" call, leaving no doubt that the catbird was still there. I caught a brief glimpse of it in the bushes, and then went home satisfied. Will it stay here for the entire winter??

January 6, 2006 [LINK]

"Blue goose" on Bell's Lane

I took a drive out to Bell's Lane yesterday afternoon, and saw a dozen or so American coots and a few Ruddy ducks on the big pond, but nothing else in that particular area. On one of the hill slopes along the upland stretch of that road further north, however, I saw several hundred Canada geese. I also noticed one peculiar white-headed goose with a black neck, thin black line reaching to the crown, dark gray back, and white streaks in the hind quarters. After consulting my field guides, I am almost certain that it was a Snow goose with "dark phase" plumage, a.k.a. "Blue goose," which was formerly considered a separate species. (Just as with the inaptly-named Great "blue" heron, there is hardly any bluish hue.) Snow geese are rare in this area; the "normal" ones are white. After checking my records, I realized that I had never seen a Snow goose before, so that makes the first life bird for me in the new year!

UPDATE: I returned late this afternoon, but the geese were much further from the road, and I didn't see the "Blue goose." I did see two Red-tailed hawks, however, one of which was startled by the approach of my car and dropped his prey (a Gray squirrel) as it flew away.