January 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to
Mont... Highland County!
I was going to lead a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to Montgomery Hall Park this morning, but -- once again -- nobody else showed up! So, I quickly changed plans and hurried west to Highland County, where Allen Larner was leading a field trip that was originally scheduled for January 7. I only stopped briefly at the Confederate Breastworks (at the top of the mountain ridge which defines the county line), getting a nice view of the thick layer of fog that blanketed the lowlands. Then I proceeded directly to the house across from Snowy Mountain where Margaret O'Bryan used to live, where we always visit. I was guessing that was where the group would be, but as it turned out I arrived first. The skies turned sunny, and I was excited to see three Bald Eagles about a quarter mile away. After 20 minutes or so, I headed south and soon found the other two carload of birders. So returned to the place I had just visited, and thanks to Allen Larner's "eagle eyes," I saw a Golden Eagle almost a mile away. We both saw a probably Golden Eagle on the way back south, but I couldn't get a photo of it. (Arghh!) We then drove around looking for Snipes, to no avail, and after that searched for Rough-legged Hawks, likewise without result. We did see a few good birds here and there, including a noisy Kestrel circling overhead.
After a rest stop in Monterrey, Allen and two other birders headed south to Lake Moomaw in Bath County, while I headed back to Staunton. (I had scheduled a field trip to Lake Moomaw for Saturday, December 10, but had to cancel it because of freezing temperatures.) On the way back to Staunton I made brief stops near a wildlife preserve southwest of the town of Headwaters, at Confederate Breastworks (again), and at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see hardly any birds. Overall, it was kind of a mediocre day, bird-wise.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-capped Chickadee, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel (M), Downy Woodpecker (F), and American Goldfinch.
One day earlier (Friday, which was Inauguration Day!), I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, where I had seen several Hooded Merganser the week before. The sun was finally shining after several days of gloom and doom, and I was hoping to get a better photo of those stunning ducks. After a minute, I spotted them, and got some nice photos after a few of them swam in my direction. Now if I could only get within 20 yards rather than 40 yards...
Hooded Merganser, in Verona on Friday. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
January 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Finally: Short-eared Owls!
Late this afternoon, I drove out to Bell's Lane once again in hopes of seeing Short-eared Owls, and wouldn't you know it, I finally got lucky! As I was approaching the high point where we saw those owls on December 17 (the Christmas Bird Count), I saw two large birds flying in the distance with distinctive swooping wing beats. Could it be? A quick look through the binoculars left no doubt: YES! One of them landed on a bare branch at the top of a tree, joining another that was already there, while the third one flew away. I stopped my car and took several photos from about 80 yards away, and then slowly moved forward to get in better photographic position a couple more times until I was only about 30 yards away. It was about 5:00, with daylight fading fast, so the photos I took weren't as sharp as I would have liked, but still much better than any of that species that I had taken before. One of them flew off, but the photos I took in mid-flight were poor quality. Nonetheless, I was gratified that my persistence finally paid off. It was also very opportune, as I was able to show those photos to other members of the Augusta Bird Club at the monthly "Birds and Brews" social hour less than an hour later!
It was almost four years ago (February 18, 2013) that I last got a good look at (and photo of) a Short-eared Owl, in the Swoope area.
Short-eared Owl, along Bell's Lane today. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
January 16, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Ducks on the (unfrozen) pond
The arctic blast we had a few days ago had a nice side-effect for birders, forcing many ducks to congregate in larger ponds that did not freeze over. One such pond is in the former quarry south of Fishersville, so I headed over there last Thursday after seeing reports of many different duck species there. Even though they were far away (about 200 yards), it was still nice seeing the boldly colored (and aptly named) Redheads. Also present were several American Wigeons and Ring-necked Ducks, plus a few American Coots and several dozen Canada Geese.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Wigeons (M & F), Ring-necked Ducks (3 M, 1 F), Mallard (M), Redheads (M), Canada Goose, American Coot, and in center, American Kestrel (F).
Yesterday, Jacqueline and I stopped at the pond behind Hardees in Verona, and I was surprised to see several Hooded Mergansers there, along with a Great Blue Heron. On the way home, I spotted an American Kestrel along Bell's Lane, but the photos I took were obscured by tree branches. This afternoon, I photographed a White-breasted Nuthatch out back, and then a Red-tailed Hawk at the intersection of Route 11 and Bell's Lane. I was headed there in search of Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls, but struck out once again.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, White-breasted Nuthatch, Hooded Mergansers (3 F, 1 M). Enlarged photos of all four species in this montage can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
January 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Greater White-fronted Geese!
Bird-wise, it was definitely a Happy New Year's Day for me! Thanks to an e-mail alert from Shannon Updike, and some assistance from Diane Lepkowski who arrived soon after I did, I was able to see and photograph the Greater White Fronted Geese yesterday. It was the best view I ever had! (I saw several of them on Bell's Lane last February 2, about 200 yards away.) Yesterday's birds were on a pond behind (Sentara) Rockingham Memorial Hospital, east of Harrisonburg, part of a flock of nearly 100 Canada Geese and a couple dozen Mallards. Also present were two Snow Geese, one Bufflehead (female), and an American Coot. I didn't see the Cackling Goose that was reported there, however.
Then on the way back to Staunton, I checked out Strickley Road for a third time (!), hoping to get a better view of the Snow Bunting than I had last week. The field seemed utterly empty, unfortunately, but after lengthy, careful scanning, I eventually noticed a few Horned Larks quietly foraging, and then a few more. That got my hopes up, and finally I spotted the the Snow Bunting. It was still too far away for a good photograph, so I may have to go back there once again!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Snow Bunting, Snow Goose, American Coot, Greater White-fronted Goose, Great Blue Heron, Bufflehead (F), and in center, Horned Lark. (Roll mouse over the image to see a closeup of the Greater White-fronted Goose.)
The Red-tailed Hawk shown above was perched in a tree along Route 11 on the north edge of Staunton, as I was leaving town. One second later, it flew away! The Great Blue Heron was on Bell's Lane, where I stopped on the way home to look (in vain) for the Short-eared Owls just before dusk. [Enlarged versions of those photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.]
Strickley Road, with the Blue Ridge in the background. (Madison Run Gap is on the right.) The brownish field to the right of the road is where the Snow Bunting and Horned Larks have been seen.
On a side note, I thought it was odd that I saw two "snow birds" (Snow Bunting and Snow Goose) yesterday, after having seen two "horned birds" (Horned Lark and Horned Grebe) on the same day last week.
December 31, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Another BIG year of bird photography
As the otherwise mostly awful year of 2016 comes to a close, I thought it would be fitting to present the highlights of the year in birding, more specifically, bird photography. So I reviewed my wild bird blog posts for the year, and tried to pick out the very best photos from each one. It was such a good year for me, bird-wise, that even after weeding out the not-so-great photos, I was still left with 21 photos, plus montages. I was so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College last year that I didn't have time to post a summary of my autumn 2015 birding until February 6 of this year. I have had much more free time since May, and I made the most of it.
Today, the final day of 2016, I went back to Strickley Road northeast of New Hope, in hopes of getting a better photo of the Snow Bunting, which I first saw five days ago. It wasn't there, unfortunately, but thanks to two birders from Rockingham County (Greg Moyers and Diane Lepkowski), I saw another very special bird instead: a Merlin! It is displayed as the very last entry below.
Virginia Rail, on Bell's Lane, February 20. NOTE: This photo appeared in the June/July annual photography issue of Virginia Wildlife magazine.
March 26, 2016: Field trip to Chimney Hollow
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male), Blue-headed Vireo, Brown Creeper (rotated to fit), and Red-breasted Nuthatch, in Chimney Hollow, March 26.
April 30, 2016: Migration season reaches peak
Cape May Warbler (male), at Cook's Creek Arboretum, in Bridgewater, April 30.
May 7, 2016: More migrants visit Bell's Lane
White-eyed Vireo, on Bell's Lane, May 2.
May 21, 2016: ABC field trip to Reddish Knob
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruffed Grouse, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Red Crossbill, and in center, American Redstart. (Roll mouse over to see the juvenile Ruffed Grouse.)
June 7, 2016: ABC field trip to Highland County
Mourning Warbler, on Sapling Ridge, Highland County, June 4, 2016.
June 9, 2016: FOD Prothonotary Warblers!
Prothonotary Warbler, at the Dutch Gap conservation area near Richmond, June 8.
July 1, 2016: Birding in Huntley "Meadows"
CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron. .
July 3, 2016: Kentucky Warblers, and more!
Kentucky Warbler, Hightop Mountain trail head, Shenandoah National Park, July 2.
July 8, 2016: Soras breeding in the Valley!
Sora, Nazarene Church Road wetlands, Rockingham County, July 8. (Roll mouse over to see one of the juveniles.)
White Ibis, on the North River in Bridgewater, August 10.
Mississippi Kite (juvenile), in the north part of Staunton, August 19.
August 27, 2016: Common Gallinule at Willow Lake
Common Gallinule, at Willow Lake, August 27.
Philadelphia Vireo, McCormick's Farm, September 14.
NOTE: A question was raised about the species identification, since Philadelphia Vireos are similar to Warbling Vireos, which are known to breed in that location. Fortunately, this photo confirms all of the distinguishing field marks from montereybay.com:
- has bright yellow underparts with the brightest and most intense yellow on the throat and center of the breast, and
- has a prominent dark line between the eye and the bill that was thicker near the eye, and
- has a gray crown and green back contrast, and
- shows a 'different' or 'cute' facial look than Warbling because the supercilium wasn't so long and flared, and
- has a short tail and looks 'compact' compared to your experience with Warbling, and
- the date and locale make sense
September 27, 2016: Lucky! 13 warblers on Betsy Bell Hill
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Tennessee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warblers (F & M), and in center, Nashville Warbler.
American Golden Plovers, at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Rockingham County, September 29.
October 5, 2016 Shenandoah National Park birding (II)
American Pipit, at Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, October 4.
October 30, 2016: Sandhill Cranes still lingering
Sandhill Crane, north of Fishersville, October 26.
November 4, 2016: New month arrives, & new birds too
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, with an aphid in its beak, in Staunton, November 4.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, American Pipit, Horned Lark, Snow Bunting, Horned Grebe.* (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Horned Lark and Snow Bunting.)
* All birds were northeast or southeast of New Hope, except for the one marked with an asterisk, which was in Waynesboro.
December 31, 2016 Another BIG year of bird photography
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel, Merlin, Belted Kingfisher (F)*, Eastern Bluebird (M), Great Blue Heron*, American Coot*, and in center, Hooded Merganser (M)*. (Roll mouse over to see a closeup of the Merlin.)
* The raptors and Bluebird were northeast of New Hope; birds marked with asterisks were in Waynesboro.