Late November showcased what appears to be the finale of the fall jaeger movement along the coast, and birders began turning their attention towards the large wintering flocks of geese and blackbirds. Top birds during this period in Virginia Beach included at least two ROSS’S GEESE, a CACKLING GOOSE, COMMON GALLINULE, PARASITIC JAEGER and two POMARINE JAEGERS, on-time first-of-fall arrivals for Great Cormorant (24 Nov) and late reports for Black-and-white Warbler (23 Nov) & Ruby-throated Hummingbird (23 Nov). WEATHER: Cooler weather & peak fall colors were finally achieved during the period, and the ground is now becoming littered with fallen leaves. Average daily high temperatures this period rebounded a bit, rising 4.2° from 55.6° F in mid-November to 59.8° (+1.5° from prior 10-year average), with average daily low temperatures dropping 2.3° from 39.1° to 36.8° F (-3.0° from prior 10-year average). Overall, temperatures ranged from a minimum of 28° F (24 Nov) to a maximum of 70° (29 Nov). Precipitation this period amounted to 0.01”, spread across just one day with measurable amounts (22 Nov). Maximum sustained winds at Oceana this period were 20 mph and gusts reached 26 mph (22 Nov). Sunrise/sunsets varied from 6:48 AM/4:51 PM (21 Nov) to 6:57 AM/4:48 PM (30 Nov), which means over all we lost 12 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 -0.568 (4:30 AM, 21 Nov) to a maximum of 3.064 (5:30 AM, 30 Nov).
OBSERVATIONS: While the best finds during mid-November mostly occurred along the immediate coastline, as we moved into late November, birders turned their eyes more inward and were rewarded with several great birds mixed in larger flocks. At least two ROSS’S GEESE were observed beginning 22 Nov. An individual was found with a small grouping of Canada Geese on the shores of Kempsville Lake off Baxter Road (ph. Brandon Holland), and another individual was found in a larger Canada Goose flock off of Firefall Drive (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty). It is quite possible that this latter individual is the same bird that was found off Princess Anne Lane on 9 Nov (obs. Andrew Baldelli), as this flock of geese tends to move between these locations, and then land on Sherwood Lakes as well.
In addition to the Ross’s Geese, a CACKLING GOOSE was picked out of a flock of 400+ Canada Geese on the northern corner of the main lake in the Sherwood Lakes neighborhood (obs. David Clark; later ph. Rob Bielawski and Karen & Tom Beatty. Likely the same individual was later observed foraging in the agricultural fields off Princess Anne Lane on 28 Nov (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty). As mentioned above, with the movement of this flock, on any given day this bird is likely to be found either floating on the surface of Sherwood Lakes, or in the fields off Princess Anne Lane or Firefall Drive near Ocean Lakes High School & the Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s Atlantic Treatment Facility. Last winter, at least one Cackling Goose was also observed in this same flock of geese through about the middle of January, so there is probably still time to try to find this bird if so desired.
At Back Bay NWR, while on the scheduled impoundment survey for the park, a COMMON GALLINULE was observed at the southern end of the B Pool (obs. Robert Ake & Loretta Silvia). This species is likely a year-round resident of the park, with winter sightings occurring often just a few miles to the southwest at Mackay Island NWR along the North Carolina border, but it’s secretive nature & preferred densely vegetated, marshy habitat, makes it a difficult bird to detect. So far in 2017, only one other record of Common Gallinule in Virginia Beach has occurred, also a single bird at Back Bay NWR, though on the southern side of the A Pool on 28 May (ph. Rob Bielawski).
While the bulk of the Jaeger movement had passed by mid-month, at least one PARASITIC JAEGER was seen from Little Island Park (ph. Joe Minor), and two POMARINE JAEGERS were as well (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Ellison Orcutt). Between October and mid-November, over 100 jaegers were logged passing southward off our coastline, and though we never did get a Long-tailed Jaeger, one was observed at the Baywatch site in Northampton on 3 Nov (obs. Edward Brinkley). December reports are hard to come by for the jaegers, so we’ve likely see the last of them until springtime, but what a show they put on especially at their peak in early November!
As a city, we only had one first-of-season arrival this period, when a Great Cormorant was reported 24 Nov off the Oceanfront (obs. Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center). It’s very likely that this species has been present for a few weeks around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, however with the closure to Islands #1 & #2 starting back on 1 Oct for the next 5 years of construction, this species is hard to come by in Virginia Beach. The same goes for Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers, which are primarily observed around the rocky shorelines that these man-made islands provide. Seeing all three of these species will now be much more difficult, making boat trips to the islands much more important! Very rarely are individuals observed further east around Fort Story, and even more rarely south to Rudee Inlet. There was a pair of late finds this period, with a Black-and-white Warbler showing up at Honey Bee Golf Course (obs. Jessica Majors) and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird photographed at a private residence in Lago Mar the same day (ph. Mary Catherine Miguez). Lastly, though it isn’t truly a rarity here in winter, a pair of Pine Siskins were seen at Back Bay NWR on 26 Nov (obs. David Clark). This species is very irruptive from year-to-year, and since this was not predicted to be a major movement season, this species is flagging locally in eBird to help compare with years where irruptions do occur.
SPECIES DOCUMENTED BY MEDIA and submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach during this period included: 21 NOV – PARASITIC JAEGER (Little Island Park / Joe Minor); Hooded Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Bald Eagle, Laughing Gull & Red-bellied Woodpecker (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder); Fish Crow, Marsh Wren, Savannah Sparrow & Song Sparrow (Back Bay NWR / Mary Catherine Miguez). 22 NOV – ROSS’S GOOSE & Bald Eagle (Firefall Dr. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, Northern Gannet & Brown Pelican (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty); Black Vulture (Withduck Rd. / Laura Mae); ROSS’S GOOSE (Kempsville Lake / Brandon Holland). 23 NOV – Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez). 24 NOV – Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, American Bittern, Snowy Egret, Belted Kingfisher, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Nelson’s Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow & American Goldfinch (Pleasure House Point NA / Tamara Conklin); Gadwall & Peregrine Falcon (Bayville Farms Park / Tamara Conklin); ROSS’S GOOSE (Firefall Dr. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Red-breasted Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant & Hermit Thrush (Dam Neck NA / Karen & Tom Beatty); Common Loon & Merlin (First Landing SP / Carlton Noll). 25 NOV – Gadwall, Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Red-bellied Woodpecker & Northern Cardinal (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder); ROSS’S GOOSE (Kempsville Lake / Lisa Rose); ROSS’S GOOSE (Kempsville Lake / Tamara Conklin). 26 NOV – House Wren (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Red-tailed Hawk & Red-bellied Woodpecker (Stumpy Lake NA / Tamara Conklin); Wood Duck (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); Red-throated Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, American Coot, Bonaparte’s Gull & Eastern Meadowlark (Sherwood Lakes / Tamara Conklin); Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Flicker, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, Palm Warbler (Yellow) & Chipping Sparrow (Ashville Park / Tamara Conklin); ROSS’S GOOSE (Kempsville Lake / Rob Bielawski); Mallard (Da Vinci Park / Tamara Conklin); CACKLING GOOSE (Sherwood Lakes / Rob Bielawski); American Bittern, Northern Mockingbird & Yellow-rumped Warbler (Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract / Rob Bielawski); Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck & Hooded Merganser (Kings Grant Lake / Tamara Conklin); Snow Goose, CACKLING GOOSE & Bonaparte’s Gull (Sherwood Lakes / Karen & Tom Beatty); ROSS’S GOOSE (Kempsville Lake / Jonathan Snyder); American Wigeon, American Black Duck, Northern Pintail & Pied-billed Grebe (Lake Joyce & Shore Dr. / Tamara Conklin); Mallard, Carolina Chickadee, Marsh Wren & Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Horn Point Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Northern Harrier (Buzzard Neck Rd. / Rob Bielawski); Red-tailed Hawk (Robinson Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Red-winged Blackbird (West Gibbs Rd. / Rob Bielawski). 27 NOV – Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Osprey & Bald Eagle (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder); Mallard & Hooded Merganser (City View Park / Jonathan Snyder). 28 NOV – Great Blue Heron, Red-bellied Woodpecker & Carolina Wren (Stumpy Lake NA / Laura Mae); Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron, Laughing Gull, Ring-billed Gull & Fish Crow (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder); Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Song Sparrow & Northern Cardinal (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); Bald Eagle & Red-tailed Hawk (Princess Anne Ln. / Karen & Tom Beatty); Wilson’s Snipe (Princess Anne Rd. / Karen & Tom Beatty). 29 NOV – Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Turkey Vulture & Laughing Gull (Stumpy Lake NA / Jonathan Snyder). 30 NOV – Green-winged Teal, Surf Scoter, Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Northern Gannet & Ring-billed Gull (Little Island Park / Karen & Tom Beatty); Tundra Swan & Great Blue Heron (Back Bay NWR / Karen & Tom Beatty).
LOOKAHEAD: Early December is the first true period of ornithological winter as it is defined by most journals (the ABA, the VSO, etc.). This period is typically known for rare wintering species being found around the city, and if last year is an indicator, it would behoove birders to spend time sifting through sparrows, blackbirds, and geese flocks for unusual species. Seawatching can also yield unusual birds like we’ve already seen with both King & Common Eiders seen migrating southbound off our coast in November. 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 (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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