(Catchup up): Birding last December
December 3, Montgomery Hall Park : The big highlight that afternoon was a Hermit Thrush that posed for me in a bush only about 15 feet away. The Winter Wren kept chattering loudly, but it mostly stayed hidden in the thickets. A few woodpeckers, including a Hairy, rounded out the notable sightings of the day..
December 4, Lake Shenandoah: I found out from Facebook (rather than the shenvalbirds email group, which seems to have expired) about an extremely rare MacGillivray's Warbler east of Harrisonburg, in Rockingham County. About a half hour after I arrived (11:00?) I had a brief closeup view of the bird at the end of a trail about 1/4 mile west of the lake, and that it was where I spent most of my time looking. Special thanks to Kurt Hoffman, from Monroe County, WV, for alerting those of us who were over there to the bird's new location in the reeds along the south edge of the lake. Finally, just before 2:00 it popped into view again, and I managed to get two quick photos. It was my first-ever MacGillivray's Warbler, only the third one ever seen in Virginia! The bright yellow and green colors are dazzling, and quite unexpected in winter. The bird was seen again for the next few weeks, but not after late December. This species breeds in higher elevations in the northwest USA and Canada, so it is presumably used to harsh conditions, but one wonders how it could survive a hard freeze.
December 10, Lake Shenandoah: After a bit of shopping in Harrisonburg, Jacqueline and I stopped briefly at Lake Shenandoah, but my hopes of seeing the MacGillivray's Warbler again did not pan out. As a consolation prize, I was amazed to see two Great Egrets, which should have been hundreds of miles to the south and/or east by then!
December 19, Verona: On the way back from Blue Ridge Community College, I stopped at the pond behind Hardee's, and saw a dozen or so Hooded Mergansers, among other birds. Further along Mill Place Parkway there was a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that seemed to be getting to know each other. Along Bell's Lane I saw another Red-shouldered Hawk, being harassed by an American Kestrel, as well as a "gray ghost" male Northern Harrier.
December 25, Waynesboro: On Christmas Jacqueline and I took a drive toward Waynesboro, and I spotted the very same Trumpeter Swan that visits the pond every year: tag # P-61! On the way back I did a short walk along the Murphy-Deming trail, and spotted some Yellow-rumped Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Across Rt. 250 from the Shell station in Fishersville, the resident Red-shouldered Hawk perched along a power line was looking for a late lunch.
December 29, Bell's Lane: After several fruitless late-afternoon visits to the upland pastures to which the Short-eared Owls return almost every winter, I decided to stay around for a while after sunset, and finally succeeded in spotting one. About 5:25 Mike Smith (from Elkton) drew my attention to a low-flying raptor, and I soon identified the rounded wing tips, markings, and large head size to positively identify TWO such owls -- my first ones of the season! In the same field (at the entrance to Carolyn Ford's farm) we had also seen ten or so Eastern Meadowlarks, somewhat of a surprise.
December 30, Braley Pond : For my last bird outing of the year, I went hiking along Braley Pond, in the foothills of western Augusta County. Other than Red-breasted Nuthatches (numerous once again), there weren't any winter birds of note until I reached the farthest point of my hike, about a half mile beyond the western end of the lake. That is when I heard and then saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in a distant tree. I'm amazed I was able to get a decent photo of him, providing a suitable ending to another year of birding.
As usual, the above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.