March 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Stormy weather, but Spring is here at last!

In contrast to the rather bleak birding in February (see February 28), when the weather was mostly nice, March was pretty busy, especially during the second half of the month, when we had two major snow storms. On the first day of March, when it was overcast, I paid a brief visit to the pond behind the industrial park in Verona, and saw a pair of Gadwalls (M & F). On Bell's Lane, I saw and photographed five Turkey Vultures perched in succession along fence posts. Two days later a Flicker came to our back yard, foraging in the ground like a Robin, and I got a nice sunlit photo of it. The White-throated Sparrow with the white wing feather that day; it's the third winter in a row it has spent in this neighborhood. On March 9 a Hairy Woodpecker (M) came to our suet feeder, which is very unusual. We see Downy Woodpeckers fairly regularly, in contrast. Late in the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane, and once again saw a Short-eared Owl on the ground, bathed in sunlight.

Sunday March 18 was a big day, as I saw two bird species for the first time this year on Bell's Lane: Tree Swallows and an Eastern Phoebe. I also spotted a male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier in the distance, and saw a female of that species flying only about 75 yards away.

Montage 18 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tree Swallow, Northern Harrier (M), Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Harrier (F), House Finch (M), and American Kestrel (F), around Bell's Lane, March 18.

The very next day (March 19) I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, led by Penny Warren. On the private farm pond we saw some Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, and a Coot. Later on we saw two Gadwalls in another pond, and just then a male Wood Duck splashed down in most dramatic fashion. There were no owls that morning, but the others saw a Northern Harrier while I was busy taking a photo of a Meadowlark. On the beaver pond we saw a Green-winged Teal and two Wilson's Snipes.

Montage 19 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Meadowlark, Ring-necked Duck, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Bluebird, Gadwall, Eastern Phoebe, Wood Duck, two Wilson's Snipes, and in center, Green-winged Teal, around Bell's Lane on March 19. All four ducks are males.

On March 22, one day after the big snowstorm, I went to Bell's Lane and was surprised to see four different Short-eared Owls. Since we had thought that all but two of them had already departed for the season, it is possible that two of them returned south after encountering the blast of arctic air.

Short-eared Owl montage 22 Mar 2018

Pictured above are at least three different Short-eared Owls on Bell's Lane, March 22.

On March 25, a beautiful sunny day, Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, mainly to see the Bald Eagle nest which apparently has a couple eaglets that have already hatched. The mother seemed to be feeding her offspring, and soon we saw the presumable father soaring upward, catching a thermal draft. On the Boy Scout lake I saw a Double-crested Cormorant and two unidentified ducks. Along the road heading back toward Staunton, I saw several Field Sparrows (the first I had seen in months) and White-crowned Sparrows, as well as some Kestrels and many Robins and Starlings. Over on Bell's Lane I counted just two Short-eared Owls.

Montage 25 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Kestrel, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Eastern Meadowlark, and Field Sparrow, around Swoope, as well as a Short-eared Owl on Bell's Lane, March 25.

On March 26 Jacqueline and I went to Charlottesville (mainly to buy concert tickets), and while I was walking over to see the U.Va. baseball stadium, I spotted a male Eastern Bluebird on a fence post only about 25 feet away, so I took some photos. I think this one is the best photo I have yet taken of that species!

Eastern Bluebird

Chimney Hollow field trip

Finally, this morning I led a field trip to Chimney Hollow, joine by two other members. It was chilly at first, but it gradually warmed up. The water in the stream was higher than expected, probably due to the runoff from all the snow last week. That forced us to be careful when stepping on the stones. Also, I was shocked to see how many big trees had fallen down, blocking the trail in several places. In some places it looked like a war zone. Anyway, we heard a Pine Warbler almost as soon as we got started, but in spite of constant searching we never did see one. We did see two of the other spring arrival "target birds": Blue-headed Vireo and Louisiana Waterthrush. I couldn't get a photo of the latter one, however. One of the highlights was a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the sun, the the glare of the light was too much for my camera. Altogether we only tallied 14 species (see the eBird list), a modest total. Afterwards we went to nearby Braley's Pond where I had my first view of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project. Many trees had been cut down already. We heard a Phoebe while at Braley's Pond, as well as a probable Sharp-shinned Hawk flying high above, but not much else. The photo of a Phoebe below was taken in back of White Way Restaurant on Route 250, on the way back to Staunton.

Montage 31 Mar 2018

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, around Chimney Hollow; the Eastern Phoebe was at White Way Restaurant, March 31. Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.