While the momentum of shorebird migration held firm, and songbird migration showed further signs of ramping up, the front-page-worthy headline for early September is most certainly the fallout of “storm birds” due to Tropical Storm Hermine’s passage through our region. Top birds during the early September period in Virginia Beach included our first-ever report of WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD; first of year reports of BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, POMARINE JAEGER, SOOTY TERN, BRIDLED TERN & ROSEATE TERN; first of season reports of BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Waterthrush & Magnolia Warbler; continuing reports of our first-ever eBirded BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER(S); continuing early reports of Gadwall, Green-winged Teal and Wilson’s Snipe; some atypical inland records of storm-pushed Whimbrel & Black Terns; a few other tough to find species like Red Knot & White-rumped Sandpiper; and high counts of migrating Common Nighthawks, Eastern Kingbirds & Baltimore Orioles. WEATHER: Temperatures continued to fall this period, and we have finally reached near-average levels. Overall, the early September period’s average daily high temperature dropped to 84.9 degrees F (-4.8 degrees from the late August period); the average daytime lows also dropped to 70.1 degrees F (-3.6 degrees). The previous 10-year average daily highs & lows for the mid-August period were 83.9 & 68.4 degrees F, respectively which puts this period in 2016 at +1.0, and +1.7 degrees when comparing to the averages. Also during the previous 10-year period, the maximum average daily highs & lows were 90.2 & 75.1 degrees F (2015), which means for the first time in a while, we didn’t set a new high mark. We had 4 days with measureable precipitation, amounting to 4.26 inches, though 3.42 inches were associated with the passage of Tropical Storm Hermine on 3 Sep. The storm actually began impacting on our weather on 2 Sep, and carried over to 4 Sep though. These effects ranged from heavy downpours to strong winds (a 51 mph gust was recorded at Oceana), both of which helped produce an impressive storm tide along our coast. A maximum elevation of 6.136 feet above mean lower low water (MLLW, the average of every day’s two low tide elevation over the current tidal epoch) was registered at NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel gauge. More information about the storm is woven into the observations below.
OBSERVATIONS (PART I): Since observations were greatly influenced this period by the passage of Tropical Storm Hermine, this section is going to be broken up to first discuss those storm-related observations, then afterwards, the observations that occurred more or less outside of the immediate impacts of the storm. So here we go… During the evening hours of Friday, 2 Sep, winds from Tropical Storm Hermine began affecting the area, and rain slowly moved in around 7 PM. With the storm almost immediately south of us by early Saturday (3 Sep) morning, and moving rapidly to the northeast towards Hatteras, NC, the very strong counter-clockwise, onshore winds (45-50 mph) began pushing species of birds not typically found near land into the Chesapeake Bay. With expectations of the event running high thanks in large-part to conversations posted on Facebook (Edward Brinkley), many observers were set up at dawn on the first island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT), the only of the four islands open to the public, in the hopes of spotting movements of these birds. Through the early morning hours, no unusual birds were detected, though the crossing of a single Common Nighthawk (obs. Nicholas Newberry, ph. Arun Bose) made for an interesting daytime sighting. By late morning however, pelagic species began being sighted moving through the channel between islands one & two (Arun Bose / Cheryl J Jacobson), and thanks to Arun’s efforts in getting the word out via text messages, many individuals (up to around 20 present at times) were able to arrive at the island and view some great species throughout the afternoon and into the evening hours. Among the incredible sightings brought to us by Tropical Storm Hermine’s winds were WHITE-TAILED TROPICBIRD (many obs., specific identification made by Bob Anderson), a first county record for Virginia Beach; BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (many obs., ph. James Fox), the earliest known record for this rare wintering species in Virginia; BLACK-CAPPED PETREL (many obs., ph. Ron Furnish), SOOTY TERN (many obs., ph. Rob Bielawski), and RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Edward Brinkley), all first-of-year finds in Virginia Beach; a Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (obs. James Fox, ph. Rob Bielawski); and lastly, Black Terns and several JAEGERS that could not be documented to the species-level. Most of the birds were moving from the ocean side (east) into the Chesapeake Bay (west) along with the direction of the winds. The exception being the Black-capped Petrels, which were mainly heading out of the bay into the ocean. Because the primary movement throughout Saturday (3 Sep) was into the bay, on Sunday (4 Sep), individuals returning to the ocean were picked up in the early morning hours. Around 7:15 AM, Andrew Baldelli spotted a POMARINE JAEGER as well as several Wilson’s Storm-Petrels moving out of the bay, with additional SOOTY TERNS shortly after at 7:29 AM. Around 8 AM, a BRIDLED TERN was spotted by David Clark, making this the first record for this species in Virginia Beach since 1996 (associated with Hurricane Bertha)! During the mid-morning, a single Northern Waterthrush was observed on the west side of the island (Arun Bose) making it a first for the fall season here in Virginia Beach, and shortly after a group of 5 Black Terns (Rob Bielawski) was observed moving north across the channel towards Island two. By late morning, the movement appeared to be complete, but one final bird made for excitement when a jaeger (a strong candidate for LONG-TAILED JAEGER, but unable to be confirmed) was viewed moving out of the bay on the far side of the channel. Away from the CBBT, “storm birds” were also observed at several other locations. Most notable was a ROSEATE TERN (a first for the year here) observed at Dam Neck Naval Annex (3 Sep / Karen & Tom Beatty). Additionally, SOOTY TERNS were found along the Atlantic coastline at Dam Neck Naval Annex (Karen & Tom Beatty) on the morning of 4 Sep; Black Terns were observed 3 Sep grounded on a horse pasture on Drum Point Rd. (1, Rob Bielawski); at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract (1, Rob Bielawski) along with 3 Whimbrel; hovering over a flooded lawn on Fitztown Road (2, Rob Bielawski); over Lake Windsor (2, the most inland sighting for Virginia Beach / Lisa Rose); and over Lake Tecumseh (3, Karen & Tom Beatty). Sightings continued 4 Sep, with up to 10 Black Terns seen over Lake Tecumseh (Karen & Tom Beatty) and another 8 photographed there by Mary Catherine Miguez; as many as 4 were observed (Susan Remmie & Kathy Spencer) at Back Bay NWR with an individual sighted also by Baxter Beamer. Surely, the impacts of Tropical Storm Hermine will be long-remembered by the many birders who ventured outdoors, and were treated to these incredible sightings!
OBSERVATIONS (PART II): Of course, there were a great many sightings that could be considered (at least somewhat) unrelated to Hermine’s passage, so now we’ll dive into round two of this period’s report. Our rarest non-storm-bird occurrence of the period was the contining BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER first observed 25 Aug by Robert Ake at Back Bay NWR. Though it persisted only through 1 Sep before it (and its counterpart that arrived 28 Aug) disappeared from the area, this is another bird that will stick with our memories as the first of its kind logged in Virginia Beach to eBird. With many birders pursuing this rarity, a plethora of other observations popped up that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. Early reports of Wilson’s Snipe (2-3 Sep / many obs. / ph. Kim Harrell), Gadwall and Green-winged Teal (2 Sep / Karen & Tom Beatty) continued early on, though the latter portion of the period is now within their expected timeframe so these were just a tad on the early side. A Red Knot (2 Sep / obs. Jason Schatti / ph. Karen & Tom Beatty) was present near the parking area during the morning hours, and was replaced by a second-of-season White-rumped Sandpiper (obs. Rob Bielawski / ph. Kim Harrell) in the evening hours. On the nearby beach, a first-of-season Peregrine Falcon (Rob Bielawski) was seen speeding southward over the dune line, aided considerably by the strong northerly winds moving towards the low-pressure center of TS Hermine. In addition to the Peregrine, a second species of falcon made its first debut of the fall in Virginia when a slightly-early Merlin (4 Sep / Back Bay NWR / Michelle Payne & Lisa Rose) was photographed in a tree. To further add to Back Bay NWR’s presence this period, a first-of-season (and as with the Merlin, slightly early) Red-breasted Nuthatch (Baxter Beamer) was observed in flight over the East Dike. Red-breasted Nuthatches have been observed several times now at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch Site on the Eastern Shore, perhaps hinting at an irruptive winter for this species? During a park-sponsored impoundment survey, Robert Ake logged our first Magnolia Warbler of the fall (6 Sep), a species we don’t typically see too many of during their transience of the region. Numbers of some migratory species rose to considerable counts this period. These included 20 Baltimore Orioles (5 Sep / Back Bay NWR / David Clark), 18 Eastern Kingbirds (6 Sep / Back Bay NWR / Robert Ake), and 20 Common Nighthawks (6 Sep / Davenport Ln. / Tommy Maloney), followed by another showing of 13 Common Nighthawks (9 Sep / Glenmore Hunt Tr. / Karen & Tom Beatty). Lastly, Brian Patteson’s sea-worthy vessel, the Storm Petrel II, took a full group out of Lynnhaven Inlet 10 Sep to Norfolk Canyon for a day of pelagic seabirding. Though the notable species found on the trip all occurred in Northampton County (per eBird’s Closest Point of Land protocol) it warrants mention here since the trips depart from Virginia Beach. This trip was able to turn up the following species: BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, CORY’S SHEARWATER, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, RED PHALAROPE & LONG-TAILED JAEGER (many obs. / ph. Matt Anthony). Though the last trip of the fall season on 17 Sep is already full, make sure to check out the schedules for upcoming seasonal trips on the Seabirding.com website if you have a desire to see these & other pelagic species!
SPECIES DOCUMENTED BY MEDIA submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach during this period included: 1 SEP – BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow Warbler & Prairie Warbler (Back Bay NWR / Mary Catherine Miguez); Glossy Ibis, Sanderling, BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPER, Willet, Caspian Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern & Yellow Warbler (Back Bay NWR / Karen & Tom Beatty). 2 SEP – Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Red Knot, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper & Western Sandpiper (Back Bay NWR / Karen & Tom Beatty); Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Osprey, Laughing Gull, Belted Kingfisher & Blue Grosbeak (Pleasure House Point NA / Matthew Echaniz); Glossy Ibis, Semipalmated Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Snipe & Black Skimmer (Back Bay NWR / Rob Bielawski); White-rumped Sandpiper & Wilson’s Snipe (Back Bay NWR / Kim Harrell). 3 SEP – Great Black-backed Gull & Royal Tern (South Thimble Island / Rob Bielawski); SOOTY TERN & Common Nighthawk (South Thimble Island / Arun Bose); Black Tern (Drum Point Rd. / Rob Bielawski); Black Tern (Fitztown Rd. / Rob Bielawski); Black Tern (Lake Windsor / Lisa Rose); Whimbrel & Black Tern (Princess Anne WMA / Rob Bielawski); Semipalmated Plover & Sanderling (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty); BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE & SOOTY TERN (South Thimble Island / Jason Strickland); BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (South Thimble Island / James Fox); Pectoral Sandpiper, Caspian Tern & Sandwich Tern (Camp Pendleton / Karen & Tom Beatty); BLACK-CAPPED PETREL, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE & SOOTY TERN (South Thimble Island / Ron Furnish); Wilson’s Storm-Petrel & SOOTY TERN (South Thimble Island / Rob Bielawski); SOOTY TERN (South Thimble Island / Ernie Miller); Little Blue Heron (Bayville Farms Park / Lisa Rose); Pied-billed Grebe, Black Tern & Black Skimmer (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty). 4 SEP – Royal Tern & Merlin (Back Bay NWR / Lisa Rose); Osprey, American Oystercatcher, Laughing Gull, Herring Gull, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Common Tern & Sandwich Tern (South Thimble Island / Rob Bielawski); Wood Duck, Cooper’s Hawk, Black Tern, Forster’s Tern & Royal Tern (Dam Neck NA / Mary Catherine Miguez); Caspian Tern, Black Tern & Royal Tern (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty); Black Tern (Back Bay NWR / Susan Remmie); Cattle Egret (Princess Anne Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty). 7 SEP – Green Heron, Solitary Sandpiper & Blue Grosbeak (Pleasure House Point NA / Rob Bielawski). 9 SEP – Lesser Black-backed Gull, Forster’s Tern & Royal Tern (Camp Pendleton / Karen & Tom Beatty); Osprey, Willet, Laughing Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern & House Sparrow (Camp Pendleton / Mary Catherine Miguez); Sanderling, Least Sandpiper & Spotted Sandpiper (Fort Story / Karen & Tom Beatty); Common Nighthawk (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); Common Nighthawk (Glenmore Hunt Tr. / Karen & Tom Beatty). 10 SEP – Northern Mockingbird, Yellow Warbler & Baltimore Oriole (Back Bay NWR / Rob Bielawski); Tricolored Heron, Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper & White-eyed Vireo (Back Bay NWR / Mary Catherine Miguez); Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Willet, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull & Forster’s Tern (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); Great Egret, Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo & Eastern Wood-Pewee (Stumpy Lake NA / Rob Bielawski).
LOOKAHEAD: Shorebird migration seems to be about maxed out, and is likely to begin slowly tapering down, but as with the previous period, beaches and mudflats are important to check at low tide (Back Bay NWR, Pleasure House Point NA), and agricultural areas at high tide (southern Virginia Beach). Songbird migration should pick up steadily through mid-September, likely peaking around the first week of October if last year is an indicator (though the weather always plays a role). Pockets of forested areas will become havens for southbound warblers, providing a stopping point to refuel after many have taken the forced crossing of the Chesapeake Bay mouth from the Eastern Shore. Areas that have both thick cover, and available freshwater like Redwing Park, Stumpy Lake, First Landing State Park and any neighborhood ponds & parks are great places to check, while natural bottlenecks like Back Bay NWR also rank very highly for morning flights of mixed warbler flocks.
Of the species that have expected fall arrival dates we have not yet logged our first Canada Warbler, Blue-winged Oriole, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler & Sora (mid-August arrivals), Blackburnian Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Veery, Black-throated Green Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler & Cape May Warbler (late August arrivals), Nelson’s Sparrow, Nashville Warbler, American Bittern, Broad-winged Hawk, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, American Wigeon, Northern Pintail, & Sharp-shinned Hawk (early September arrivals) and Blackpoll Warbler, Palm Warbler, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush & Savannah Sparrow (mid-September arrivals) in Virginia Beach yet this fall. Those seeking out non-annually occurring (essentially, rare) species should be mindful that the following species all have extreme arrival dates that make them possibilities here per the Gold Book: Long-billed Dowitcher, Upland Sandpiper & Wilson’s Phalarope (mid-July arrivals), Baird’s Sandpiper & White-winged Dove (late July arrivals), Rufous Hummingbird, Sandhill Crane, Golden-winged Warbler (early August arrivals), American Golden-Plover, Red Phalarope, Long-tailed Jaeger, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Mourning Warbler & Lark Sparrow (mid-August arrivals), and Parasitic Jaeger, American White Pelican, Swainson’s Hawk, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Western Kingbird & Yellow-headed Blackbird (late August arrivals), Arctic Tern, Warbling Vireo, Philadelphia Vireo, Clay-colored Sparrow, Connecticut Warbler (early September arrivals) and Lincoln’s Sparrow, Golden Eagle, Western Tanager, Gray Kingbird, Cave Swallow, Eared Grebe & Bicknell’s Thrush (mid-September arrivals). So far, none of these rarities have been observed this year during fall migration in Virginia Beach. Most of these species require very specific weather patterns to bring them in, or can be found in only a very specialized habitat, so one should never expect to simply happen upon these species, but, they are species to be at least thinking about while birding the region.
For more information on this thrice-monthly Birding Blog, please check out the Journal Overview Page on the website. It provides background information as to what sightings are considered for the blog, details about the format of the blog, and it will likely answer many other questions that readers might be wondering about as well! As always, thank you for reading, and please leave me a comment below (you may use your Facebook, Gmail or other accounts to easily do so), or just click the Heart icon to the lower right of this post to let me know you stopped in!