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A diary of birds I've observed, spiced up with photos and occasional commentary. Clockwise from top left: Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Gallinule, Summer Tanager, Gray Hawk, Virginia Rail, and (in center) Magnolia Warbler.

Wild bird montage shadow
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Bird photos

Captions identifying the birds in these photo montages are found on the Wild Birds intro page.

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December 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Christmas Bird Count 2017

The biggest event of the month for me, birding-wise, was the Augusta County Christmas Bird Count, held on December 17. (A separate Waynesboro was held yesterday, December 30.) I covered the city of Staunton, or rather four of the major park areas within the city limits, not including Bell's Lane:

I did quite a bit of walking in the first three areas, probably about 2.5 miles total. However, I only stopped at Gypsy Hill Park long enough to check the big pond next to the armory (which was empty) and the small pond with the island (which had the usual assortment of semi-domesticated ducks and geese). Late in the afternoon, I went over to the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad which parallels Mountain View Road. I was desperate to get one of the winter migrants, and my efforts paid off, as I soon heard and then saw a Hermit Thrush not far away. Then I went over to Bell's Lane in hopes of seeing the Short-eared Owls. I heard what I believe was a Brown Thrasher in the bushes near the beaver pond, and just about then, Allen Larner showed up, but I couldn't elicit the bird to resume calling. Allen counted it, because someone else saw it within a day or so of the count, so that was rewarding. Allen told me he had seen nine (9) Short-eared Owls, so I went back to their usual location, and spotted one perched on a tree top.

What follows is the combined totals from all areas I covered, including the trail next to Mountain View Road.

  1. Mallard -- 64
  2. Mute Swan -- 1
  3. Misc. domestic duck -- 10
  4. Misc. domestic goose -- 8
  5. Turkey Vulture -- 3
  6. Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) -- 19
  7. Mourning Dove -- 14
  8. Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 15
  9. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- 1
  10. Downy Woodpecker -- 7
  11. Hairy Woodpecker -- 1
  12. Northern Flicker -- 1
  13. Blue Jay -- 12
  14. American Crow -- 38
  15. Fish Crow -- 3
  16. Carolina Chickadee -- 14
  17. Tufted Titmouse -- 14
  18. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 5
  19. Carolina Wren -- 19
  20. Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 3
  21. Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- 1
  22. Hermit Thrush -- 1
  23. American Robin -- 16
  24. Northern Mockingbird -- 6
  25. European Starling -- 65
  26. Cedar Waxwing -- 20
  27. Eastern Bluebird -- 3
  28. Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 5
  29. Eastern Towhee -- 6
  30. Field Sparrow -- 13
  31. Fox Sparrow -- 1
  32. Dark-eyed Junco -- 33
  33. White-throated Sparrow -- 34
  34. Song Sparrow -- 11
  35. Northern Cardinal -- 30
  36. House Finch -- 4
  37. American Goldfinch -- 3

Altogether I tabulated 37 species, exactly one more than last year. See the first checklist (for the Frontier Culture Museum) at

Birds Montage 17 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Eastern Towhee, Northern Flicker, and in center, Short-eared Owl. (December 16)

The owls have landed!

The biggest news of the month around here is the large number of Short-eared Owls that have arrived, especially on Bell's Lane, where nine were seen on the CBC. (See above.) I saw four or five of them on both December 2 and 20. Others have been seen in the Swoope area, but when I went there in late November, all I saw was Northern Harriers.

On December 2, I joined Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, and Ann Cline on an impromptu "field trip" to Bath County, over an hour away. We saw several Bald Eagles, as expected, as well as Common Mergansers and Horned Grebes on Lake Moomaw. For the first time, at my suggestion, we took a shortcut back, along a gravel road that passes through Richardson Gorge, which is very scenic. We also stopped at Warm Springs, one of the resort communities in that remote mountainous area of Virginia. On the way back, we stopped at Augusta Springs and saw a Winter Wren and Swamp Sparrow, but I was only able to get a photo of the latter. After returning to Staunton, three of us went to Bell's Lane and were rewarded by seeing at least four Short-eared Owls, which flew up from their roosts in an open field just as the sun went down. We were startled that they were so close to us, but it was hard to get a good photo.

Birds Montage 2 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Short-eared Owl, Bald Eagle, Hermit Thrush, Common Mergansers, Swamp Sparrow, and in center, Horned Grebe. (December 2)

Snowy Owl visits

Soon after that trip, we learned that a Snowy Owl had been sighted in Mount Crawford area, so I went up there on December 10 and spotted it in the middle of a field. Quite a few other birders were there as well that day. Unfortunately, it was too far away (200 yards?) to get a good photo. As I was leaving, I saw and photographed a Bald Eagle flying over that same field. Back in Staunton, I stopped on Bell's Lane and saw a Wilson's Snipe and White-crowned Sparrow.

Birds Montage 10 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wilson's Snipe, Snowy Owl, White-crowned Sparrow, and Bald Eagle. (December 10)

Ducks at Silver Lake

Responding to another alert, I drove up to Dayton on December 16 and soon spotted the rare Long-tailed Duck on Silver Lake. That species is a diving duck, and it is hard to photograph since they dive so quickly and so frequently. I saw my first-ever Long-tailed Duck in February 2014 at Willow Lake, south of Raphine.

Birds Montage 16 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Long-tailed Duck (F), Redhead (M), Cedar Waxwings, American Coot, and (in center), Gadwall (M). (December 16)

A leisurely drive north of Staunton on Christmas Day yielded views of a few interesting birds, most notabley, two Wilson's Snipes:

Birds Montage 25 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wilson's Snipe, Eastern Bluebird, Cedar Waxwing, Red-tailed Hawk, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (December 25)

One swan a-swimming

Today, December 31, was the Seventh Day of Christmas, and coincidentally, there was a report of a Trumpeter Swan near Waynesboro, so I went over there today. Sure enough, I found it, and got some good pics. Not seven, but seeing one was enough, as they are rather rare. But almost as significant for me was the group of Northern Pintails, both male and female, on the western side of that pond, which is bisected by Route 254. There were also 30 or so Canada Geese, a dozen or so Mallards, and a couple Ruddy Ducks. I was also surprised to see Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging along the edge of the semi-frozen pond, along with some Bluebirds. I don't think I have ever seen a warbler walking on ice before!

Birds Montage 31 Dec 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Trumpeter Swan, Ruddy Duck (M), Mallard (F), Northern Pintails (M), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (M/F?). (December 31)

NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

December 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Birding in November

I managed to get out to do some birding a few times in November, trying to keep abreast of the newly-arrived winter migrants. On the first day of the month (a Wednesday), I drove out to the Swoope area in hopes of seeing either the Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls that had been reported there. (I had seen seven Harriers during a field trip in early October.) I did indeed spot three different Northern Harriers in Swoope, but not until I returned home and looked at my photos did I realize that one of them was a male "Gray Ghost." It's the first such photo I have taken. Later in the day, I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco out back, the first one of the season for me.

Birds Montage 01 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F / J), Northern Harrier (M), Northern Flicker (M), and Dark-eyed Junco. (November 1)

Ducks abound at Silver Lake

On November 10, I drove up to Dayton, hoping to see some of the ducks that had recently arrived at Silver Lake. Sure enough, I spotted a nice variety as soon as I parked there. It was a sunny day, and lighting conditions were very good for taking photos. Something strange happened while I was driving through Dayton: a strange-looking medium-large bird flew over my car by the poultry processing plant, but not until it landed in a nearby spruce tree was I able to identify it for sure: a Black-crowned Night Heron!

Birds Montage 10 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Redhead (M), Ring-necked Ducks (F, M), Ruddy Duck, Black-crowned Night Heron, Bufflehead (M), and in center, more Buffleheads (F). (November 10)

Field trip to Bell's Lane

On November 16 (a Thursday), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, Joe Thompson, and Ann Cline in attendance, later joined by Allen Larner and Stan Heatwole. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and gradually warming temperatures. On the farm pond by the south end we saw several Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes. From there we walked for about a mile, and had some nice views of Red-tailed Hawks along the way. We stopped at the high point of Bell's Lane (by Carolyn Ford's gate), and from there "we" (by which I mean Allen) saw Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, Green-winged Teals, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, and Northern Shovelers on a distant pond. I spotted a Northern Harrier in the distance. Other highlights of the day included Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Flickers, Eastern Bluebirds, Robins, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. There were no Yellow-rumped Warblers, to my surprise. In the eBird report I submitted, there were 32 species total.

Birds Montage 16 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier (F/J), Hairy Woodpecker (M), Ring-necked Ducks (M, F), Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, and in center, Eastern Bluebird (M) and Northern Cardinal (F). (November 16)

Backyard birding

This past Saturday (November 25), I was trying to decide whether to venture out in search of birds, but as it turned out, I didn't have to. To my great surprise, some Eastern Bluebirds were hunting for food in the trees out back, and I was able to get a nice photo. Even better, I saw (and photographed) a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker not far away! I also got a nice photo of a particular White-throated Sparrow with an anomolous white wing feather that has been out back off and on recently. It is almost certainly the very same one that has visited us each winter going back two years!

Birds Montage 25 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Carolina Chickadee, White-throated Sparrow, and Carolina Wren. (November 25)

Birding in and near Lexington

On Sunday, Jacqueline and I went on a day trip to Lexington, about 40 miles south of Staunton. Because of the heavy holiday traffic on I-81, we took Route 11 for almost the entire way in both directions. While approaching Steele's Tavern (east of Raphine), I spotted a hawk on a telephone wire, so I pulled over and was fortunate to get a very good photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk! We don't see that species very often, and that was a stroke of luck. We stopped briefly at McCormick's Mill, but there wasn't anything on the front pond, so we continued to Willow Lake, about a mile southwest. There we saw about a dozen Ruddy Ducks and perhaps six Ring-necked Ducks, plus the usual Canada Geese. Late in the afternoon, I photographed a Rock Pigeon in the parking lot of Devil's Backbone Brewery.

Birds Montage 26 Nov 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruddy Duck, Rock Pigeon, Ring-necked Ducks (M), Northern Cardinal (F). (November 26)

NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

tiny tanager

Favorite warblers
(already seen):

  1. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  2. Magnolia Warbler
  3. Prothonotary Warbler
  4. Blackburnian Warbler
  5. Yellow Warbler
  6. Northern Parula
  7. Black-throated Green Warbler
  8. Canada Warbler
  9. Common Yellowthroat
  10. American Redstart

Yet-unseen warblers:
(eastern species)

Yet-unseen warblers:
(western & semitropical)

"Abundant" birds
(ones I normally don't bother counting):