Rare birds make big appearances!
Two different species of birds that only rarely come to visit the Staunton-Augusta area have done so this month already: three Cattle Egrets and one Rufous Hummingbird. Both are migratory and breed elsewhere, but a few strays occasionally spend time here in the late Autumn, usually before heading south to warmer climates. It was reported on November 1 that two Cattle Egrets had been spotted at a farm on Bell's Lane, but I didn't see them on my visit there on that day. I was luckier the next day, but they were too far away (about 600 yards) and the lighting conditions were poor.
But on Saturday November 3 I did get a slightly better view of them in the sun from a range of about 300 yards. That was after I had already spotted (and photographed) my first Dark-eyed Junco of the season, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- both in our back yard. (I could tell from the mostly-concealed red feathers on top of its head that it was a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.) But that wasn't all! While I was observing the Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, I saw a bird in a tree and from the photos I took, I realized it was a Vesper Sparrow! Penny Warren had seen one in that area a few days earlier, so it may have been the same bird.
The next day, November 4, there were three Cattle Egrets on Bell's Lane, and the day after that there was just one. Since then, three Cattle Egrets were spotted several miles away in Augusta County, so they seem to have relocated.
On Wednesday, November 7, I joined Jo King and four other bird club members on a field trip to McCormick's Farm. The weather was cool but very pleasant, and we saw various woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, two Gadwalls (plain-looking ducks), a Northern Harrier, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. At the very end of the trip, I spotted a well-camouflaged Brown Creeper on the side of a cedar tree, the first one of the season for all of us, I believe. On my way out, I saw an adult Cooper's Hawk at the top of a dead tree.
A few days ago, a bird club member named Bonnie Hughes reported that a Rufous Hummingbird had been visiting the balcony in back of her house, where she keeps a nectar feeder. (We do too, just in case, even though we haven't had any hummingbirds since the last one left on October 3 or so.) So, I drove out to her house near Stuarts Draft this morning, and lo and behold the bird in question showed up within just a few minutes! Luckily, it perched for a few minutes in bright sunlight, and I was able to get a few good photos from about 15 feet away through the slats of a venetian blind covering the back window. In all the photos, there is a solid yellow background, which is the blurred yellow leaves of a tree about 100 feet away in the next yard. I was dumbfounded and delighted to see this amazing specimen so close. In the front yard there were several female Purple Finches at a feeder, the first ones I have seen this season.
Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the northwestern U.S.A. and Canada, but every year some of them migrate to the eastern states before heading south for the winter. A few of them attempt to stay for the whole winter, but they often die from freezing temperatures. The last time I saw one was west of Harrisonburg
about a dozen [eight*] years ago. I saw a Calliope Hummingbird (another species that breeds in the west and sometimes takes a "detour" during fall migration) west of Lynchburg about ten years ago, in January 2009!
On the way back home, I stopped at Bell's Lane and saw various sparrows, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a Palm Warbler or two.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
* Corrected after being reminded by Facebook of the actual previous date: November 13, 2010; serendipity! That was my first-ever sighting of a Rufous Hummingbird.