After an exciting early November for seawatchers along the coast, the southbound passage of Jaegers slowed down considerably as mid-November arrived. However, a few were still noted, and large groups of waterfowl, loons, gulls and gannets continue to be observed. Top birds during this period in Virginia Beach included LITTLE GULL, SNOW BUNTING, CLAY-COLORED SPARROW, PARASITIC JAEGER & WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, early first-of-fall arrivals of Razorbill (18 Nov) as well as on-time first-of-fall arrivals for Greater Scaup (11 Nov) & Winter Wren (12 Nov), and late reports for Rose-breasted Grosbeak (11 Nov), Caspian Tern (12 Nov) & Ruby-throated Hummingbird (19 Nov). WEATHER: Cooler weather & peak fall colors were finally achieved during the period, and now the leaves have started to drop. Average daily high temperatures this period dropped a whopping 12.3° from 67.9° F in early November to 55.6° (-5.3° from prior 10-year average), with average daily low temperatures following suit, dropping 13.4° from 52.5° to 39.1° F (-4.7° from prior 10-year average). Overall, temperatures ranged from a minimum of 30° F (11 Nov) to a maximum of 66° (19 Nov). Precipitation this period amounted to 0.41”, spread across just two days with measurable amounts (maximum on 13 Nov of 0.39”). Maximum sustained winds at Oceana this period were 22 mph and gusts reached 31 mph (19 Nov). Sunrise/sunsets varied from 6:38 AM/4:57 PM (11 Nov) to 6:47 AM/4:51 PM (20 Nov), which means over all we lost 15 minutes of daylight during this period. Preliminary tide levels (referenced to MLLW) at the Sewell’s Point gauge (NOAA) in Norfolk varied from a minimum of -0.423 (3:48 AM, 19 Nov) to a maximum of 3.983 (7:06 AM, 15 Nov).
OBSERVATIONS: Due to the incredible number of Jaegers passing by along our coast throughout the last couple of weeks, there was a high number of reports from seawatching sites during the period. As a result of this effort, the second LITTLE GULL (obs. Andrew Baldelli) of 2017 for both the city and the state as a whole was observed passing by the Little Island Pier on 19 Nov. The only other record thus far for the year came just a little to the south at Back Bay NWR when an individual was observed 8 Feb (ph. Wes Teets & Abby Walter) during the height of the major alcid movement that brought birders from all over the state to our coastline. Notably, no Little Gulls were observed in Virginia during 2016, though one was observed offshore on a Seabirding.com pelagic trip 12 Dec 2015.
On the northern reach of Virginia Beach, a SNOW BUNTING was found 14 Nov at the campground beach area of First Landing SP (ph. June McDaniels). Snow Buntings began being reported across the Chesapeake Bay in Northampton County 10 Nov, and their expected arrival date is the 15th, so this one was very much on time. Another individual was found 9 Nov offshore (ph. John Loch), but it is not known if this observation occurred within Virginia Beach or Northampton waters (the eBird list as a whole is plotted in Virginia Beach). Thus far, no other sightings of the species have occurred but it seems likely that one or more could be hanging out on the north end beaches & dunes. Last year in late November, a small flock was present at First Landing SP near the border with JEB Fort Story so perhaps more will appear next period.
Excitedly, our first observation for KING EIDER of the winter season occurred 20 Nov (ph. Joe Minor) as three individuals were observed in southbound flight past the Little Island Park pier with a grouping of Red-breasted Mergansers! This is the first record of more than one King Eider in Virginia Beach since two were seen off South Thimble Island 26 Jan 2010, and is the highest count since four were found along the CBBT 30 Jan 1993 according to eBird (other records may exist that just have never been put in!). The last King Eider to be seen in Virginia Beach was an individual found 26 Dec 2016 (obs. Edward Brinkley and later photographed 28 Dec 2016 by Mary Catherine Miguez), a subadult bird, which stayed around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel through the winter, with most later reports around the Northampton County portion of the bridge.
At least two CLAY-COLORED SPARROWS were observed during mid-November, with one individual (probably a continuing bird) reported at Back Bay NWR on 12 Nov (ph. Linda Chittum) and another found at Big Sky Farms (private property) on 13 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate). This has been a banner fall for Clay-colored Sparrows, with potentially a minimum of 10 different individuals observed in Virginia Beach dating back to 8 Sep. Incredibly, four individuals were observed in a single field of view at Back Bay on 15 Sep (ph. Mary Catherine Miguez), and this could potentially be a high count for the state of Virginia.
While early November was dominated by reports of Parasitic, Pomarine and unidentifiable-to-species Jaegers, observations of these seabirds took a bit of a backseat this period. However, PARASITIC JAEGERS continued to be noted in small numbers along the coast at Back Bay NWR on 11 Nov (obs. Ty Smith) & 18 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli, obs. Courtney Check / Erin Eichenberger / Megan Massa / Andrew Rapp / Faye Reid / Kolby Williams), at Little Island Park on 18 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli) & 19 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli), at Dam Neck NA on 11 Nov (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty), at the Atlantic Wildfowl Heritage Museum on 13 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli), and at First Landing SP on 14 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Mary Catherine Miguez). Over 100 individuals were noted during early November along the outer coast, with the Baywatch site (obs. Ned Brinkley) in Northampton County reporting similar numbers (though add a Long-tailed Jaeger which has not yet occurred in Virginia Beach for the year).
Lastly as far as rarities go this period, a pair of WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS was discovered at Big Sky Farms on 13 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate). Back Bay NWR has typically been the stronghold for this species in late fall and through the winter, with 4 individuals staying into the spring this past winter. However, this report at Big Sky Farms represents the only November record thus far for 2017, and it will be interesting to see if we end up with any true wintering birds. Much more common further inland, White-crowneds are a tricky bird here in extreme southeast Virginia. Interestingly, all of the individuals seen this fall have been immature birds, and we very rarely get to see the gorgeous adults.
In addition to the above rarities, mid-November brought us first-of-season reports for Greater Scaup on 11 Nov at both Dam Neck NA (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty & Mary Catherine Miguez) and at Back Bay NWR (obs. Clark Olsen and Ty Smith). Additionally, our first Winter Wrens of the season were detected 12 Nov at Back Bay NWR (obs. Linda Chittum) and Pleasure House Point NA (obs. Logan Anderson & George Burress). Lastly, we had an early arrival for Razorbill when two were observed at Little Island Park on 18 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli). The expected arrival date here is 25 Nov, so this pair showed up a week ahead of schedule, and combined with the report from a couple of weeks back of a Dovekie at the park, perhaps we are in for another good alcid year on the coast (maybe we’ll get to see another Ancient Murrelet?).
Some of our fall departures managed to linger into mid-November, with a very late and unexpected Rose-breasted Grosbeak being reported at Back Bay NWR on 11 Nov (obs. Clark Olsen & Ty Smith. The Gold Book lists the extreme date for this species in the coastal plain as 19 Nov, though there is an occasional over-winterer some years. Caspian Terns were noted at Dam Neck NA (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty & Mary Catherine Miguez) on 11 Nov, and also at Pleasure House Point NA (obs. Bob Swiader) on the 12th. Typically departing by 30 Oct in an average year, these will likely be the last reports of 2017 for this species in Virginia Beach. At this point in the year, we should only be seeing Forster’s Terns (which winter here) and Royal Terns (which typically depart just after the Christmas Bird Counts at year’s end).
On an interesting note, the first-of-season Red-necked Grebe that was observed at Sherwood Lakes on 10 Nov (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty), continued into this period with a single sighting on the 11th. Lastly, several hummingbirds showed up at feeders around the city this period, which may be either Black-chinned or Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Due to all these individuals being females or juvenile birds, it is near-impossible to tell which species they truly are without having a certified bird bander study them in the hand. A first-year male Black-chinned Hummingbird was photographed in Northampton County just a week or so ago (record hasn’t yet made it to eBird, but Rose Taylor’s photo can be viewed in the comments of this Nemesis Bird posting) about a separate Black-chinned in Pennsylvania.
SPECIES DOCUMENTED BY MEDIA and submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach during this period included: 11 NOV – White-winged Scoter & Tree Swallow (Dam Neck NA / Mary Catherine Miguez); White-winged Scoter, Bald Eagle, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Tree Swallow, Northern Mockingbird (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty). 12 NOV – Nelson’s Sparrow (Pleasure House Point NA / Rob Bielawski); Northern Shoveler & Bonaparte’s Gull (Pleasure House Point NA / Garrett Rhyne); Royal Tern & Nelson’s Sparrow (Pleasure House Point / Logan Anderson). 13 NOV – Red-throated Loon (Rudee Inlet / Rob Bielawski); House Sparrow (Pacific Ave. / Rob Bielawski). 14 NOV – SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / June McDaniels); Peregrine Falcon (Atlantic Ave. / Karen & Tom Beatty); White-winged Scoter, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican & Royal Tern (First Landing SP / Karen & Tom Beatty); Laughing Gull (Shore Dr. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez). 15 NOV – Yellow-rumped Warbler & Chipping Sparrow (West Landing Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty). 16 NOV – Tundra Swan, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Merlin & Northern Mockingbird (Back Bay NWR / Karen & Tom Beatty). 18 NOV – Red-throated Loon, Lesser Black-backed Gull & Boat-tailed Grackle (Little Island Park / Courtney Check); Lesser Black-backed Gull (Little Island Park / Megan Massa); Northern Gannet, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull & Forster’s Tern (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty); Laughing Gull (Rudee Inlet / Courtney Check); Laughing Gull (Rudee Inlet / Megan Massa). 19 NOV – Red-throated Loon, Northern Gannet, Sanderling, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull & Royal Tern (Little Island Park / Karen & Tom Beatty); Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); Peregrine Falcon (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder). 20 NOV – Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret & Bald Eagle (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder); Ruby-throated/Black-chinned Hummingbird (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); KING EIDER & PARASITIC JAEGER (Little Island Park / Joe Minor); Turkey Vulture & Ring-billed Gull (Back Bay NWR / Jonathan Snyder).
LOOKAHEAD: Late November is typically a good time to get out to the beaches and look for Snow Buntings. Jaegers are still passing by offshore and devoted seawatchers will likely continue to report them through the end of the month. Scrubby terrain like at Back Bay NWR and Princess Anne WMA could produce rare sparrows, and the roads of southern Virginia Beach are always worth driving in November in an effort to locate vagrant flycatchers like Ash-throated & Scissor-tailed, as well as for Western Kingbird. A couple of years ago about this time, a Crested Caracara showed up near the junction of Hungarian and Blackwater Roads, and a Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird was also seen nearby (first state record). Sherwood Lakes tends to get good coverage this time of year, and the goose flock that feeds around this area will again be worth watching. So far, a single Ross’s Goose has already been observed, and maybe we’ll get treated to some more Greater White-fronted Geese or Cackling Geese like last year. Lastly, regularly occurring (used synonymous with annually-occurring here) species that have not been observed yet this fall include Purple Sandpiper (1 Oct expected arrival date), American Woodcock (10 Oct), Redhead & Great Cormorant (15 Oct), Harlequin Duck (25 Oct), and Canvasback & Common Goldeneye (10 Nov). 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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