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Archives, 2004

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Andrew Clem archives

December 22, 2004 [LINK]

Winter officially begins

Dark-eyed junco Ironically coinciding with the winter solstice, that bitter cold snap is finally behind us, thank goodness. This morning I saw a Winter wren, two Hermit thrushes, two Red-tailed hawks, and a few other birds while walking behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. (That volunteer unit recently announced it plans to begin charging for ambulance pickups, sparking some local controversy.) A Sharp-shinned hawk buzzed the back yard once again. It has been cooler than normal for most of the past year, from what I've observed. The recent single-digit temperatures remind me how thankful we should be to all the sheep who get shorn every year just so we "hairless apes" can stay warm and comfy during these bleak months. I love wool!

This Dark-eyed junco is one of the nicer things about the winter months. You can see them occasionally in the higher elevations in Virginia during the summer, but here in the lowlands they are only seen from October or November through April.

Andrew Clem archives

December 19, 2004 [LINK]

Christmas Bird Count

Bluebird I spent almost all of Saturday taking the annual bird census sponsored by the Audubon Society, known as the "CBC" for short. It was bitterly cold, but the skies were fairly clear, unlike last year, when we endured snow and sleet. My partner was Mark Adams, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, who authored a book on his birding experiences in Texas. Our territory was in the northern part of Augusta County, including parts of the Middle River valley and some uplands with fantastic views of the mountain ranges to the east and west. I heard or saw 36 species altogether (eight more than last year), including a remarkable 32 Eastern bluebirds, which have been somewhat scarce in these parts for the last year or so. The numbers of Turkey vultures, Red-tailed hawks, and Cardinals were also above average, whereas none of the expected Yellow-rumped warblers or Cedar waxwings were present, and only one pigeon was seen. Our bird tally is shown below. That evening, about a dozen participants belonging to the Augusta Bird Club shared their observations at a fine catered dinner.

  • 1 Great blue heron
  • 7 Black vultures
  • 85 Turkey vultures
  • 25 Canada geese
  • 2 Mallards
  • 2 Northern harriers
  • 1 Cooper's hawk *
  • 15 Red-tailed hawks
  • 5 American kestrels
  • 1 Rock dove (pigeon)
  • 10 Mourning doves
  • 1 Belted kingfisher **
  • 6 Red-bellied woodpeckers
  • 2 Yellow-bellied sapsuckers
  • 4 Downy woodpeckers
  • 5 Northern flickers
  • 1 Eastern phoebe *
  • 19 Blue jays
  • 53 American crows
  • 2 Fish crows (HO)
  • 22 Carolina chickadees
  • 18 Tufted titmice
  • 12 White-breasted nuthatches
  • 14 Carolina wrens
  • 5 Golden-crowned kinglets
  • 32 Eastern bluebirds
  • 1 Robin (HO)
  • 13 Northern mockingbirds
  • 17 Song sparrows
  • 2 Swamp sparrows
  • 17 White-throated sparrows
  • 8 White-crowned sparrows
  • 44 Dark-eyed juncos
  • 53 Northern cardinals
  • 9 House finches
  • 11 American goldfinches
  • 231 European starlings
  • 10 House sparrows
  • * : seen by Mark Adams, but not me.
    ** : seen by me, but not Mark Adams.
    HO : heard only

December 19, 2004 [LINK]

Pale Male un-evicted

Good news: the owners of the Manhattan condo building where the Red-tailed hawks have been nesting for the past 15 years have relented under heavy public pressure, agreeing to reinstall the anti-pigeon spikes that had provided a support for the nest. Some people in the building thought the nest was either unsanitary or hazardous, among whom were (reportedly) CBS Newswoman Paula Zahn or her husband. Another resident, Mary Tyler Moore, spoke out in favor of preserving the hawks' nest. The New York City Audubon chapter had been holding daily vigils for Pale Male and Lola (his current mate), but has halted them while arrangments are made to provide for new and safer support on top of the window arch. See and When Jacqueline and I were strolling through Central Park in July, we were looking for one of those hawks, but didn't see any. It turns out we were within a stone's throw of that building, located at Fifth Avenue and 74th Street.

December 19, 2004 [LINK]

Climate shift may harm birds

Bad news: According to a "technical review" just published by the Wildlife Society (cited in the Washington Post), global climate changes have apparently put birds under great stress, forcing many species to accelerate their annual migration, and causing serious population declines in others. As for the birds that most interest me, the study noted,

Thus, in terms of mobility, Neotropical migrants appear pre-adapted to shifting range distributions as climates change. ... But rather than being able to focus on conserving relatively small areas, habitat ranging from breeding areas in the United States and Canada all the way south along migration routes to wintering areas in Mexico, Central America, and portions of South America must be conserved.

What lessons are we to draw? First, it is becoming increasingly clear that many of the biggest environmental problems cannot be addressed by individual countries. This suggests that countries must learn to cooperate on matters of joint concern even when there are deep disagreements over foreign policy. It is also important to avoid hasty, ill-considered action, however. As U.Va. professor Patrick Michaels and others have argued (see, the evidence on global warming is mixed, some of the science is deeply flawed, and the CO2 "greenhouse effect" may be less significant than fluctuations in the sun's temperature over the decades and centuries. That doesn't mean we should get complacent, it just means we need to keep various potential threats in perspective.

Andrew Clem archives

December 8, 2004 [LINK]

McCormick's Farm

I joined the Augusta Bird Club outing to McCormick's Farm led by YuLee Larner this morning, and the weather was just fine, contrary to forecasts of high winds. Here are the best birds I saw, ranked by importance:

  • Green-winged teal (first of season)
  • Golden-crowned kinglet
  • Great blue heron
  • Kingfisher
  • Sharp-shinned hawk
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Downy woodpecker
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Grackles (100+)
  • Robins (7)
  • Black vultures
  • Canada geese (70+)
  • Plus all the usuals, except NO White-throated sparrows

Andrew Clem archives
Cedar Waxwing pair

December 7, 2004 [LINK]

Cedar waxwings are back

Upon returning from a pleasant (!!?) day of shopping late Sunday afternoon, Jacqueline and I noticed a noisy flock of Cedar waxwings feeding in the cherry (?) trees next to our parking lot. I ran inside to get the camera, and managed to get some good photos with the sunlight at a perfect angle. (Roll the mouse over the image to see 18 of them gathered in a tree top.) Cedar waxwings are surprisingly common birds, but many folks never notice them because they have such subtle coloration and seldom stay in one place for very long. If you ever hear a flock of pale birds calling "tseee - tseee" in a high-pitched voice, especially in the cooler months, take a close look and chances are your eyes will be delighted by the bright yellow markings and (not seen here) red wingtips of these gregarious berry eaters.

While driving through the Bell's Lane area late Friday afternoon, I saw a group of eight or so Hooded mergansers, the first of that species I had seen since February 29. I was too far away to get a good view of the huge "hoods" on those migratory ducks, but I was able to pick out multiple key field marks, so there was no question about what they were.

Andrew Clem archives

November 26, 2004 [LINK]

Hawk returns; more bird photos

Once again, a Sharp-shinned hawk visited our back yard this morning, and I got an even better photo of it (through the window, but with no screen obstruction) than last time. A Pine siskin also showed up at the thistle feeder next to the window, and I got a great close-up shot of its head. While I was at it, I took a photo of George guarding Princess at her nest. (Click on any of those links to see a pop-up photo.) I've also done further retouching on some older bird photos, most notably the Bananaquit I saw in Peru last March.

Andrew Clem archives

November 22, 2004 [LINK]

More new winter birds

Red-breasted nuthatch While hiking along the Chimney Hollow Trail west of Staunton on Sunday, I saw several Red-breasted nuthatches, for the first time in over three years. Photos of the hike (and a strange fruit called "Osage orange") are posted at the bottom of the now-complete Virginia Fall 2004 page. I also saw two Brown creepers for the first time this season; I happened to see one of those in the upper elevations around Ramsey's Draft last June, an apparent rare breeder in these latitudes. There were quite a few Golden-crowned kinglets, but they too stayed far above effective camera range. On the way home I stopped at Bell's Lane, and saw two Red-tailed hawks, two Northern harriers (one adult male, one immature), a Kestrel, and several Northern pintail ducks, Ruddy ducks, American coots, Bluebirds, plus one each of a White-crowned sparrow, a Field sparrow, and a Chipping sparrow. On Saturday I saw a Fox sparrow for the first time this season, behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad.

Andrew Clem archives

November 17, 2004 [LINK]

Sharp-shinned hawk!

Sharp-shinned hawk One of the Sharp-shinned hawks that has been menacing the small birds in our back yard returned this morning, and this time it posed for a long enough time that I was able to get my camera ready. It was only about 20 feet away, stalking the bush where Goldfinches and a Pine siskin were taking refuge, but the overcast skies and the window screen made for less-than-ideal photographic conditions. The other photo I took was blurrier but shows the squarish tail tip, the main feature that distinguishes Sharp-shinned hawks from Cooper's hawks. The latter are bigger, but since female hawks are usually bigger than the males, it is often hard to tell male Cooper's hawks from female Sharp-shinned hawks. (The third species of the Accipiter genus found in North America, the Northern goshawk, is relatively rare.) You can tell this is an adult by the mottled orange and white plumage on the front side and legs; immature Accipiters are streaked brown and white in front. Jacqueline shooed this predator away as soon as the camera clicked. I'm sure it will be back for further photo-ops in coming months...

Andrew Clem archives

November 15, 2004 [LINK]

Bird records update

Andrew's bird photo montage I've essentially finished compiling the first-of-season migratory bird records on the Wild Birds page, and to mark the occasion I have created this montage of my bird photos, which also appears on the Photos page. All but the wood duck were taken this year with our new Canon ZR-65 MC digital video camera. I've also retouched some old photos that were previously posted and added a couple photos of birds that "slipped through the cracks" along with way, including a close-up of a male Purple finch.

On Sunday a hawk of the accipiter family (probably a Sharp-shinned hawk) flew into our back yard for a couple minutes and then left at high speed. (Click on that link to see the photo I took, which would have been great, except that the hawk's back was turned; just wait till next time!) On a walk behind the Rescue Squad later that day I saw both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned kinglets, but my attempts to get pictures of them were frustrated. On the way back I noticed what I'm pretty sure were Owl pellets, the regurgitated remains of small rodents eaten by the nocturnal raptors. I learned at an Augusta Bird Club meeting last year why owls have such small beaks: They swallow their prey whole, rather than tearing them apart like hawks and eagles do.

Andrew Clem archives

November 11, 2004 [LINK]

Even more winter birds

On a walk down the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning, I saw the first Hermit thrush of the season, as well as a Yellow-rumped warbler, a Towhee, a Red-bellied woodpecker, a Downy woodpecker, a Yellow-bellied sapsucker, some Golden-crowned kinglets only a few feet away (Arghhh -- no camera!!), a Chipping sparrow, and two Sharp-shinned hawks within 100 feet or so. One of them was probably the same hawk that killed a small bird in our back yard on Tuesday. Pine siskins reappeared in our back yard again several times today.

As part of the ongoing, long-overdue reorganization of this Web site, the Wild Birds pages have been modified heavily, with a more consistent format in the archives. While updating some of my records, I came across an interesting pattern: I saw the first White-crowned sparrow of the year on October 25 in 2002, 2003, AND 2004. Amazingly consistent!

Andrew Clem archives

November 10, 2004 [LINK]

More winter birds arrive

Pine siskin For the past three days I've seen Purple finches at our feeder out back, and this morning I saw several Pine siskins at the thistle seed feeder right next to the window. (Hence the glare spots in the photo.) The yellow color in their wings (not visible in photos of Pine siskins I took earlier this year) is a clear sign that they are related to goldfinches. Princess was very excited by the new prospective suitors and started "flirting" furiously, prompting George to fly back into their room and defend his turf. Princess has been making new calls recently, a subdued, intricate series of soft squeaks, sometimes punctuated by harsh outbursts. It really makes me wonder what she is trying to say... Yesterday I heard a loud bump on that window, and caught a glimpse of a Cooper's hawk (or possibly a Sharp-shinned hawk) flying away with its prey. A pile of feathers is all that's left.

(Transition to the new semi-automated blogging system.)

October 31, 2004 Juncos appeared in our back yard yesterday morning (Saturday), their first appearnace in the "lowlands" this season. I also saw a Blue-headed vireo behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad (SARS) yesterday, matching the record for latest fall migrant of that species ever seen in this area (not including two winter sightings). I brought my camera, but it eluded me. I did get photos of a ruby-crowned kinglet and a mockingbird, however. Later I visited Bell's Lane and saw the first American coots and Ruddy ducks of the season, plus a possible Lesser scaup; the Northern harriers are still hovering over the upland area. I went in back of SARS again today, but the Blue-headed vireo wasn't there. Drat! Once again, there were dozens of cedar waxwings and robins, as well as a sharp-shinned hawk and a young red-tailed hawk being mobbed by crows.

October 27, 2004 I saw at least a dozen White-crowned sparrows for the first time this season on Bell's Lane, both Monday and Tuesday afternoons. There were Field, Swamp, Chipping, Savannah, and Song sparrows as well, plus a Northern harrier and a Great blue heron.

October 24, 2004 Towhee Sun at last! After nearly a solid week of gloomy overcast skies, chilly air, and intermittent drizzle, we finally enjoyed a day of fair weather. While taking a walk in our neighborhood, I saw a number of interesting birds on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad:

  • Indigo bunting (F/J) (late straggler)* PHOTO
  • White-throated sparrows (1st of season)
  • Swamp sparrow**
  • Phoebe
  • Yellow-bellied sapsuckers (F, M)
  • Woodpeckers: Downy, Hairy (M), Pileated, Flicker
  • Cedar waxwings (40+)
  • Robins (20+)
  • Catbird (late straggler)
  • Blue-headed vireos (2 -- late stragglers)***
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Yellow-rumped warbler
  • Towhee (male; picture above)
  • * Previous latest recorded Indigo bunting in Augusta County: Oct. 16, 1982.
    ** I saw my first Swamp sparrow of the season early yesterday morning.
    *** I just missed getting a great photo of the Blue-headed vireos.

October 21, 2004 There were several crows making lots of noise out back yesterday afternoon, so I went out to see what was going on and spotted one of them chasing a Cooper's hawk very close by. There are Downy woodpeckers and White-breasted nuthatches at our suet feeder almost every day now, but I still haven't seen any White-throated sparrows, which should have arrived from the north by now. Perhaps it's due to the construction next door.

October 19, 2004 Overcast skies and gathering fog made for a rather poor morning at the Afton Mountain hawk watch. I saw two Sharp-shinned hawks and one American kestrel (male) flying just under the fog bank that was rolling in through Rockfish Gap. There was also a group of 20 or so Cedar waxwings that kept flying around, and several small flocks of Robins heading south. At last week's hawk watch, the skies were bright; I saw a couple Northern harriers, and several sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks. On Bell's Lane yesterday afternoon, Jacqueline and I saw two or three Northern harriers, including an adult male, which is gray on the back and mostly white in front. The white patch on their rump is the most distinctive marking. We also saw a Great blue heron, which seems to have taken up residence in that area.

October 10, 2004 I went searching for newly arriving winter migrants on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Co. Rescue Squad this morning, and was lucky to spot three such species, indicated by asterisks below. It's always striking to see "winter" and "summer" birds alongside each other this time of year.

  • Winter wren *
  • Towhees
  • Robins
  • Phoebes
  • Black-throated green warblers (JF, JM/F)
  • Hairy woodpecker (F)
  • Cooper's hawks (J -- 1 quite close, 2 "dogfighting" up high, perhaps including the same one as before. Lots of white feathers at base of tail.)
  • Cedar waxwings (10+)
  • Ruby-crowned kinglets (3+) *
  • WB nuthatch
  • Yellow-rumped warbler *
  • Wilson's warbler (close -- first all year!)
  • Blue-headed vireo (several great looks, possibly more than one)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Brown thrasher
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (F -- close)

ALSO, I drove out on Rt. 637 across I-64 west of Augusta hospital yesterday and saw a mixed flock of sparrows on the side of the road, including song, field, and grasshopper, as well as what I think were Lincoln's sparrows, based on the overall rich golden buffy color on the upper parts, and thin black streaks. It is listed as a rare transient in "Birds of Augusta County," and I had never seen one before, so I'm less than 100% sure. There were two red-tailed hawks, a kestrel, a red-bellied woodpecker, a flock of robins, and some bluebirds nearby.

October 4, 2004 YB sapsucker While biking along Bell's Lane late this afternoon, I saw a Kestrel, two juvenile Northern harriers -- whose low-altitude hovering tactic while they hunt is awesome to watch, several Palm warblers, 30 or so Canada geese, and a Great blue heron. The weather was perfect.

While taking a picture of RFK Stadium yesterday, my niece Cathy and I saw two Great egrets [and a Great blue heron] in the Anacostia River. In Manassas Park, Virginia, I saw a Yellow-bellied sapsucker for the first time this fall, and was lucky to get a semi-decent photo. Even under perfect lighting conditions, the belly is only pale yellow. You can tell this is a male by the red throat.

September 29, 2004 I drove out to Bell's Lane this morning to see what (ex-) Hurricane Jeanne left behind. Time well spent!

    Along the stream on the stretch closer to Staunton:

  • Magnolia warbler
  • Kentucky warbler -- 1st for me in years!? *
  • RT hummingbird
  • Mockingbirds
  • Catbird
  • RW blackbird (M) -- none seen recently
  • Red-bellied WP
  • Kestrel (F)
  • Song sparrows (4+)
  • Along the upland portion to the north:

  • Palm warblers (2+)
  • Kingfishers (2)
  • Phoebe (J)
  • Bluebirds (F, J)
  • Savannah sparrows (3+)
  • Canada geese (8+ flying)
  • Flicker
  • Meadowlarks (5+)
  • N. harriers (M, 2 J)
  • * slight possibility of a 1st year M Common yellowthroat, but its cheek marks were very black and distinctive, its posture was more upright, and its behavior was calmer, spending most of its time on the mud.

September 25, 2004 I joined YuLee Larner and a few other Augusta Bird Club members on another successful outing to McCormick's Farm this morning. I saw:

  • Red-tailed hawks (2)
  • Phoebes
  • Flicker
  • Pewee
  • Scarlet tanagers (F/J)
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • White-breasted nuthatch
  • Killdeer (3)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Towhee (f/J)
  • Kingfisher
  • Hummingbird
  • Canada geese (150+)
  • Tree swallow

I forgot to record that I had seen a female wild turkey with three young turkeys in the Shenandoah National Park back on September 19. I've updated that posting.

September 21, 2004 I spent the morning and midday up at the Afton Mountain hawk watch. It was very sunny, with a few wispy clouds, which help to pinpoint distant skyborne raptors. Altogether, about ten people showed up while I was there. I saw:

  • Broad-winged hawks (70+)
  • Bald eagle -- close!!
  • Sharp-shinned hawks (30+)
  • Cooper's hawk
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (M)
  • Yellow-bellied sapsucker (prob. - FOS?)
  • Flickers (2)
  • Cedar waxwings (8+)

September 20, 2004 Knowing that chilly weather would arrive in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, I put up a hummingbird feeder out back a few days ago, and sure enough, we have been getting frequent visits by the tiny, ravenous, shivering migrants. We didn't have any hummingbirds in our back yard all summer!

September 19, 2004 I saw a number of warblers while hiking in the Shenandoah National Park today, but since most are now in their drab fall plumage, it was hard to identify some of them. I then stopped at the Afton Mountain hawk watch on the way home. Here's the roundup of notable sightings:

  • Magnolia warblers (2+)
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • Black and white warbler
  • Black-throated blue warblers (2+ F)
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Wood thrush
  • Ravens 4+
  • Hairy woodpecker
  • Redstarts (F/J - 8+)
  • Cooper's hawk (prob.)
  • Black vultures
  • Broad-winged hawks (50+)
  • Bald eagle!
  • [Wild turkeys (F, 3 J)]

September 17, 2004 In anticipation of lousy weekend weather, I went for a bike ride along Bell's Lane yesterday. On the return leg I went along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad and saw several warbler species, including the beautiful blue, yellow, orange and white Northern parulas. No camera!!! Many of these were the same birds I had seen the day before at McCormick Farm:

  • Kestrel* (F/J)
  • Red-tailed hawk or Northern harrier*
  • Great blue heron*
  • Downy woodpeckers (4+)
  • Red-bellied woodpeckers (5+)
  • Flicker (M)
  • White-breasted nuthatches (3)
  • Northern parulas (3+)
  • Magnolia warblers (2)
  • Common yellowthroat (F/J)
  • Chestnut-sided warblers (F/J - 3)
  • Redstarts (F/J - 2)
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo

  • * -- along Bell's Lane

September 15, 2004 Migratory bird bonanza! I joined the Augusta Bird Club on a very successful field trip to McCormick Farm led by YuLee Larner this morning, and saw:

  • Kingfisher
  • Kestrel
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Great blue heron
  • Green herons (2)
  • Downy woodpeckers (2)
  • White-breasted nuthatches (3)
  • Magnolia warblers (2)
  • Blackpoll warbler
  • Chestnut-sided warblers (3)
  • Black-throated green warbler
  • Redstart
  • Mallards (10+)
  • Canada geese (50+)
  • Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • Phoebe
  • E. wood pewee
  • Phoebe

September 14, 2004 A good friend from my days in the Washington area, Dave Givens, paid us a brief visit, and went along on a quick tour of Augusta Springs, in the foothills west of town. I / we saw:

  • Cedar waxwings (25+)
  • Blue-headed vireo
  • Pine warbler
  • Mallards (prob. 4+)

Afterwards I headed toward the hawk watch station on Afton Mountain, but encountered rain and decided to turn back home. En route I made a quick stop at Bell's Lane, and was amply rewarded:

  • Red-tailed hawk
  • Unidentified long-tailed large raptor (N. harrier?)
  • Great blue heron
  • Brown thrasher (10+)
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Willow flycatcher
  • Rose-breasted grosbeaks (4)
  • Magnolia warblers (2+ prob.)

September 12, 2004 Having received my brother John's detailed travelogue, I've now posted a separate page with captions describing eight of the birds he photographed during his recent trip to Washington (state).

I caught up with an Augusta Bird Club field trip up on the Blue Ridge on Saturday morning, and made a fair number of sightings. If conflicting obligations had not delayed my arrival, I might have seen my first-ever Blue-winged warbler, and several other warblers the group saw before I got there. Several of us caught glimpses of a plain olive-colored warbler in the underbrush. I thought it was an Orange-crowned, but more people thought it was a Connecticut.

  • Scarlet tanager (F/J)
  • Rose-breasted grosbeak (F/J)
  • Brown thrasher
  • Red-bellied woodpecker
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Black & white warblers (F/J)
  • Redstart
  • Chestnut-sided warbler
  • Ravens
  • Red-headed woodpecker
  • Red-eyed vireo
  • Connecticut (or Orange-crowned?) warbler
  • Pine warblers

September 6, 2004 New" Six exotic bird photos from my brother John's recent trip to the state of Washington, including a White-headed woodpecker (!) and a Rhinoceros auklet (!!?), on the Photos page. A separate annotate page for those photos may be added soon.

Jacqueline and I drove up to Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park yesterday, but there weren't as many migrant species as I had hoped. We saw at least nine ravens, as well as some red-eyed vireos, a blue-headed vireo, a chestnut-sided warbler, and a black-throated blue warbler.

August 25, 2004 Prompted by e-mail alerts from local birders, I went to a hot spot known as "Leonard's Pond" yesterday morning, and saw FIVE different species of sandpipers, including the famous Baird's sandpiper, the first time I've seen one. I have updated my life bird list to include it, as well as all the life birds I saw in Peru and South Dakota earlier this year. Total number of species: 285. In the evening, Jacqueline and I saw some nighthawks for the first time in Staunton this season; I corrected the list below to show that I saw several of them on my recent trip in South Dakota, and one in West Virginia. Goldfinches are abundant in our back yard once again, as the wing-flapping juveniles beg for food from their parents and learn to feed on their own, little by little.

August 23, 2004 Jacqueline and I camped in the Shenandoah National Park for a couple nights a few days ago, and went for an eight-mile circuit hike, descending and then climbing 1,700 feet. The bird highlights were some chestnut-sided warblers, a hooded warbler, a female (or juvenile) tanager, and a loud raven at close range. Jacqueline spotted a black bear crossing the trail ahead of us, but I was pretty fatigued by that point and didn't look up in time to see it.

Here is a list of the most interesting birds I saw during my trip to South Dakota earlier this month. Also included are a few I saw en route or on the way back east. Asterisks indicate I took video clips, some still images of which are displayed on the South Dakota 2004 page. (Others may be added later.) Kingbirds were abundant almost everywhere, and killdeer were all over The Bluffs Golf course.

  • 1 Double-crested cormorant -- Toledo, OH
  • 6 Red-headed woodpeckers -- several locations
  • 1 Sedge wren * -- Spirit Mound, N of Vermillion
  • 4 Pied-billed grebes -- near Greenfield
  • 8 Common nighthawks * -- in Vermillion
  • 1 Common yellowthroat (M) * -- NE of Vermillion
  • 10 Ospreys * -- Clay County Park, SD
  • 3 Warbling vireos * -- Clay County Park
  • 8 Cedar waxwings * -- Clay County Park
  • 6 Marsh wrens * (LIFE BIRD) -- NE of Vermillion
  • 1 Dickcissel * (F/J) -- NE of Vermillion
  • 2 Baltimore orioles (M,F) -- The Bluffs Golf Course
  • 2 Orchard orioles -- S of Burbank, near Missouri R.
  • 1 Lark sparrow (LIFE BIRD) -- S of Burbank, near Missouri R.
  • 3 Red-eyed vireos * -- SD and Hawks Nest S.P., WV
  • 1 Magnolia warbler (M) -- Cranberry Glades, WV
  • 6 Hummingbirds * (F/J) -- Cranberry Glades, WV

August 18, 2004 Ospreys In terms of birding, the highlight of my trip was seeing ten juvenile ospreys that have been relocated from Idaho to the banks of the Missouri River by Wildlife Experiences, a private non-profit organization dedicated to conservation. While at the Clay County Park site I also saw a couple bald eagles flying high, plus a variety of songbirds. Stay tuned for photos of the ospreys, as well as a common yellowthroat, red-headed woodpecker, sedge wren, marsh wren, cedar waxwing, and others, along with a more complete list. Also, my brother John is headed to the Great Northwest for yet another birding adventure, which will no doubt yield another super batch of photos.

August 4, 2004 I returned to the Ramsey's Draft / Shenadoah Mtn. area on Sunday to see if I could detect any evidence of breeding by that brown creeper Jacqueline and I spotted there two months ago. No such luck. I may have heard one of the rose-breasted grosbeaks we saw, but I'm just not sure. Since breeding season is over, there was hardly any singing, but I did see a fair number of good birds nonetheless. I walked around the picnic area at Ramsey's Draft for an hour or so and then drove up to the Confederate Breastworks and hiked north a mile or so from there to the junction with the trail where we saw the Brown creeper back in late May.

  • 6 Hummingbirds (M,F/J)
  • 3 Worm-eating warblers
  • 8 Black & white warblers (F/J)
  • 6 Goldfinches (M,F)
  • 4 Black-throated green warblers (M,F/J)
  • 8 Carolina chickadees (some possible Black-capped)
  • 3 Titmice
  • 4 Indigo buntings (M,F/J)
  • 2 Cedar waxwings
  • 1 Flicker
  • 1 Louisiana waterthrush (first of season)
  • 1 N. parula (J)
  • 3 Scarlet tanagers (M, 2 F/J)
  • 1 Red-eyed vireo
  • 1 Hairy WP (F)
  • 3 Ovenbirds (silent!)
  • 1 Great crested flycatcher

July 31, 2004 Yesterday I returned to the Great blue heron rookery in western Augusta County discovered by Brenda Tekin a few weeks ago. This time I got lucky and saw six of those magnificent creatures, though from quite a distance. There is a new (blurry rollover) photo of them; click HERE. I also saw several juvenile Bobolinks sighted there by Allen Larner, as well as one of the tiny Sedge wrens. On the way over there I got a brief view of a couple Red-headed woodpeckers for the first time in over a year.

July 18, 2004 Cedar waxwing Prompted by an e-mail alert about a Great blue heron rookery sighted by Brenda Tekin, Jacqueline and I took a road trip through western Augusta County today. We saw kingbirds, a kestrel, and several goldfinches, but no great blue herons. After a half hour of fruitless searching, we resumed our impromptu road trip and headed southwest, into Uncharted Territories filled with pleasant farms and streamside willow trees... Not long after crossing into Rockingham County, we turned right (northwest) and entered Goshen Pass, a deep gorge where the Maury River cuts through a large mountain. We stopped to took a few photos; see one Augusta & Rockbridge, 2004. On the way back home, we dined at Charlie's Restaurant in Buffalo Gap, where we saw some Ruby-throated hummingbirds on the patio just a few feet away from our table. Roll the mouse over the image to see the female, which has a white throat. [Photo links revised.]

July 13, 2004 Today I hiked to the top of Elliott Knob, the third (I think) tallest mountain in Virginia, located about 14 miles west of Staunton. The 2,350-foot climb was exhausting, but the effort definitely paid off. (Starting elevation was 2,100 feet.) I only got rained on briefly a couple times, and I actually came to prefer the rain to the blistering sun. The following list of birds that I SAW is in rough chronological order, starting from the bottom and ending at the top.

  • 30 Towhees, including many juveniles and females
  • 3 Red-eyed vireos
  • 1 Yellow-throated vireo
  • 5 Indigo buntings (M, F, J)
  • 15 Carolina chickadees (a few possible black-capped)
  • 2 Ovenbirds
  • 40 Dark-eyed juncos (M, F, J)
  • 2 Black-throated blue warblers (M, F) *FOS*
  • 2 Worm-eating warblers
  • 1 Black & white warbler
  • 1 Black-throated green warbler
  • 5 Chestnut-sided warblers (M, F, J) *FOS*
  • 6 Canada warblers (F, J) *FOS*
  • 6 Cedar waxwings
  • 4 Redstarts (M, F)
  • 2 Yellow-rumped warblers (M) -- heard at least 5 singing
  • 2 Phoebes
  • 4 Turkey vultures
  • 2 Black vultures

  • and last but not least,
  • 1 BALD EAGLE! (A) -- seen from the summit, to the west

There was also a probable blue-gray gnatcatcher on the way back down. I heard several scarlet tanagers and titmice in the lower elevations but didn't see any. I didn't see any of the expected rose-breasted grosbeaks, either. NO woodpeckers or nuthatches! Nine warbler species in one day may be my record, so I'll have to check. Three of them were the first ones I've seen this season.

July 3, 2004 Cedar waxwing Jacqueline and I had a nice picnic at McCormick (as in Cyrus) Farm yesterday, and right on cue some of those highly photogenic (but nervous) cedar waxwings showed up for a brief photo op. Unfortunately, the Baltimore orioles were no longer present, but there were plenty of barn swallows, grackles, and robins. I'll add a couple photos to the Photos page in the next day or so.

June 29, 2004 While at the Tidal Basin in Washington on Sunday I heard an oriole singing, and finally spotted it at the top of a tree. To my surprise, it turned out to be an orchard oriole, NOT a Baltimore oriole. (Any significance for baseball in that?) There were also many swallows, kingbirds, and even a gull.

This morning I did a serious bike ride (well, six miles) for the first time since breaking my toe three weeks ago, and finally spotted one of the grasshopper sparrows that keep buzzing in the fields around Bell's Lane. I also saw new families of kingbirds, yellow warblers (which thankfully avoided nest plundering by cowbirds), and brown thrashers, as well as some cedar waxwings and a willow flycatcher.

June 26, 2004 Jaqueline and I went for a stroll on the west slope of the Blue Ridge this morning, and I got a clear view of a wood thrush for the first time this season. There were also a few worm-eating warblers darting around, but not much else.

June 22, 2004 I visited the Cyrus McCormick Farm with YuLee Larner again on Friday, and saw a yellow-billed cuckoo for the first time this season, plus a couple green herons. The orioles have already fledged, and we saw an adult male feeding a juvenile. The cedar waxwing is still on the nest. On Sunday I went to Augusta Springs and saw an ovenbird, an Acadian flycatcher, several worm-eating warblers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, hummingbirds, two rose-breasted grosbeaks (female and juvenile), and a red-shouldered hawk, among others. Then I went to Goshen Pass for the first time (it's incredibly scenic!), and saw three pileated woodpeckers and a pine warbler, among others.

June 18, 2004 Yellow warbler I went to Bell's Lane again this morning and finally got some decent video images of one of the yellow warblers that are nesting there. Taking a cue from my brother John, I played a tape recording of yellow warbler songs, which lured the territorially defensive males to my vicinity. This photo was slightly retouched to reduce blurring. I also saw a female orchard oriole, a male Baltimore oriole, and a green heron in the area, but they eluded my video camera.

June 9, 2004 On Monday morning I was invited by YuLee Larner to join her and another Augusta Bird Club member, Mary Vermuluen, to visit the McCormick Farm, about 15 miles south of town. That is where Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the mechanical reaper, developed his agricultural implements back in the mid-19th Century. The site includes several beautiful old stone buildings and a picturesque watermill (that functions!), and they have recently made improvements such as a nature trail to attract tourists. We saw several Baltimore orioles, two of which were attending a nest in a willow tree hanging right above a footbridge. We also saw an orchard oriole, the first I've seen this season; they are brown and black, rather than orange and black. Other highlights included several cedar waxwings (two at a nest), two brown thrashers, some kingbirds, a kingfisher, and a pewee.

June 3, 2004 While on a bike ride east of town today I saw a hairy woodpecker, an oriole, a pair of red-tailed hawks, some blue-gray gnatcatchers, a few cedar waxwings, and for the first time this year, a white-eyed vireo.

May 31, 2004 Jacqueline and I went hiking yesterday in the Ramsey's Draft Wilderness Area, about 20 miles west of town. It was a pleasantly cool day, but the skies were mostly overcast, so it was hard to distinguish the colors of birds, especially those perched in treetops. We began at 2200 feet elevation, where Blackburnian warblers, parulas, and cedar waxwings abounded. Along the way uphill we saw black-throated green warblers, black and white warblers*, red-eyed vireos, a worm-eating warbler, and a scarlet tanager. Near the top we saw a brown creeper*, which usually are seen around here during winter but breed in northerly latitudes and higher elevations. In fact, I had not seen any of them all winter long, so this sighting was quite a surprise. Just as we reached the crest of the mountain ridge (3000 feet), we heard and then saw a ovenbird, singing at an ear-splitting decibel. The big highlight was seeing a male rose-breasted grosbeak* who was singing persistently, much like a vireo. Then a second male showed up, and the two engaged in a brief territorial dispute. Simply amazing; I figure I'm lucky if I see even one of these colorful birds during spring or fall migration season. Jacqueline saw a yellow-billed cuckoo, but I was fiddling with the video camera and missed it. Then we retraced our steps back downhill, getting repeat looks at several warblers. All in all, a very good day. *(Asterisks indicate first-of-season sightings.)

May 26, 2004 Tree swallow I tried again to get photos of those yellow warblers on Bell's Lane this morning, but none came close enough. I was able to approach this male tree swallow guarding his next box, however. The increasing practice of building nest boxes for bluebirds in recent decades has paved the way for tree swallows to extend their breeding range southward, displacing many bluebirds in the process. I saw a few bluebirds too, but they are still scarcer than they were two years ago, probably due to West Nile Virus.

May 25, 2004 On Saturday we went for a walk/run along Bell's Lane and were greeted with a chorus of songs from yellow warblers ([I only got a] blurry photo), willow flycatchers, and the always-abundant red-winged blackbirds. We saw one of the red-winged blackbirds chasing a raven, which I had never seen in the Shenandoah Valley before; they normally stay in the mountains. We also saw a green heron, for the first time this year. This morning I went for a bike ride and saw two of those yellow warblers again, plus two or three Baltimore orioles a mile or so away. I neglected to mention another interesting sighting from our hike on Friday: a wild turkey running across the Blue Ridge Parkway.

May 21, 2004 Scarlet tanager Today we took a hike to the top of Humpback Rocks, which overlooks the Blue Ridge Parkway about 20 miles southeast of Staunton. The mountain breezes were a refreshing break from the relentless heat and humidity we've had lately. It was the first time we took our Canon video camera along on a nature hike (other than at Machu Picchu, of course), and I'm glad we did. We were fairly lucky in getting great views of a variety of birds, of which the best by far was a male scarlet tanager. These bright red forest dwellers are surprisingly common, and you can hear them singing in just about any large thickly wooded area of Virginia. Their song is a buzzy repetitive melody, something like a robin or a vireo. Seeing them is another matter, however: They usually stay near the tops of trees, so I was extremely fortunate that this guy not only came so close to me (within 40 feet or so), but actually stayed put while I maneuvered into a better viewing angle. There were a few light patches among the red feathers, so I'm guessing he was a first-year male, not fully mature. Because of the low lighting conditions, this image was not as sharp as I would have liked.

Redstart (M) We also saw several American redstarts, which were singing almost everywhere we walked. (One of the males is pictured at the right.) We heard a pewee insistently whistling his plaintive song, and after several minutes of searching, I finally spotted him. A rather unusual sighting was a dark-eyed junco, which breed at higher elevations in Virginia and in northern latitudes, but are never seen in the lowlands between May and October. After we returned to the visitor center, I saw a Baltimore oriole from a distance, but the video image was quite poor. We also saw a pair of ravens (which were squawking loudly), a broad-winged hawk, a towhee, plus a couple indigo buntings and cedar waxwings. For the first time in years we heard a veery but did not see it; they are a member of the thrush family with an enchanting song that sounds like it is played through a long tube. We also heard some cerulean warblers, black-throated green warblers, and a (yellow-billed?) cuckoo. Just as we were headed home it started to rain...

May 20, 2004 Jacqueline found a beautiful tiny dead bird on her way to work yesterday, and she could tell from the colors and beak shape that it was a member of the warbler family. She called me and brought the poor thing's body home for me to examine. Indeed, it turned out to be a female common yellowthroat, and the absence of any wounds indicates that it was probably a victim of West Nile Virus. I called the local health department, and was told that they have found so many cases of that disease that they aren't even testing anymore. If you'd care to, take a look: HERE.

May 19, 2004 I just got back from a quick evening walk along Bell's Lane just outside of Staunton, and was well rewarded. I got great close-up views of two yellow warblers* (male & female), plus a female redstart*, a willow flycatcher*, two kingbirds, a red-bellied woodpecker, a meadowlark, and an indigo bunting, among others. They were all very vocal, seemingly exhuberant in the wake of an afternoon rainshower, and the first three (marked with asterisks) were the first ones of the season I've seen. For the past three days we've been hearing blockpoll warblers singing ("tseet, tseet, tseet, TSEET, TSEET") around our apartment, and I caught a glimpse of them a couple times.

Big Spring Day

May 16, 2004 Yesterday I participated in the annual "Big Spring Day" bird survey with the Augusta Bird Club, spending most of my time in the highland forests of western Augusta County. I heard or saw 243 birds, including 44 species altogether. The highlights were several scarlet tanagers, northern parulas, and Blackburnian warblers, all for the first time this year. I was surprised by how many great crested flycatchers I heard and saw, and was amazed that none of the many blue-gray gnatcatchers I heard popped into view. One big surprise was seeing two yellow-rumped warblers (both male) I saw on near the top of Betsy Bell Hill, a Staunton landmark. Just as dusk was about to fall, I saw a nighthawk fluttering about, likewise the first of the season. Numbers in parentheses indicate how many birds of each species (if any) I actually saw. Asterisks indicate my first sighting of the season for that species.

  • 29 (3) Red-eyed vireo
  • 11 (2) Northern parula *
  • 5 (0) Worm-eating warbler
  • 3 (1) Yellow-throated vireo *
  • 2 (0) Black & white warbler
  • 1 (0) Yellow-billed cuckoo
  • 1 (0) Black-throated blue warbler
  • 8 (3) Scarlet tanager *
  • 8 (1) Ovenbird
  • 8 (3) Titmouse
  • 2 (0) Goldfinch
  • 18 (15) Robin
  • 3 (1) Catbird
  • 2 (1) Acadian flycatcher *
  • 9 (5) Great crested flycatcher
  • 2 (0) White-breasted nuthatch
  • 14 (4) Indigo bunting
  • 8 (4) Phoebe
  • 8 (2) Pine warbler
  • 8 (0) Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  • 1 (1) Hairy woodpecker
  • 3 (3) Spotted sandpiper *
  • 4 (3) Blackburnian warbler *
  • 1 (1) Black-capped chickadee
  • 6 (6) Song sparrow
  • 9 (9) American crow
  • 8 (2) Blue jay
  • 7 (7) N. rough-winged swallow
  • 5 (1) Car. chickadee
  • 17 (17) Turkey vulture
  • 7 (0) Raven
  • 2 (2) Canada goose
  • 3 (1) Red-bellied woodpecker
  • 2 (1) Chipping sparrow
  • 1 (1) Kingbird *
  • 3 (2) E. wood pewee *
  • 1 (1) Red-tailed hawk
  • 4 (2) Towhee
  • 3 (0) Blackpoll warbler
  • 2 (2) Yellow-rumped warbler
  • 1 (1) Pileated WP
  • 1 (0) Flicker
  • 1 (1) Common nighthawk *
  • 1 (1) Bluebird

Early Friday morning I saw a common yellowthroat, for the first time this season, as well as a great crested flycatcher. John just sent me a superb close-up photo of a Sharp-tailed grouse that he recently took near Fort Pierre, SD. While colorful, this image doesn't even begin to show the fine detail on the image he sent me, which was actually the maximum reduction he could get with Adobe Photoshop. His new Canon Digital Rebel must be extremely good.

May 8, 2004Pine siskin Early this morning was the Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic, at Montgomery Hall Park. For want of time, I hadn't been to a club meeting since February, and it was good to get reaquainted with those folks. It was rather foggy at first, and then gradually cleared up. The group of six with which I went walking heard a wide variety of migrant species, including white-eyed vireos, red-eyed vireos, a common yellowthroat, and a Baltimore oriole. We didn't actually see very much, however, until the end of our walk. Highlights: a male ruby-throated hummingbird, a great crested flycatcher, a yellow-rumped warbler, a black-throated green warbler, and a blockpoll warbler. The latter two were "firsts of the season" for me.

May 7, 2004 That pine siskin hung around for another day or two, and I got a slightly better video of it, showing the characteristic bold streaks. To the untrained eye I suppose it looks like just another sparrow, but there are yellow tinges in its outer wing and tail feathers that are apparent during flight. On Wednesday I heard the distinctive, eerie song of a pine warbler near my office at James Madison University, and yesterday I caught a glimpse of one as it was flying among some tree tops. In the evening I saw a white-crowned sparrow in our back yard. I was hoping to get a good photo of a breeding plumage white throated sparrow, but they all seem to have left.

May 2, 2004 Pine siskin Lo and behold, another unusual migrant passed through our yard today, a pine siskin! They are related to goldfinches (which don't migrate much), and often eat alongside their brighter-colored relatives on thistle feeders, as you can see here. Soon they will head toward Canada. To mark the occasion, the Photos/Travel page has been revised and simplified, to accommodate the ever-growing number of photos on this site. Some older redundant photos are being deleted. Early this morning I saw a solitary sandpiper, killdeer, a towhee, a brown thrasher, and a pair of bluebirds at a wooded swamp on the east side of town.

May 1, 2004 Indigo buntings With the end of the semester at hand, time is at a premium. Today was one of those days when spending a few precious moments outdoors really paid off. While Jacqueline and I were walking along the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad this morning I saw the first indigo bunting of the year, in fact TWO of them. It's a good thing I brought the video camera along!

Towhee We also heard some blue-gray gnatcatchers, a great crested flycatcher, some yellow-rumped warblers, and (probably) a cerulean warbler, but didn't see any. I did see a flock of cedar waxwings, however, plus a few towhees, including this one:

I've begun compiling my records of when I first see each migratory species every year, but it will take a while before it's finished. See Migration below.

Apr. 26, 2004 I heard and soon saw the first gray catbird of the year out back this morning. Too bad it's raining steadily...

Apr. 25, 2004 I saw the first ruby-throated hummingbird of the year nearby this morning, and immediately put up the feeder with sugar water. I also saw a ruby-crowned kinglet, a couple male yellow-rumped warblers, female purple finches, some white-throated sparrows (the males now sport incredibly bright breeding plumage), and (last evening) a junco, all of which are no doubt among the last of their species to linger in Virginia.

Apr. 24, 2004 This morning I drove around the foothills of the Blue Ridge about 15 miles south of town, and saw a great crested flycatcher*, a few white-breasted nuthatches, a downy woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker, ten or more yellow-rumped warblers (all male, in breeding plumage), an ovenbird* (several others were heard but not seen), a worm-eating warbler*, a blue-headed vireo*, a red-eyed vireo*, a couple northern rough-winged swallows, a black vulture, a couple blue-gray gnatcatchers*, a hooded warbler* (singing male), a towhee, and a red-tailed hawk. Asterisks indicate first-of-season birds, of which there were seven altogether. Not bad!

Apr. 21, 2004 Chimney swifts have returned to the skies over Virginia, another sign that spring is marching onward. I've also seen a few brown thrashers and northern rough-winged swallows. Actually, the temperatures have been hot around here lately, and it's weird that most trees are still bare. The blooming flowers are wonderful, however, and the JMU campus looks spectacular.

Apr. 14, 2004 Goldfinch The weather on Easter weekend was pretty bleak, so not much bird activity to report. I did see a killdeer out back amidst all the barren soil at the construction site, and tried to get a video of it. It flew off, but I did at least get this photo of a male goldfinch, in almost-full breeding plumage:

While the western tanager was visiting three weeks ago, I also got some good video shots of house finches, juncos, purple finches, and chipping sparrows. A few of those freeze frames have been added to the Photos/Travel page.

Apr. 2, 2004 No further sightings of that Western tanager, sad to say. Our backyard was quite a beehive of activity last weekend! To all those friendly folks who came to see it but were disappointed by the no-show, let me just say it was pleasure to meet (or get reacquainted) with you! Many thanks to Brenda Tekin for getting such fine photos of that enchanting visitor. This morning I saw a hermit thrush and some purple finches behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad, and this afternoon I saw a probable sharp-shinned hawk on the ground right outside my window.

Mar. 29, 2004 The western tanager appeared in a nearby pine tree once again early this morning. Late yesterday I took a bike ride to Bell's Lane and saw six blue-winged teals, three of each gender. In the evening I worked feverishly to complete the second page of photos from our trip to Peru: Peru trip 2004, Part 2. It is devoted to birds, with 17 species altogether, very few of which are ever seen in the U.S.A. About half of the photos are good enough for me to put my name on them, and the rest are at least clear enough to identify the species, though in some cases identification is not yet certain.

Mar. 28, 2004 Western tangager That mysterious yellow bird paid us a return visit early this morning, and this time I got good enough looks and photos to confirm that it was indeed a Western tanager. That species has never before seen in either Augusta or Rockingham County! Brenda Tekin and Gordy Adamski came by later, and after a long, agonizing vigil we were finally rewarded with several return appearances, enabling us to get some more video and photos. In the adjacent photo, you can clearly see the wing bars, indented tail, and yellow rump, which are all distinctive field marks of the western tanager. To see a frontal view, which shows more color, roll the mouse over the image. I also got some video of a yellow-bellied sapsucker and a chipping sparrow this morning; the latter species has only migrated north to these parts of Virginia during the last few days or so. We also saw several purple finches flying all around, and robins, goldfinches, cardinals, and chickadees were all singing raucously. Brenda will be posting the far-superior images she took on her Web site shortly:

Later YuLee Larner came by, and after a long wait, she got some great sun-lit looks at the western tanager as well. With any luck, I'll get another chance to take a photo of the bird in full sunlight this afternoon. Or maybe not: I just heard a small bird scream right outside my office window, and ran to the back door in time to catch a glimpse of a Cooper's hawk flying away, only a few feet from our back porch.

With any luck, I'll get the next batch of photos from Peru posted later today. Eastern phoebes, chipping sparrows, and tree swallows have all been seen in recent days, more signs that spring is really here!

Mar. 27, 2004 Western tanager closeup As I was pondering whether to join the Augusta Bird Club field trip this morning, a mysterious migrant landed on our back steps and made up my mind for me. As you can sort of see from this freeze frame video image, it was yellowish with darker wings and the size of an oriole or tanager. To see another angle of the bill, roll the mouse over the image! (The stakes and excavated dirt visible in the background are the result of the apartment construction project.) Jacqueline and I got good looks at it, and I managed to take a couple minutes of video tape, at close range, though blurred by window reflection and not well aimed. At first I thought it was a female orchard oriole, but the bill seemed too thick, suggesting it might be a tanager. But the only tanagers that have prominent wing bars are western tanagers, and that species has never been sighted in these parts. Whatever it is, it is a very rare sighting indeed for this time of year. The "oriager," as I've dubbed it, has returned several times during the day, gulping down suet and seeds we left on our steps. I put some orange slices out there as well, but don't think they have been nibbled on yet. My neighbor the bird expert, YuLee Larner, just came by and saw the video tape I shot, and is likewise stumped by this. [NOTE: Photos retouched Dec. 6, 2004.]

Mar. 17, 2004

Trip to Peru

Almost exactly one year after our trip Mexico, Jacqueline and I traveled to her home country of Peru, and were rewarded by seeing at least 29 life birds, as well as a large number of migratory birds that we only see in Virginia during summer months. For reference, I found a very useful book via the Internet, Birds of Machu Picchu, by Gino Cassinelli Del Sante (2003), which has very good illustrations of 86 species, most of which I had never heard of. I also purchased a fold-up single-sheet field guide to birds of the Lima area. The "top ten" life birds I saw in Peru were: blue-capped tanager, sparkling violetear, golden-billed saltator, giant hummingbird, hooded siskin, bananaquit, blue-gray tanager, black-necked stilt, American oystercatcher, and apolomado falcon. The complete list can be found in the Sightings table below; the identification of some species is not yet certain, pending examination of video, etc.

Birds seen in Peru

West Peruvian doveMar. 6..Ventanilla, Peru
Croaking ground doveMar. 6..Ventanilla, Peru
Blue-black grassquitMar. 6..Ventanilla, Peru
Vermilion flycatcher Mar. 6Ventanilla, Peru
Eared dove Mar. 6Lima, PeruLIFE BIRD
Amazilia hummingbirdMar. 6Ventanilla, PeruLIFE BIRD
Black vulture Mar. 7..Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), Peru
Great egret Mar. 7Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), Peru
Snowy egret Mar. 7Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), Peru
Cattle egret Mar. 7Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), Peru
American coot Mar. 7Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), Peru
Common moorhen Mar. 7Ventanilla (marsh/lagoon), PeruLIFE BIRD
American oystercatcher Mar. 7Ventanilla (beach), PeruLIFE BIRD
Band-tailed gulls Mar. 7..Ventanilla (beach), PeruLIFE BIRD
Franklin's gulls Mar. 7..Ventanilla (beach), PeruLIFE BIRD
? sandpiper Mar. 7Ventanilla (beach), Peru
Blue and gray tanager (GLIMPSE)Mar. 8Ventanilla, PeruLIFE BIRD
House wren Mar. 8..Ventanilla, Peru
Hooded siskin Mar. 8..Cuzco, PeruLIFE BIRD
Rufous-collared sparrow Mar. 8..Cuzco, PeruLIFE BIRD
American kestrel Mar. 9Cuzco, Peru
Cinerous conebill Mar. 9Cuzco, PeruLIFE BIRD
Ciguanco thrush Mar. 9Cuzco, PeruLIFE BIRD
Blue & white swallow Mar. 9Cuzco, PeruLIFE BIRD
Sparkling violetear (hummingbird) Mar. 9Pisac, PeruLIFE BIRD
Giant hummingbird Mar. 9Pisac, PeruLIFE BIRD
Band-tailed seedeater Mar. 9Pisac, PeruLIFE BIRD
Tropical kingbird Mar. 10Aguas Calientes, PeruLIFE BIRD
Black phoebe Mar. 10Aguas Calientes, Peru
Torrent tyrannulet Mar. 10Aguas Calientes, PeruLIFE BIRD
Mitred parakeet (GLIMPSE) Mar. 10Machu Picchu, PeruLIFE BIRD
Green & white hummingbird Mar. 10Machu Picchu, PeruLIFE BIRD
Blue-capped tanager Mar. 10Machu Picchu, PeruLIFE BIRD
Streaked xenops Mar. 10Machu Picchu, PeruLIFE BIRD
Golden-billed saltator Mar. 10Machu Picchu, PeruLIFE BIRD
Aplomado falcon Mar. 11Near Chincheros, PeruLIFE BIRD
Bar-winged cinclodes Mar. 11Near Chincheros, Peru
Bananaquit Mar. 12Surco, PeruLIFE BIRD
Neotropic cormorant Mar. 12Pantanos de Villa, Chorrillos, PeruLIFE BIRD
Shiny cowbird (?) Mar. 12Pantanos de Villa, Chorrillos, PeruLIFE BIRD
?? grebe Mar. 12Pantanos de Villa, Chorrillos, Peru
Black-necked stilt Mar. 12Pantanos de Villa, Chorrillos, PeruLIFE BIRD
Common tern Mar. 13Ventanilla (beach), Peru
Gray gull Mar. 13Ventanilla (beach), PeruLIFE BIRD
Brown booby Mar. 13Ventanilla (beach), PeruLIFE BIRD
Brown pelican Mar. 13Ventanilla (beach), Peru
?? flycatcher Mar. 13Ventanilla (beach), Peru
Peregrine falcon Mar. 13Ventanilla, Peru

NOTE: "FOS" means "first of season," which applies only to migratory birds. "FOBS" means "first of breeding season," which applies to migratory birds normally only seen here in winter. "FOY" means "first of year." "ABC" means "Augusta Bird Club, and "BSD" means "Big Spring Day," a semi-official survey.

Feb. 29, 2004 I strolled around the wooded trails at Montgomery Hall Park yesterday afternoon and saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy woodpecker, and a couple red-bellied woodpeckers, plus many robins and cedar waxwings in a nearby field. Later in the afternoon at Bell's Lane, I saw two hooded mergansers (!!) and three ring-necked ducks (!), a species which I had seen from a distance last October, but this was my first-ever clear sighting. Also, two American coots, and two killdeers. Today I caught a glimpse of a fox sparrow in the woods behind the Rescue Squad. There were a couple yellow-rumped warblers, but no kinglets, and I still haven't seen a brown creeper all winter! Sadly, there is a construction project behind our apartment, which will probably scare away a lot of birds.

Feb. 22, 2004white-crowned sparrow Jacqueline and I just got back from a pleasant Sunday drive through Augusta County in search of those short-eared owls I saw two weeks ago, but they were no where to be found. We did, however, see a couple northern harriers (which I caught on video) as well as several white-crowned sparrows, and I was lucky to get this still photo. (I was about 15 feet away.)

Feb. 21, 2004 Is spring just around the corner? I've been seeing large flocks of migrating Robins (20-100 or more) in all sorts of locations over the last week or so. They're all around JMU and the hills of Augusta Country. Today (very brisk and windy) I saw at least 20 cedar waxwings a few miles north of town, joined by a like number of robins.

Feb. 16, 2004 Because of all the computer activities, there simply wasn't enough time to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. I did manage a brisk walk with Cathy, however, and we saw some bluebirds, downy woodpeckers, a red-bellied woodpecker, and best of all, about 15 cedar waxwings feeding on a nearby cherry tree. I hadn't seen any of that wandering species for the past couple months, and it was the first time that Cathy has ever got a good look at them.

Feb. 8, 2004 While driving through the snow-covered rolling hills of western Augusta County today, I accidentally stirred up a group of large raptors that had been lounging in bushes along the road. (It was on Route 707, just east of Trimble's Mill and the Boy Scout camp.) I quickly stopped, got out, and spotted five of them in a tree. With bright yellow eyes, pale faces, there was no doubt that they were short-eared owls, and a friendly pair of local residents who were driving by confirmed that for me. (They pointed out two more owls perched on fence posts nearby, making a total of seven!) I spent 10-15 minutes watching them swoop around the fields, and took a couple pictures (with film). This is the same species I first spotted near Staunton two years ago, and it more than doubles the total number of owls I have seen in the wild in broad daylight during my lifetime. Until today, I had only seen three owls in such conditions. In that general vicinity, I also saw two flickers, a downy woodpecker, a field sparrow, a red-tailed hawk, three bluebirds, and a couple white-breasted nuthatches. Then I headed further west to Augusta Springs, and saw a tiny winter wren, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a downy woodpecker, and a red-shouldered hawk, which are quite uncommon west of the Blue Ridge.

Feb. 6, 2004 ICE! About 3/4 inch of frozen rain covers everything outside, and we must have had 20 or more ravenous, shivering goldfinches feeding in our back yard today, along with a lesser number of various other birds. These have been the two harshest consecutive winters in Virginia that I can remember.

Feb. 3, 2004 Downy woodpecker (M) More snow! Classes at JMU were cancelled today, thank goodness, although the latest layer of snow (about five dense inches) was starting to melt by the afternoon. We had a dozen or more hungry juncos AND goldfinches feeding in our back yard several times throughout the day. Compare this freeze frame of a male (note the red spot) downy woodpecker with the female I "shot" back on Jan. 20. Gettin' better!

Jan. 31, 2004Purple finch On the right is a male purple finch who was feeding on the other side of our apartment complex today, taken with our new Canon videocamera. (Actually, it is Jacqueline's.) Purple finches are winter visitors that resemble house finches, which are duller in color. This guy was about 70 feet away, even further than the downy woodpecker whose photo I took back on Jan. 20. Not bad zoom! I would have waited for a less obstructed view, but it was just too darned cold! Nearly all of the snow that fell six days ago is still on the ground, and with today's bright sunshine the glare is quite intense.