This winter is once again proving to be lucky in terms of unusual bird sightings. In response to an e-mail report from Greg Moyers, I drove up to Lake Shenandoah (east of Harrisonburg) on Sunday afternoon, and sure enough, I spotted several Red-breasted Mergansers soon after I arrived. (At first I thought they were Common Mergansers, and Gabriel Mapel -- the youngest member of the Augusta Bird Club! -- corrected me on Facebook.) To get in good position for a photograph, I had to exit the parking lot and drive around the southern end of the lake, and fortunately the colorful ducks didn't mind as I cautiously approached. There was one adult male in near-breeding plumage, plus two females and three probable young males. (The latter looked like females but with black eye "masks.")
While I was taking photos, a Great Blue Heron flew right up to the shore, only about 30 feet away from me. As soon as I stepped out from behind the tree to get a better picture, it flew away. Also seen while I was at Lake Shenandoah: American Coot, Pied-bill Grebe, four Red-necked Grebes, a Kingfisher, Mallards, and Canada Geese.
I recently learned that all visitors to Lake Shenandoah, not just people who go fishing, need an access permit. They are available at stores catering to hunters and fishermen, or online at Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries. An annual permit valid at all Virginia fishing lakes and wildlife management areas costs only $23, which for me was well worth the cost!
Because of the recent heavy snow, the ground has been too wet to do much hiking in the woods lately, so my birding activities have been curtailed. Nonetheless, I did have some luck while stopping at the Ruritan Park just north of Nellysford last Thursday:
These photos, and several more, can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.