B-b-birding in January
The weather in January was fairly mild until the latter part of the month, when the "real" winter finally arrived, with snow and frigid temperatures. The month started off on a rather auspicious note, as I undertook an expedition to hopefully see a Snowy Owl that had been sighted near Mt. Crawford for the preceding few days. It's about a 20 mile drive, but to my surprise the effort paid off right away. The owl was perched on top of a row of plastic-encased hay bales, perhaps 80 yards from the parking area behind the local rescue squad where a number of birders had gathered. Someone said that there was a better view from the neighboring farm, so most of us drove over there, and indeed we had very good views from less than 40 yards away. The owl turned its head occasionally, but didn't fly at all during the half hour or so that I was there. Afterwards, I drove over to the nearby Cook's Creek Arboretum on the northeast side of Bridgewater, hoping to see an Eastern Screech Owl that often roosts in a nest box there. Bingo again: two owls in one day! On my way home to Staunton I stopped at Bell's Lane in hopes of seeing a third owl (Short-eared), but settled for a nice photo of a White-crowned Sparrow.
On Friday, January 8th, I joined Penny Warren's walk along Bells Lane, with several other Augusta Bird Club members. We may have set some kind of record with at least six and possibly seven Red-tailed Hawks at various places. Highlights of unusual birds included Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers (which seem to be quite scarce this winter), Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Winter Wren, an Eastern Towhee, and a Fox Sparrow. Later in the day, I returned in hopes of photographing the Fox Sparrow. No luck in that regard, but I did see a lone Rusty Blackbird in that same location.
On January 10 I paid a visit to the home of Al Wolf, who lives in a restored mill house next to the South River near Crimora, north of Waynesboro. Al has frequently reported all sorts of unusual birds at his house or on the river, and this time it was a small group of Evening Grosbeaks. I had no luck with that species (once again), but I did see plenty of other birds, most notably some Brown Creepers. Al was a very gracious host, and invited me to walk along the wooded trails on his property.
On January 17 I spotted a Cooper's Hawk in back of where we live, and managed to get a decent photo just before it flew away. A Sharp-shinned Hawk has also been terrorizing the songbirds that come to feed out back. I also got other nice photos of yard birds before Jacqueline and I went for a drive up to Bridgewater in the afternoon. It was a cloudy day, and we really didn't see any birds of note until I spotted a Kestrel on the Blue Ridge Community College campus on the way back to Staunton.
On January 23, I led a field trip for a hike at Braley Pond, joined by three other members of the Augusta Bird Club who braved the freezing temperatures. Not surprisingly, very few birds were observed. Aside from a probable Winter Wren, the highlight of the day was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets about a quarter mile upstream from the pond, which was mostly frozen.
The rest of the month was fairly uneventful, but I did get nice views of a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Short-eared Owl, and some Snow Geese. Those photos and others can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
On the very last day of the month my eight-year old Canon PowerShot SX50 camera malfunctioned, and given its age, it is probably not worth repairing. Between the cold weather and the lack of a camera, I hardly did any birding at all until yesterday. I bought a replacement camera that is an upgraded version of the same line: a PowerShot SX70. It has a stronger zoom lens (65x vs. 50x), with better quality electronics, and will be very handy on future adventures...