March 18, 2019
After two previous attempts (December 29 and February 4) ended in frustration, on Saturday I returned to the Shank family residence in Union Springs [Rockingham County] in hopes of seeing the fabled Evening Grosbeaks for the first time. There were lots of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, etc., and even a Fox Sparrow, but none of the target birds. After two hours of vigil I was on the brink of despair. Just as I was about to leave, I heard an odd call in the trees and soon spotted the Evening Grosbeaks up above. YES!!! Eventually they came down to the feeder, where I got some pretty good photos. I was hoping to get a little closer, but just then someone came out of the front door and all the birds scattered. No matter, I still achieved my goal of seeing an Evening Grosbeak, and I was quite satisfied with that. "The third time's a charm!"
[Evening Grosbeaks breed in Canada and the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, all the way down into Mexico, in fact. Some of them migrate south into the northeastern U.S.A. during the winter, but seldom do they migrate as far south as the mid-Atlantic states. They used to be more common in the winter in Virginia, but have become extremely scarce in these latitudes since the 1990s. Last fall, ornithologists predicted that there would be a major southward "irruption" of Evening Grosbeaks (as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches) during the winter because of a reduced output of tree seeds in their usual range up north. There have been more reports of that species this past winter, but not as many as we were hoping. I'm lucky to have seen them at all.]
Of the five or six Evening Grosbeaks that I saw, all seemed to be females or immature males. Adult males have a bold orange, yellow, black, and white plumage, and it's too bad none of them were present. In any case, this was my first life bird since March 8, 2017, when I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite near Immokalee, Florida. That's according to my Life bird list, and I have updated that page accordingly. The Evening Grosbeak is my 504th life bird.
I'm very grateful to the Shank family for being such gracious hosts to all the visiting bird enthusiasts like me. Kevin Shank is the editor of Nature Friend magazine, a wonderful publication that the whole family can enjoy.
On February 6 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the third time, but not since then. Other birders saw it occasionally later in the month. On February 9 I saw two adult Bald Eagles perched on fence posts in the same area, on the back side of the ponds. It raises the possibility that they are a mating pair with a nest nearby, but there haven't been any follow-up reports. On February 19 I saw the new Bald Eagle nest in Swoope for the first time; it is about a mile southwest of the old one, which was in a tree that had been toppled by high winds in November. Also that day, I saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season.
On February 27 I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill, led by Jo King. It was a beautiful if somewhat chilly day, and I managed to get photos of most of the birds we saw, including an Eastern Phoebe (rare in winter months) and a Great Blue Heron. We saw two Golden-crowned Kinglets and a young Red-tailed Hawk, but they eluded my camera. Later most of us went over to Willow Lake, which was full of various ducks, as many as one hundred. Someone spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead, but I couldn't get a good photo until it had flown some distance away. That was probably the highlight of the day.
As spring began to arrive, migratory birds began arriving as well: on March 5, I saw several Common Grackles for the first time this year. (Occasionally you will see large flocks of them in farm fields during winter months, but for most intents and purposes they are a migratory species.) Earlier this month I made a couple visits to Mill Place. The Long-tailed Duck and Hooded Mergansers had already left the pond behind Hardee's, but a few Buffleheads remained, along with the usual Canada Geese. [On March 10 I took advantage of the sudden switch from winter to spring weather and saw a male Lesser Scaup at the Hardee's pond. I also had nice, sunlit views of several birds at Mill Place and Bell's Lane. Others reported seeing Tree Swallows on Bell's Lane on March 12, but I didn't. On March 14, I saw my first Chipping Sparrow of the year on the back patio.]
[As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.]