Andrew Clem blog home


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
Special archives:

Bird photos

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

Birding Web sites:

Reciprocal links:


Conservation links


April 20, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Springtime for birders!

My overall impression is that most migratory birds have been arriving a little behind schedule this spring, but others may have had different observations. On March 23 to Bell's Lane I was pleased to see the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the first time since February 6 (see March 18), on the very same line of fence posts, in fact. Three days later I went back in hopes of seeing again (twice, in fact), but no luck. I did, however, see a Vesper Sparrow, another pleasant surprise. I had seen them there twice last fall, likewise a rather unusual sighting. Tree Swallows were flying around, the first time I had seen them this year.

Montage 26 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Vesper Sparrow, Tree Swallow, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-winged Blackbird (F), on Bell's Lane, March 26.

Augusta Springs field trip

On Saturday March 30 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Augusta Springs, in the western part of Augusta County. To my surprise, the turnout was quite large, with at least a dozen people in attendance. Soon after we began, I heard a strange whistling song that reminded me of a Killdeer, but I had no idea what it was. Then I spotted the singing bird at the top of a small tree, and was astonished to realize that it was a Rusty Blackbird! I had seen a flock of those along the Middle River on last November, when it had the "rusty" non-breeding plumage, and this was the first time I had a clear view of one in breeding plumage. Then I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush singing, so we reversed course along the boardwalk trail, going counter-clockwise in pursuit of it, but without success. We did, however, have a nice view of some Yellow-rumped Warblers. (I hardly saw any of those during the past winter.) Other highlights of the morning included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Ducks, Pine Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only), and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. On the way back to Staunton somd of us stopped at the Falls Hollow trail head, east of Elliott Knob. We didn't see any birds there, so we continued to Swoope, where we saw the new Bald Eagle nest, about a mile southwest of the one in the tree that was blown down in a storm last November. All in all, it was a wonderful day of birding!

Montage 30 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Rusty Blackbird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Warbler (M), Brown Creeper, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Bald Eagles, and Wood Duck (M), on March 30. Except for the Bald Eagles (in Swoope), all others were seen at Augusta Springs.

Birding in April

I didn't get out much during the first week of this month, but I did get a nice closeup view of a male Pine Warbler in the Big Levels area on April 6. Five days later (on April 11) I went to Bell's Lane, where I had nice views of several birds, including Goldfinches in breeding plumage. Then I went to Mill Place in Verona and saw two Savannah Sparrows close by.

Montage 11 Apr 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Evening Grosbeak, Fox Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Siskin; at Union Springs, Rockingham County, March 16. Roll your mouse over the image to see a larger image of the Evening Grosbeak.

On Saturday April 13 (Earth Day!) I went to Montgomery Hall Park, but didn't see much other than an Eastern Towhee until just before I was going to leave then I spotted a flycatcher of some kind in nearby tree tops, and soon determined that it was an Eastern Kingbird, my first one of the year. Later that day on Bell's Lane, I had two other first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Brown Thrasher.

Montage 13 Apr 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Downy Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher, and Eastern Kingbird, April 13.

Finally I took advantage of the nice weather on April 17 by visiting Bell's Lane again, but didn't see any of the hoped-for warblers. I did have nice views of several other birds, however, including several recently-arrived migrants:

Montage 17 Apr 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch (M), and Ruby-crowned Kinglet; on April 17.

As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. In about five minutes, I'm going to lead a field trip to Dowell's Draft, in western Augusta County! smile

March 18, 2019 [LINK / comment]

Life bird: Evening Grosbeak(s)!

After two previous attempts (December 29 and February 4) ended in frustration, on Saturday I returned to the Shank family residence in Union Springs [Rockingham County] in hopes of seeing the fabled Evening Grosbeaks for the first time. There were lots of Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, Goldfinches, etc., and even a Fox Sparrow, but none of the target birds. After two hours of vigil I was on the brink of despair. Just as I was about to leave, I heard an odd call in the trees and soon spotted the Evening Grosbeaks up above. YES!!! Eventually they came down to the feeder, where I got some pretty good photos. I was hoping to get a little closer, but just then someone came out of the front door and all the birds scattered. No matter, I still achieved my goal of seeing an Evening Grosbeak, and I was quite satisfied with that. "The third time's a charm!"

[Evening Grosbeaks breed in Canada and the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains, all the way down into Mexico, in fact. Some of them migrate south into the northeastern U.S.A. during the winter, but seldom do they migrate as far south as the mid-Atlantic states. They used to be more common in the winter in Virginia, but have become extremely scarce in these latitudes since the 1990s. Last fall, ornithologists predicted that there would be a major southward "irruption" of Evening Grosbeaks (as well as Red-breasted Nuthatches) during the winter because of a reduced output of tree seeds in their usual range up north. There have been more reports of that species this past winter, but not as many as we were hoping. I'm lucky to have seen them at all.]

Montage 16 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Red-bellied Woodpecker (M), Evening Grosbeak, Fox Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Pine Siskin; at Union Springs, Rockingham County, March 16. Roll your mouse over the image to see a larger image of the Evening Grosbeak.

Of the five or six Evening Grosbeaks that I saw, all seemed to be females or immature males. Adult males have a bold orange, yellow, black, and white plumage, and it's too bad none of them were present. In any case, this was my first life bird since March 8, 2017, when I saw a Swallow-tailed Kite near Immokalee, Florida. That's according to my Life bird list, and I have updated that page accordingly. The Evening Grosbeak is my 504th life bird.

I'm very grateful to the Shank family for being such gracious hosts to all the visiting bird enthusiasts like me. Kevin Shank is the editor of Nature Friend magazine, a wonderful publication that the whole family can enjoy.

Birding in February: eagles!!

On February 6 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike on Bell's Lane for the third time, but not since then. Other birders saw it occasionally later in the month. On February 9 I saw two adult Bald Eagles perched on fence posts in the same area, on the back side of the ponds. It raises the possibility that they are a mating pair with a nest nearby, but there haven't been any follow-up reports. On February 19 I saw the new Bald Eagle nest in Swoope for the first time; it is about a mile southwest of the old one, which was in a tree that had been toppled by high winds in November. Also that day, I saw my first Red-winged Blackbirds of the season.

On February 27 I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to McCormick's Mill, led by Jo King. It was a beautiful if somewhat chilly day, and I managed to get photos of most of the birds we saw, including an Eastern Phoebe (rare in winter months) and a Great Blue Heron. We saw two Golden-crowned Kinglets and a young Red-tailed Hawk, but they eluded my camera. Later most of us went over to Willow Lake, which was full of various ducks, as many as one hundred. Someone spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead, but I couldn't get a good photo until it had flown some distance away. That was probably the highlight of the day.

Montage 27 Feb 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-winged Blackbird (M), Bald Eagle, American Robin, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Redheads (M & F), and Greater Scaups (M & F); McCormick's Mill & Willow Lake, February 27.

Birding in early March

As spring began to arrive, migratory birds began arriving as well: on March 5, I saw several Common Grackles for the first time this year. (Occasionally you will see large flocks of them in farm fields during winter months, but for most intents and purposes they are a migratory species.) Earlier this month I made a couple visits to Mill Place. The Long-tailed Duck and Hooded Mergansers had already left the pond behind Hardee's, but a few Buffleheads remained, along with the usual Canada Geese. [On March 10 I took advantage of the sudden switch from winter to spring weather and saw a male Lesser Scaup at the Hardee's pond. I also had nice, sunlit views of several birds at Mill Place and Bell's Lane. Others reported seeing Tree Swallows on Bell's Lane on March 12, but I didn't. On March 14, I saw my first Chipping Sparrow of the year on the back patio.]

Montage 10 Mar 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-winged Blackbird (M), Northern Cardinal (M), Eastern Meadowlark, Lesser Scaup (M), Buffleheads (M & F), and in center, Mallard (M); at Mill Place & Bell's Lane, March 10.

[As usual, more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.]

February 4, 2019 [LINK / comment]

F-f-freezing field trip to Mill Place

On January 26 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the new Mill Place trail in Verona, and with temperatures in the mid-20s, I didn't expect much of a turnout. (I had previously led a field trip there on December 8.) But to my surprise, seven other birders showed up, once again defying the frigid conditions! Immediately we could see that the thick brushy area where a retention pond used to be had been excavated and was largely barren. That was a tragedy, because sparrows of all kinds had been using those bushes for both shelter and food. Highlights included Red-shouldered Hawk, a Northern Harrier in the distance, an American Kestrel, and Savannah Sparrow which at the time I thought was a Song Sparrow. A close look at the photo after I got home left no doubt about the species. Pausing at the big pond behind Hardee's (mostly unfrozen) on the way out, some of us saw several Hooded Mergansers, some Buffleheads, two Great Blue Herons, as well as the usual Canada Geese and Mallards.

Since then, one of our club members, Ann Cline, has contacted the Augusta County Parks and Recreation Department to find out what is going on with that excavation. Hopefully the brushy area will be restored by the summer. The Mill Place trail is a real natural treasure, in the midst of an industrial park. The county government deserves credit for making the area accessible to the public.

Montage 26 Jan 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (F), Buffleheads, Dark-eyed Junco, Red-shouldered Hawk, Savannah Sparrow, Great Blue Herons, and Hooded Mergansers (F & M).

Other birds in January

A few times in January there was a Brown Creeper in our back yard, but I haven't seen it for a week or two. There was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker earlier in the winter, but it hasn't come by lately either. Contrary to the forecasts of a big "irruption" of northerly species this season, we haven't had any Pine Siskins this winter, and just one (probable) female Purple Finch. Another winter bird that seems curiously absent is the Yellow-rumped Warbler; there are extremely scarce for the second winter in a row. On January 11 I saw a Cooper's Hawk out back, and managed to get this photo before it flew away:

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk, in Staunton, on January 11.

We had another big snow storm on January 13, but the roads were mostly cleared by the afternoon so Jacqueline and I took a drive. On the north side of downtown Staunton, we noticed Turkey Vultures and Black Vultures roosting in tall pine trees, and from the photos I took, there must have been at least 200 of them. On January 24 I saw the Loggerhead Shrike near the ponds on Bell's Lane once again, but it was farther away than the first time I saw it on December 27. I have seen Short-eared Owls in that area a couple times in recent weeks, but other than a blurry post-dusk photo on January 11 have not "captured" any of them in photos.

Long-tailed Duck!

After a meeting of the Augusta Bird Club board yesterday (February 3), I paid a visit to the pond behind Hardee's, where Allen Larner had reported seeing a Long-tailed Duck. After a few minutes, I spotted the little guy (male), intermittently diving into the icy water. It was only the third time I had ever seen one, the first being February 15, 2014. The sky was cloudy, however, so my photos were only so-so.

Today was warm and sunny, however, so I went back in the latter part of the morning. Thankfully, there it was not far from the shore, and I was able to get some very good photos. There were also three Killdeers in the grass, as well as the rest of the usual ducks and geese on the water.

But my main objective of the day was to see the Evening Grosbeaks at Kevin Shank's residence in the Union Springs area in Rockingham County. With such ideal weather, I just had to take advantage. My first visit there was on December 29; see January 9 blog post. Arriving shortly before noon, I talked with Mr. Shank about where the Grosbeaks had been seen, and I prepared for a long vigil, scouting the trees around his house. But two-plus hours of patience did not pay off, and I finally left -- but not before seeing and photographing two species I had not yet seen (for sure) this winter: Pine Siskins and Purple Finches! So that was a nice consolation prize.

On my way back to Staunton I stopped at Silver Lake just north of Dayton, and had some nice, well-lit views of some interesting duck species, as seen below. (The Kingfisher was perched above a stream closer to town; it's the best photo I have taken of a female of that species.)

Montage 04 Feb 2019

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Long-tailed Duck (M), Canvasback (M), Redhead (M), Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, Greater Scaup (M), Belted Kingfisher (F), and in center, Purple Finch (M). (February 4) Roll mouse over the image to see the Long-tailed Duck enlarged.

Even more photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery 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):