March 31, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Stormy weather, but Spring is here at last!
In contrast to the rather bleak birding in February (see February 28), when the weather was mostly nice, March was pretty busy, especially during the second half of the month, when we had two major snow storms. On the first day of March, when it was overcast, I paid a brief visit to the pond behind the industrial park in Verona, and saw a pair of Gadwalls (M & F). On Bell's Lane, I saw and photographed five Turkey Vultures perched in succession along fence posts. Two days later a Flicker came to our back yard, foraging in the ground like a Robin, and I got a nice sunlit photo of it. The White-throated Sparrow with the white wing feather that day; it's the third winter in a row it has spent in this neighborhood. On March 9 a Hairy Woodpecker (M) came to our suet feeder, which is very unusual. We see Downy Woodpeckers fairly regularly, in contrast. Late in the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane, and once again saw a Short-eared Owl on the ground, bathed in sunlight.
Sunday March 18 was a big day, as I saw two bird species for the first time this year on Bell's Lane: Tree Swallows and an Eastern Phoebe. I also spotted a male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier in the distance, and saw a female of that species flying only about 75 yards away.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Tree Swallow, Northern Harrier (M), Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Harrier (F), House Finch (M), and American Kestrel (F), around Bell's Lane, March 18.
The very next day (March 19) I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, led by Penny Warren. On the private farm pond we saw some Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, and a Coot. Later on we saw two Gadwalls in another pond, and just then a male Wood Duck splashed down in most dramatic fashion. There were no owls that morning, but the others saw a Northern Harrier while I was busy taking a photo of a Meadowlark. On the beaver pond we saw a Green-winged Teal and two Wilson's Snipes.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Meadowlark, Ring-necked Duck, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Bluebird, Gadwall, Eastern Phoebe, Wood Duck, two Wilson's Snipes, and in center, Green-winged Teal, around Bell's Lane on March 19. All four ducks are males.
On March 22, one day after the big snowstorm, I went to Bell's Lane and was surprised to see four different Short-eared Owls. Since we had thought that all but two of them had already departed for the season, it is possible that two of them returned south after encountering the blast of arctic air.
Pictured above are at least three different Short-eared Owls on Bell's Lane, March 22.
On March 25, a beautiful sunny day, Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, mainly to see the Bald Eagle nest which apparently has a couple eaglets that have already hatched. The mother seemed to be feeding her offspring, and soon we saw the presumable father soaring upward, catching a thermal draft. On the Boy Scout lake I saw a Double-crested Cormorant and two unidentified ducks. Along the road heading back toward Staunton, I saw several Field Sparrows (the first I had seen in months) and White-crowned Sparrows, as well as some Kestrels and many Robins and Starlings. Over on Bell's Lane I counted just two Short-eared Owls.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Kestrel, Double-crested Cormorant, Bald Eagle, Eastern Meadowlark, and Field Sparrow, around Swoope, as well as a Short-eared Owl on Bell's Lane, March 25.
On March 26 Jacqueline and I went to Charlottesville (mainly to buy concert tickets), and while I was walking over to see the U.Va. baseball stadium, I spotted a male Eastern Bluebird on a fence post only about 25 feet away, so I took some photos. I think this one is the best photo I have yet taken of that species!
Chimney Hollow field trip
Finally, this morning I led a field trip to Chimney Hollow, joine by two other members. It was chilly at first, but it gradually warmed up. The water in the stream was higher than expected, probably due to the runoff from all the snow last week. That forced us to be careful when stepping on the stones. Also, I was shocked to see how many big trees had fallen down, blocking the trail in several places. In some places it looked like a war zone. Anyway, we heard a Pine Warbler almost as soon as we got started, but in spite of constant searching we never did see one. We did see two of the other spring arrival "target birds": Blue-headed Vireo and Louisiana Waterthrush. I couldn't get a photo of the latter one, however. One of the highlights was a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the sun, the the glare of the light was too much for my camera. Altogether we only tallied 14 species (see the eBird list), a modest total. Afterwards we went to nearby Braley's Pond where I had my first view of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project. Many trees had been cut down already. We heard a Phoebe while at Braley's Pond, as well as a probable Sharp-shinned Hawk flying high above, but not much else. The photo of a Phoebe below was taken in back of White Way Restaurant on Route 250, on the way back to Staunton.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, around Chimney Hollow; the Eastern Phoebe was at White Way Restaurant, March 31. Other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
February 28, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Madison Run
Bad weather forced the cancellation or postponement of two Augusta Bird Club field trips in January, including the scheduled trip to Highland County. But conditions improved on January 27, as ten club members (and friends) went hiking along the Madison Run Fire Road, on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park near the town of Grottoes. Approximately 22 species were identified by sight or sound, including some at a nearby house with a feeder. The highlight was a brief view I had of a Ruffed Grouse that flushed from the bushes along the road. A Hermit Thrush and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were also seen by some members, but not me. Afterwards, some of the participants paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane and saw two Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Northern Harrier.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: White-breasted Nuthatch, Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and in center, American Goldfinch. (January 27, 2018)
Other birds of note
On January 7, Jacqueline and I were in Waynesboro, so I stopped at the pond along Rt. 254 on northeast edge of town where I had seen the Trumpeter Swan the week before, and this time got some nice, well-lit photos.
On January 23, we were on a casual country drive north of town, and spotted an American Kestrel on a fence post near Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. It was a great photo op, and perhaps my best photo ever of that species.
I was in Harrisonburg on January 24, so I stopped at the JMU Arboretum for the first time in several months, and was rewarded with nice views of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Then I drove to Bridgewater in hopes of seeing something special [on the North River], but only saw a couple Pied-billed Grebes and an American Coot. Back home, one of our canaries started giving an alarm call, and I soon realized there was a Cooper's Hawk in a tree out back, so I snapped a quick picture before it flew off.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pied-billed Grebes, White-breasted Nuthatch, [Cooper's] Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Coot, and Eastern Bluebird. (January 24, 2018)
February birding blues
Except for the Short-eared Owls (see below), there wasn't really much birding activity for most of this month. On February 9, I went to a neighborhood in Waynesboro in hopes of seeing a Baltimore Oriole that has been there for over a month, but I struck out. There were plenty of Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and other birds at least. On February 23, I drove up to Dayton, hoping to see a White-winged Scoter on Silver Lake, but it was already gone. I did at least get another look at the Long-tailed Duck that I had seen there in December. I also had distant views of Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and a Bufflehead. A few American Coots were farther away. By the White Wave plant [in Mount Crawford] on the way home, I saw a group of Common Grackles, another sign that spring is drawing near!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Grackle, Long-tailed Duck, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and in center, a Bufflehead. (February 23, 2018)
Field trip to Montgomery Hall Park
On Saturday, February 24 I led a field trip to Montgomery Hall Park, with seven club members attending altogether. Temperatures were mild, but it was overcast, resulting in mediocre visibility. Approximately 30 species were seen or heard over the course of two and a half hours walking through the woods. Many birds were singing and calling, but most of them remained out of sight. Among the most notable birds we saw were a dozen or so Cedar Waxwings, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a couple Killdeers in the field to the south. We also heard Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pileated Woodpeckers, and a Hermit Thrush. On a farm pond about 200 yards to the south, we spotted some Gadwalls, along with Canada Geese and Mallards.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: White-breasted Nuthatch, Cedar Waxwing, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and in center, Killdeers and Canada Goose. (February 24, 2018)
More Short-eared Owls!
To the amazement and delight of local birders (and visitors), the Short-eared Owls that took up seasonal residence in the Bell's Lane area late in November have remained there throughout the winter. I took average-quality photos of them on January 16, February 14, as the skies were getting dark after dusk. But I finally lucked out on February 26, when the owls came out before the sun went down. Even though I couldn't get any [close-range] photos in the sunlight, I had some great photo ops when some of them obliged me by perching in the nearby dead tree before it got too dark. I saw as many as five owls at one point, and some birding folks visiting from upstate New York were quite thrilled. They didn't know which owl species it was until I told them. They were just randomly passing by Staunton, and couldn't have picked a better time and place!
Short-eared Owl, on Bell's Lane, February 26, 2018. As usual, several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.