While mid-August began with comfortable temperatures, the mercury spiked upwards towards the end of the period and heat indices rose over 100 degrees F for what is hopefully the last time in 2017. Top birds during this period in Virginia Beach included the continuing WOOD STORK (which was present every day of the period), an early first-of-fall arrival for Northern Harrier (11 Aug) as well as first-of-fall arrivals within expected dates for Yellow Warbler (13 Aug), Northern Waterthrush & Peregrine Falcon (15 Aug), Dunlin (16 Aug) & Common Nighthawk (18 Aug). WEATHER: Due primarily to the heat wave over the latter half of the period, mid-August’s average daily high temperatures managed to rise over those in early August (and amazingly, over late July’s as well), reaching 85.3 degrees F (+2.5 degrees from early August); average daytime lows unfortunately followed suit, rising to 72.6 degrees F (+4.1 degrees). The previous 10-year average daily highs & lows for the mid-August period were 86.4 & 71.1 degrees F, respectively which puts this period in 2017 at -1.1 and +1.5 degrees when comparing to the previous 10-year average. During that time frame, the maximum average daily highs & lows were a scorching 96.9 & 81.0 degrees F (2017) thanks to an incredible three days reaching 100 degrees F! We had 6 days with measurable precipitation during this period, which amounted to a total of 3.72 inches, with most falling 12 Aug to the tune of 2.39 inches!
OBSERVATIONS: Heavy rains throughout mid-August dampened our hopes for finding shorebirds in locations that were better suited at this same time last year, such as Back Bay NWR’s E & H Pools. However, on a positive note, passerine migration seemed to get a bit of a start this period. Unfortunately, and somewhat surprisingly given our recent track record locally, no new rarities were found during this period in Virginia Beach, but this in no way prevented birders from getting out into the field. The WOOD STORK (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty) that was found 8 Aug in an agricultural ditch running perpendicular to Pleasant Ridge Road in the southern portion of the city continued to be observed, and was actually reported every single day from 11-20 Aug by an incredible number of birders! To date, 83 beautiful photographs of this wayward southerner have been submitted to eBird, and for those who don’t wish to browse through every single report, please click here to view all of them on the same screen! Also, to see the individual reports for everyone who has submitted an eBird checklist containing this continuing Wood Stork (and all other unusual finds within Virginia Beach for that matter), remember to check the Noteworthy Observations page here on the website!
First-of-fall arrivals continued to be picked up during mid-August, starting off with an early report for Northern Harrier (ph. Lisa Rose) at Back Bay NWR on 11 Aug. The average arrival date for harriers to Virginia Beach is 15 Aug, so this was a good find at that time. Also found at Back Bay NWR, though a couple of days later on 13 Aug, a pair of first-of-fall Yellow Warblers (expected 5 Aug arrival) were noted (obs. Tommy Maloney & Jason Schatti) just a hundred yards or so south of the visitor contact station’s parking lot near the first hammock of trees prior to the fishing structure that sits adjacent to the West Dike. In keeping with warbler arrivals, a Northern Waterthrush (expected 5 Aug arrival) was found on South Thimble Island (obs. David Clark). Often during migration, the rocky area immediately behind the restaurant on the west side of the island holds songbirds that have flown south across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and hunkered down on the first available spot they can find. Some vegetation grows here as well, and can house a variety of passerine species during fall migration movements, so if you head up to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, be sure to look and listen for a few minutes at this spot. Sadly, the first island (South Thimble) will only remain open through 30 Sep of this year before construction shuts the island down for the next few years. Peregrine Falcon was next on the arrivals list, with one being observed 15 Aug at Back Bay NWR (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty). This one was right on time, as 15 Aug is the expected arrival date. We did have at least one summer record for this species as well, but they aren’t expected to be seen annually in the summer months here, though breeding has been confirmed for the species on the Eastern Shore to our north. Our last regularly occurring shorebird finally arrived during mid-August also, when a single Dunlin (expected 30 Jul arrival) was observed on South Thimble Island (obs. Bill Nelson). Last on the arrivals list for mid-August was a group of Common Nighthawks (expected 5 Aug arrival) that flew over Hunt Club Forest 18 Aug (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty). In past years, this seems to be right in line with their typical flyway during migration as Karen & Tom had 13 individuals fly over 9 Sep 2016 as well! Thus far, this species has not been identified as a breeder anywhere around Virginia Beach, so we’re likely seeing northern individuals migrating back south along the coast, though they are known to breed as close as Craney Island in Portsmouth.
SPECIES DOCUMENTED BY MEDIA and submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach during this period included: 11 AUG – Northern Harrier, Willet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Tern & Royal Tern (Back Bay NWR / Lisa Rose); Brown Pelican, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern & Sandwich Tern (JEB Fort Story / Karen & Tom Beatty); Common Loon, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron & Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Pleasure House Point NA / Rob Bielawski). 12 AUG – WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Andrew Baldelli); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Louis Rajnys); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Betty Sue Cohen); White Ibis, Laughing Gull & Herring Gull (South Thimble Island / Rob Bielawski); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Cindy Hamilton); WOOD STORK, Great Blue Heron & Cattle Egret (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Ron Furnish); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / David Clark); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Clark Olsen); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Jonathan Snyder). 13 AUG – WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Jeffrey Blalock); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Eric Alton); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Rose Chandler); WOOD STORK & Great Egret (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Matt Anthony); Osprey (Camp Pendleton SMR / Karen & Tom Beatty); Great Egret, Great Black-backed Gull, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ovenbird & Prairie Warbler (Back Bay NWR / Rob Bielawski); Eastern Wood-Pewee & Chipping Sparrow (West Landing Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty). 14 AUG – WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Pamela Monahan); Northern Mockingbird (English Ct. / Randy Kimmett); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Mike Stinson); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Randy Kimmett); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Nancy Barnhart); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Kathy Spencer). 15 AUG – Brown Pelican, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Willet & Royal Tern (Back Bay NWR / Karen & Tom Beatty); American Oystercatcher (South Thimble Island / Dan Haas); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Betty Sue Cohen). 16 AUG – WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Jonathan Snyder); Blue Grosbeak (Muddy Creek Rd. / Laura Mae); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Laura Mae). 17 AUG – Sanderling, Common Tern, Forster’s Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Blue Jay, Purple Martin, Carolina Wren & Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Camp Pendleton SMR / Karen & Tom Beatty). 18 AUG – Seaside Sparrow (Camp Pendleton SMR / Betty Sue Cohen); Sanderling, Forster’s Tern & Seaside Sparrow (Camp Pendleton SMR / Karen & Tom Beatty); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Nancy Barnhart); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Jan Lockwood); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Tucker Beamer); WOOD STORK (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / L. Kelly); WOOD STORK & Great Blue Heron (Pleasant Ridge Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty); American Crow, Prothonotary Warbler & Prairie Warbler (Back Bay NWR / Rob Bielawski); Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Sanderling, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper & Willet (Back Bay NWR / Rob Bielawski). 20 AUG – Rock Pigeon (South Thimble Island / Tamara Conklin).
LOOKAHEAD: As with the prior lookahead, the WOOD STORK appears to be continuing, so again, if you haven’t been out to Pleasant Ridge Rd. to see it, now would be the appropriate time. Just be sure to stay on the roadway, as all the land outside the road is private property and the poor decisions of even one birder tend to make us all look bad, so please abide this request! Black Terns have been picked up a few more times since the last journal entry, with the immediate coastline producing them, mostly at Back Bay NWR. Shorebirds will continue moving through, but some of the focus will be shifting away from them starting in late August. Unfortunately, habitat along the East Dike at Back Bay NWR and throughout Princess Anne WMA’s Beasley & Whitehurst Tracts simply isn’t proper. Mid-August’s nearly 4 inches of rainfall didn’t help matters, with the E & H Pools at Back Bay NWR simply too filled to support shorebirds. Beaches and tidal flats along the immediate coast from Back Bay NWR to Pleasure House Point NA are likely the best places to find shorebirds. Additionally, the agricultural fields along Muddy Creek Road have begun sprouting vegetation which will now obscure shorebirds from view. Fields off of Crag’s Causeway have been reported as potential places for some of the rarer species that we hope to find in late August/early September (Buff-breasted / Upland / Baird’s Sandpipers & American Golden-Plovers) and the fields did support a healthy number (38) of Pectoral Sandpipers (obs. Andrew Baldelli). Passerine migration is now showing signs of being underway, with some excellent finds having popped up on the Eastern Shore already. Thick vegetation with a freshwater source nearby are ideal locations to catch migrant songbirds, though I can’t point to any locations specifically at the moment aside from thick Live Oak stands along the south shore of the Chesapeake Bay and Shore Drive corridor. Lastly, regularly occurring (used synonymous with annually-occurring here) species that are likely during late July and have not been observed yet this fall include Cliff Swallow (10 Jul expected arrival date), Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler & Yellow-throated Vireo (5 Aug), Bank Swallow (10 Aug), Canada Warbler & Baltimore Oriole (15 Aug), Worm-eating Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bobolink, Black-throated Blue Warbler & Sora (20 Aug), Willow Flycatcher, Veery, Wilson’s Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Blue-winged Teal & Green-winged Teal (25 Aug) and Bay-breasted Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Cape May Warbler & Black-throated Green Warbler (30 Aug). As always, make sure to report your finds to eBird so the data can be used to adjust the expected arrival dates and to view the full listing of each species’ “average expected arrival dates”!
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