February 4, 2019
On January 26 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new Mill Place trail in Verona, and with temperatures in the mid-20s, I didn't expect much of a turnout. (I had previously led a field trip there on December 8.) But to my surprise, seven other birders showed up, once again defying the frigid conditions! Immediately we could see that the thick brushy area where a retention pond used to be had been excavated and was largely barren. That was a tragedy, because sparrows of all kinds had been using those bushes for both shelter and food. Highlights included Red-shouldered Hawk, a Northern Harrier in the distance, an American Kestrel, and Savannah Sparrow which at the time I thought was a Song Sparrow. A close look at the photo after I got home left no doubt about the species. Pausing at the big pond behind Hardee's (mostly unfrozen) on the way out, some of us saw several Hooded Mergansers, some Buffleheads, two Great Blue Herons, as well as the usual Canada Geese and Mallards.
Since then, one of our club members, Ann Cline, has contacted the Augusta County Parks and Recreation Department to find out what is going on with that excavation. Hopefully the brushy area will be restored by the summer. The Mill Place trail is a real natural treasure, in the midst of an industrial park. The county government deserves credit for making the area accessible to the public.
A few times in January there was a Brown Creeper in our back yard, but I haven't seen it for a week or two. There was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker earlier in the winter, but it hasn't come by lately either. Contrary to the forecasts of a big "irruption" of northerly species this season, we haven't had any Pine Siskins this winter, and just one (probable) female Purple Finch. Another winter bird that seems curiously absent is the Yellow-rumped Warbler; there are extremely scarce for the second winter in a row. On January 11 I saw a Cooper's Hawk out back, and managed to get this photo before it flew away:
We had another big snow storm on January 13, but the roads were mostly cleared by the afternoon so Jacqueline and I took a drive. On the north side of downtown Staunton, we noticed Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures roosting in tall pine trees, and from the photos I took, there must have been at least 200 of them. On January 24 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike near the ponds on Bell's Lane once again, but it was farther away than the first time I saw it on December 27. I have seen Short-eared Owls in that area a couple times in recent weeks, but other than a blurry post-dusk photo on January 11 have not "captured" any of them in photos.
After a meeting of the Augusta Bird Club board yesterday (February 3), I paid a visit to the pond behind Hardee's, where Allen Larner had reported seeing a Long-tailed Duck. After a few minutes, I spotted the little guy (male), intermittently diving into the icy water. It was only the third time I had ever seen one, the first being February 15, 2014. The sky was cloudy, however, so my photos were only so-so.
Today was warm and sunny, however, so I went back in the latter part of the morning. Thankfully, there it was not far from the shore, and I was able to get some very good photos. There were also three Killdeers in the grass, as well as the rest of the usual ducks and geese on the water.
But my main objective of the day was to see the Evening Grosbeaks at Kevin Shank's residence in the Union Springs area in Rockingham County. With such ideal weather, I just had to take advantage. My first visit there was on December 29; see January 9 blog post. Arriving shortly before noon, I talked with Mr. Shank about where the Grosbeaks had been seen, and I prepared for a long vigil, scouting the trees around his house. But two-plus hours of patience did not pay off, and I finally left -- but not before seeing and photographing two species I had not yet seen (for sure) this winter: Pine Siskins and Purple Finches! So that was a nice consolation prize.
On my way back to Staunton I stopped at Silver Lake just north of Dayton, and had some nice, well-lit views of some interesting duck species, as seen below. (The Kingfisher was perched above a stream closer to town; it's the best photo I have taken of a female of that species.)
Even more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.