Birding Virginia Beach - September 2019

The momentum gained at August’s close continued throughout September, providing for one of the most exciting months of birding Virginia Beach in recent memory! The impacts of Hurricane Dorian on 6 Sep, and also of several cold fronts and their corresponding migration movements towards the end of the month bolstered diversity of species across the city. Over the course of its thirty days, a total of 183 species were logged to eBird, which was a significant increase from the 152 species logged during August as well as a hefty boost to the 177 species logged during September last year. With September now completed, Virginia Beach has logged records for 291 species to eBird during 2019 (a massive +12 compared with last year’s 279 species through the same timeframe), and the number of complete checklists submitted now sits at 7,908 (2018 produced 8,489 in total, the most of any year thus far) so we’re still on pace to top the 10,000 mark for the first time!

With the increase in species diversity came a corresponding rise in species highlights this month! Topping the list this month, rarity records occurred for hurricane-displaced species including Sabine’s Gull, Sooty Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Roseate Tern as well as a pair of unexpected vagrants, namely Gray Kingbird & Western Kingbird. Additionally, we saw records for rare migrant passerines including Mourning Warbler, Least Flycatcher, Canada Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Hooded Warbler & Yellow-throated Warbler as well as rare shorebirds like American Golden-Plover, Long-billed Dowitcher, Marbled Godwit and even exciting ‘from-shore’ records for both Pomarine & Parasitic Jaeger! Continuing since the springtime, Anhinga were also viewed through a good chunk of the month. Lastly, September provided the city with first-of-season records for expected fall arrivals which, in order of arrival date, included: Cape May Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Common Nighthawk, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Magnolia Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Merlin, Northern Pintail, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Swainson’s Thrush, Palm Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Shoveler, Sora, Nashville Warbler, Veery, Savannah Sparrow, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-rumped Warbler & Black-throated Blue Warbler!

With so many excellent observations this month, the rarities that occurred with Hurricane Dorian are going to be discussed here first just to provide some form of cohesion to this report. A more extensive article about the weather impacts from the storm, and a more in-depth look at the species displacements caused will be published under the Weather section of this website in the near future, but for the purposes of this monthly article, the focus will just be put on the rarest of the sightings. So, starting out, Hurricane Dorian made its passage over Hatteras Island, NC on the morning of 6 Sep, which provided strong onshore, northeasterly, winds across Virginia Beach. In anticipation of the potential for seabirds being blown inland, many birders were out throughout the day searching. Wind conditions were in the 40-50mph range most of the day, but rainfall was only heavy for a couple of hours, making conditions reasonably safe to be outdoors (fortunate for us).

Early on in the day, a single SABINE’S GULL was observed in flight outside of Lynnhaven Inlet (vis. Andrew Baldelli & Rob Bielawski), making for the very first eBird record for this species in Virginia Beach and bringing our city all-time tally up to 378 species! Worth noting, however, one was reported off Little Island Park a few years ago, but the record was not accepted by eBird or by the Virginia Avian Records Committee (VARCOM), though it was likely to have been a correct identification. This species is a rare offshore migrant during fall, with most records in Virginia being associated with tropical cyclones or strong onshore gales. Last year, a single individual was observed in the wake of Hurricane Florence out at Kerr Reservoir in Mecklenburg County from 15-17 Sep 2018 (ph. Jeffrey Blalock). However, the closest previous sighting to us here in Virginia Beach was an immature seen from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel’s fourth Island, North Thimble Island on 2 Sep 2006 (ph. Edward Brinkley) during the passage Tropical Depression Ernesto (previously was Hurricane Ernesto). With records submitted far less than annually in Virginia for this species, it is one of VARCOM’s statewide reviewable species, and a full report of the 2019 observation was submitted accordingly.

In addition to the Sabine’s Gull, it wasn’t long before other displaced rarities started popping up across the northern portion of the city. A juvenile SOOTY TERN was observed cruising around over the Lynnhaven estuary south of the Lesner Bridge in the afternoon (ph. Todd Day & Ian Topolsky). Interestingly, it wasn’t too long afterward that a second Sooty Tern, this one an adult, also joined in and immediately began associating with the juvenile in flight over the “shelted” waterway. Sooty Terns were also logged during the storm at Fort Monroe in Hampton, at King-Lincoln Park in Newport News, near the Granby Street Bridge in Norfolk, and also at Bill Jessee Park in Suffolk. Always one to look for during the fall season when tropical cyclones are in play, this species certainly did not let anyone down. The last records for Sooty Tern prior to Hurricane Dorian were of a single individual at Little Island Park, 14 Sep 2018 (vis. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate) during Hurricane Florence’s landfall over North Carolina and perhaps as many as twenty observed from South Thimble Island (CBBT) during Tropical Storm Hermine on 3 Sep 2016 (first noted & ph. Arun Bose with many additional observers throughout the day).

In the same vein of rareness as the Sooty Terns, a group of 23 RED-NECKED PHALAROPES was observed swirling around over Little Creek Reservoir from Shore Drive (ph. Andrew Baldelli / Rob Bielawski / Karl Suttmann). These birds had clearly been pushed inshore through Little Creek Inlet and found themselves over freshwater, or perhaps even had been pushed straight over land on the 40-50mph sustained winds that persisted most of the morning. In the early afternoon, several flocks at Fort Story JEB accounted for a total of 109 more Red-necked Phalaropes (ph. Andrew Baldelli / Rob Bielawski / Karl Suttmann) with the majority flying wildly out over the massive waves, but with a single group actually observed over the treetops trying desperately to get back out over water. Smaller numbers were also observed later in the afternoon from Lynnhaven Inlet, with counts of 2 (vis. Todd Day & Ian Topolsky) and 6 (vis. Ellison Orcutt) occurring. Prior to Hurricane Dorian, the last Red-necked Phalaropes observed in Virginia Beach were a pair associated with a strong nor’easter at Little Island Park on 9 Nov 2018 (vis. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate) and a group of 5 viewed from South Thimble Island (CBBT) during Tropical Storm Hermine’s passage on 3 Sep 2016 (vis. Edward Brinkley). Surely a species that should be looked for during any extended periods of strong onshore winds, but typically one that truly requires tropical cyclone impacts to really provide the opportunity to view.

A second for Virginia Beach on the year, and a third for the state, a single ROSEATE TERN was observed mixed in with a large storm roost of terns/gulls/shorebirds at the Lynnhaven Boat Ramp during the later afternoon hours (ph. Andrew Rapp). With city facilities all closed for the day, the gravel area and sandy plateau south of the boat ramp provided a perfect spot for these birds to rest their wings a bit and hide from the strong winds (which had swung a bit north/northwesterly by this point). Here the birds were protected from the worst of the storm, as the rain had basically subsided. A number of birders were able to arrive and view the Roseate and all the other terns associating in the same area. In fact, the Lynnhaven Boat Ramp actually produced recorded for 10 species of terns, something that appears to have only occurred once before in Virginia (Kerr Reservoir during Hurricane Fran on 6 Sep 1996, obs. Brian Sullivan). With the last record for Roseate Tern occurring 1 Jun 2019 at Back Bay NWR (ph. Rob Bielawski & Lisa Rose), and with the species being missed altogether in Virginia (not just in Virginia Beach) during 2018, it was exciting to see this one get logged.

Extended southwesterly winds later in the month were likely the cause of another exciting pair of species to arrive in Virginia Beach. Early in the morning hours of 21 Sep, a single GRAY KINGBIRD was observed at Back Bay NWR (ph. Betty Sue Cohen) near the kayak launch just northwest of the visitor contact station. This being only the second eBird record the city, but with a few other records known from The Gold Book, provided quite a bit of excitement across Virginia Beach birders. While searching for the Gray Kingbird the following day, incredibly, an immature WESTERN KINGBIRD ended up being found located in the same area of the park (ph. Andrew Baldelli, ph. Karen & Tom Beatty, vis. Jason Schatti)! Like the Gray Kingbird, the Western ended up only being observed throughout that same day but couldn’t be relocated the following day. To make matters even stranger, on 25 Sep, perhaps a different GRAY KINGBIRD was found at the park (vis. Andrew Baldelli, vis. Karen & Tom Beatty, ph. Reuben Rohn). Now, there’s no way to say for sure whether it was, or wasn’t the same individual observed on 21 Sep that started off this sort of “kingbird madness”, but given the several day lack of records despite exhaustive searches by many birders, it seems plausible at least that this was a separate individual. Either way, this was an incredible set of circumstances, and it’s astonishing to think that over the last couple of years the park has now hosted both of these vagrant species of kingbirds, as well as Ash-throated, Fork-tailed & Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. Back Bay NWR truly is one of a kind.

An extremely rare spring & fall transient along the coast, MOURNING WARBLER was a remarkable surprise during September. A single individual was observed in a dense thicket near the parking area of Beach Garden Park on 24 Sep (vis. David Clark), marking the first time this species has been logged to eBird in the city since 13 Sep 1980 when one was at Back Bay NWR (vis. Edward Brinkley). Thus far, these are the only two accepted records for Virginia Beach in eBird. Breeding at the highest elevations in the state, with most recent records along the West Virginia border in the vicinity of Paddy Knob, all we can hope for here is strong southwest winds in the late spring and strong northwest winds in mid-fall to push a migrant Mourning Warbler towards the coastline. A singing male in Northampton County this spring gives us some hope that it could happen here, we just need a lot of eyes in the field at the right times, and some considerable luck. Several observers did make attempts to re-find this warbler at Beach Garden Park, but unfortunately all were unsuccessful and this one managed to get away from the birding community.

Another second record for the city, a single LEAST FLYCATCHER was observed in a Kings Grant private backyard on 25 Sep (vis. Ron Furnish). With our only other record in Virginia Beach having occurred at Back Bay NWR from 2-16 Sep 2017 (vis. Tommy Maloney, later ph. Rob Bielawski), any record for this rare transient is certainly noteworthy. Like the Mourning Warbler above, this species does breed in the state, but only at high elevation along the Blue Ridge and in the mountains west of the Shenandoah Valley. We’re therefore a bit outside it’s normal range for migrants, especially in the springtime, and really depend on that northwesterly wind in fall to bring them to the coast. It’s no coincidence that this one was seen just one day after the Mourning Warbler.

Not quite as rare as the Mourning Warbler, but in the same vein of transient passerines that haven’t been reported in Virginia Beach annually, a CANADA WARBLER viewed at a Cypress Point private residence also on 24 Sep (vis. Debbie Schroeder) proved to be an exceptional record. With the last accepted eBird record for this species occurring at Back Bay NWR on 21 Sep 2017 (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty), and only single fall and spring records in 2016 & 2015, respectively, Canada Warbler is such a low density migrant along the coast that any record is cause for celebration. A bit more expected at the southern tip of Northampton County in fall, the few seen there don’t seem to make the crossing of the Chesapeake Bay mouth and instead we likely see birds here following very strong northwest winds the move birds from inland Virginia towards the coast while migrating southward overnight. It’s surely no coincidence that this typically high elevation breeder showed up in Virginia Beach on the same day the Mourning Warbler did, as we had the proper wind setup the night before.

With just a few more records than the Canada Warbler above, a TENNESSEE WARBLER this month observed behind the visitor contact station at Back Bay NWR on 22 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli, ph. Rob Bielawski, vis. Mike Collins, vis. Lisa Rose) was also exceptional. Over the last five years, we’ve had at least one record in all but one, 2014, for this species, however they seem to alternate between spring and fall with neither season yielding records on an annual basis. Prior to this individual, the last accepted record for Virginia Beach was also at Back Bay NWR, where one was observed from 5-11 May 2018 (ph. June McDaniels). Now, it’s possible that more than one was present during that period, but there’s no way to tell for sure so all that can be said is that the species was logged at this location in that particular date range. The 2018 record was our first photographically documented eBird record for the species, and this 2019 record makes for a welcome second!

Up until 2016, there wasn’t a single record for PHILADELPHIA VIREO in eBird for the city, but, since that time we’ve managed to get a few good records in. All of these but one have fit into the Sep/Oct timeframe, so while one recorded at First Landing SP on 25 Sep (ph. June McDaniels) makes sense, it’s still an extremely rare find. Like the Mourning & Canada Warblers mentioned above, this individual was likely the result of a large-scale movement of passerines overnight on northwest winds that were driven towards the coastline. Amusingly, the only other records for 2019, was also photographed by this observer at the same park, but back in early June. That particular record was almost unheard of for this latitude, but it was very well documented (ph. June McDaniels), which is good because it would have been quite a bold claim otherwise! In fact, this was the first June or July record for Philadelphia Vireo in the state in eBird, and to make matters even wilder, not a single state that borders Virginia has any records during that timeframe either! Since 2016, we’ve been averaging between 1-2 reports for this species each year in the city, so hopefully this trend continues into the future as they’re a gorgeous species to view.

Another low density transient, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER allowed for a first fall record when an immature individual was observed along the vegetated southern edge of Mt. Trashmore Park on 26 Sep (ph. Lisa Rose). This location proved to be excellent for transient warblers at the tail end of September, with a dozen-plus species being logged here, including a fairly rare Wilson’s Warbler on this same checklist. Blackburnians have been similar in reporting history to Tennessee Warblers, perhaps being reported annually, but not in either spring or fall in a predictable fashion. For example, there wasn’t a single record in the fall of 2018, but there was three records in the fall of 2017. We did have one record this past spring, with a singing male encountered at Pleasure House Point NA from 11-13 May (ph. Rob Bielawski, later much more clearly ph. Steve Myers). Looking at the past five years, the only year without a single record was 2015. At this point, this is yet another species we’re averaging somewhere around 1-2 reports per season, which keeps it as a candidate for “rare” status in eBird, but also means it’s a species that likely is passing by undetected in both spring and fall. Of course, in springtime, they can be singing along their migration, and their vibrant orange, black and white plumage can help make them a bit more easily observed. Fall seems to be the tougher season here, but it’s great to see us get one on the board this time around.

Yet another high elevation breeder in Virginia that tends be quite scarce here during migration, we managed to get our first record for the fall of CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER with an immature observed at Back Bay NWR on 23 Sep (vis. Dianne Hinch, ph. Cindy Hamilton). Missed completely in the fall season of 2018, and with only one record in the spring of 2019 (vis. Kathy Spencer), this was a great bird to get back onto our month list. The last fall record we’ve had in the city was back in 2017 when the species was observed at three different locations (Back Bay NWR, West Neck Creek NA, and Lago Mar). Slightly more reliable in spring than fall, records in either season are obviously noteworthy but early May and September have been the best timeframes for finding them.

Seasonally rare in fall in Virginia Beach, we had a miraculous three records for WORM-EATING WARBLER during September, all at different locations including one at a private residence in Bellamy Manor on 7 Sep (ph. Una Davenhill), one at Camp Pendleton SMR (Restricted Access) on 14 Sep (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty) and another at First Landing SP on 25 Sep (ph. June McDaniels). Coming off last fall, where only one was observed, at West Neck Creek NA on 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski), having three records this fall just seems quite wild, but it still fits the mold of averaging about 2 records per season here in Virginia Beach, right along the same lines as Chestnut-sided Warbler above.      

Lastly for the warblers, both YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER and HOODED WARBLER have been tough birds to come by in fall, but have produced quite a number of records during the spring season. As a result, they’ve been set to flag as ‘rare’ in eBird during the fall season to ensure their records get proper attention from both observers and reviewers alike. A single Hooded Warbler record, one of a continuing singing male at First Landing SP came in on 14 Sep (aud. June McDaniels). Assuming this is the same individual, it has been present at the western fringe of the Long Creek Trail since late April (ph. June McDaniels), and was heard during both June and July in the same location. Now strangely, in fall 2018 there wasn’t a single migrant record for Yellow-throated Warbler, yet we had potentially two different individuals attempt wintering in the city, one of which likely made it all the way through after being logged from late November through March. This fall, records for this species occurred with one at a private residence in Bellamy Manor on 24 Aug (ph. Una Davenhill), one at Back Bay NWR (the first ever photographed in eBird at the refuge!) from 21-23 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski & Lisa Rose), one at Lake Lawson & Lake Smith NA on 24 Sep (vis. Gigi DelPizzo), one at a private residence in Lake Smith Terrace on 25 Sep (vis. Tracy Tate), and finally one at a private residence in Oak Springs on 26 Sep (vis. Carolyn Page). If these trends continue, this species is a good candidate to be set as a spring & fall transient in eBird, and will no longer flag in fall.

September tends to be our first month of the fall season that truly features a mix of different groups of birds. While shorebird season began in July and continued through August, it isn’t until September that we start to get the passerine diversity mixed in. Many folks tend to start looking more for warblers during this month, and shorebird observations tend to drop as a result. However, this September proved that shorebirds still need to maintain a good deal of focus from birders in Virginia Beach. Near the end of the month, we had our rarest shorebird find of the season show itself in the form of a single AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER found on the beach at Back Bay NWR on 29 Sep (ph. Jonathan Snyder & Amresh Vaidya). It had been just over a year since the last record for this species in Virginia Beach, when one was observed in the agricultural field at Shipps Cabin Road on 13 Sep 2018 (ph. Rob & Ruth Bielawski) during the passage of Hurricane Florence across North Carolina to our south. Additionally, it had been two years since the last record at Back Bay NWR, the most likely location in the city for this species to show up (with perhaps Princess Anne WMA’s Beasley &/or Whitehurst Tracts a close second).

Another rare shorebird find, we had our first LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER record for the calendar year when a single individual was located during the official impoundment survey at Back Bay NWR on 16 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Due to difficulty in separating Long & Short-billed Dowitcher in the field without excellent views, this species almost certainly goes unnoticed and is likely to be an annual transient in fall along our patch of coastline. However, records are few and far between in Virginia Beach, with the last record being of a flock of five viewed at Princess Anne WMA’s Whitehurst Tract on 22 Apr 2018 (ph. Rob Bielawski & Lisa Rose). From now through the winter season, this is a species that should be carefully looked for anytime a dowitcher is observed. Typically, the best way to separate the two in the field is by observing the shape of the bird while feeding. Long-billeds tend to be much chunkier, and when feeding will show an arch to the back reaching it’s top most point in the middle. Short-billeds usually show this point over the shoulder, with a slimmer appearance and more linear slope to the back behind the shoulder. Bill length isn’t particularly useful since there is considerable overlap between females & males of the two species; just something to keep in mind!

Last on the list of rare September shorebirds, a MARBLED GODWIT was observed on the beach at Back Bay NWR on 13 Sep (ph. Eric Alton & Tammy Conklin). Depending on how one looks at this, it could possibly be the third record for Virginia Beach this fall, with an individual observed in southbound flight past Rudee Inlet on 24 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli) and another logged at Dam Neck NA (Restricted Access) on 30 Aug (ph. Paul Block). Or, this could all be the same individual slowly working its way south along our coastal beaches? Impossible to say for certain, so given that there are records from three locations, it’s safest to assume this is a 3rd individual…but, you never know. Regardless of the count, it’s interesting to note that Aug/Sep have been the most reliable months for Marbled Godwit in Virginia Beach, with the last record outside that window having occurred back in June of 2017. While the species winters prolifically in the Eastern Shore barrier island lagoon system, notably at roosts like Willis Wharf and Oyster, as well as at Pea Island NWR south of us in North Carolina, records after September here are very tough to come by…but should be watched for!

Exciting to see from shore anytime of the year, we had our first POMARINE JAEGER report of the season as well, with an individual flying south along the beach at Sandbridge on 2 Sep (vis. David Clark). Our first such record in Virginia Beach going back to the historic jaeger flight during Nov 2017, this was an exciting addition to our calendar year list and just a great record overall. In addition to the Pomarine, there was also a record for PARASITIC JAEGER during September, with at least two observed from Little Island Park on 8 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli, ph. Tommy Maloney). This species had a few records during the height of winter in Jan/Feb, and on 20 Apr, a new state spring high count was achieved when 12 passed by Little Island Park (ph. Andrew Baldelli & Rob Bielawski) on the backside of a strong coastal low pressure system. It’s possible that this is a good sign for the coming Oct/Nov migration season of these species. Both breed in the arctic tundra and make their way to the coast, with many passing overland. Seawatching over the next couple of months could provide some great observations of these birds, especially in November as Laughing Gulls are bailing out southbound for the winter and provide the jaegers with a perfect target to harass.

Just like in August, we had one continuing rarity this month, that being the Anhingas at Stumpy Lake NA! First observed at this location way back on 21 Apr (2, ph. Stephen Keith), their occurrence alone has boosted the number of eBirders visiting Virginia Beach (and Stumpy Lake specifically) throughout the past several months. For the first time during the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (running 2016-2020), this species was confirmed as a breeder at Stumpy Lake! It truly has been an incredible year for the species being observed locally, with a minimum count of 27 individuals having been so far observed across five different locations in the city (though none away from Stumpy Lake during August). With almost 200 eBird reports now submitted for the species this year, the number of photographs that have been provided as documentation is also staggering. For anyone interested in browsing the 200+ photographs so far input, these can all be viewed by clicking Here! With the last sighting of these highly sought-after birds occurring 19 Sep (ph. Jonathan Snyder), it seems that they have finally moved south for the coming winter season. They will certainly be missed, but it will be exciting to see if they grace us with their presence once again next spring!

September typically showcases the arrival of most of our transient passerines, while it’s usually October before most of the wintering species begin to arrive. This month, regarding expected/annually occurring fall migrants, records occurred for the following first-of-season arrivals:

  • Cape May Warbler – First Observed: 1, Dam Neck NA (Restricted Access), 1 Sep (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Black-throated Green Warbler – First Observed: 1, First Landing SP, 1 Sep (obs. Chris Monahan); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 21 Sep (ph. Betty Sue Cohen).

  • Common Nighthawk – First Observed: 1, NAS Oceana (Restricted Access), 4 Sep (vis. Karl Suttmann).

  • American Bittern – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Pleasure House Point NA, 7 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Northern Harrier – First Observed: 1, Lake Smith Terrace (Private Residence), 11 Sep (vis. Tracy Tate); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Magnolia Warbler – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 13 Sep (obs. Richard Chirumbole); First Photographed: 2, Mt. Trashmore Park, 26 Sep (ph. Lisa Rose).

  • Wilson’s Warbler – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Kings Grant (Private Residence), 13 Sep (ph. Ron Furnish).

  • Merlin – First Observed: 1, Lake Smith Terrace (Private Residence), 15 Sep (vis. Tracy Tate); First Photographed: 1, Red Wing Park, 26 Sep (ph. Jacynthe Fortin).

  • Northern Pintail – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 16 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli).

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – First Observed: 1, Lake Smith Terrace (Private Residence), 18 Sep (vis. Tracy Tate); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Swainson’s Thrush – First Observed: 1, Chesapeake Beach (Private Residence), 18 Sep (vis. Kathy Spencer); First Photographed: 1, Mt. Trashmore Park, 26 Sep (ph. Lisa Rose).

  • Palm Warbler – First Observed: 1, First Landing SP, 21 Sep (vis. Cindy Hamilton); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty, ph. Reuben Rohn).

  • Blackpoll Warbler – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 21 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski & Lisa Rose).

  • Northern Shoveler – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Sora – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (obs. Jason Schatti).

  • Nashville Warbler – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (vis. Mike Collins / Tommy Maloney / Jason Schatti); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 22 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Veery – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Kings Grant (Private Residence), 24 Sep (ph. Marie & Ron Furnish).

  • Savannah Sparrow – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty, vis. Cindy Hamilton).

  • Scarlet Tanager – First Observed: 2, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli / Karen & Tom Beatty); First Photographed: 1, Witt Park, 25 Sep (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak – First Observed: 1, Oak Springs (Private Residence), 25 Sep (vis. Carolyn Page).

  • Yellow-rumped Warbler – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty, vis. Evan Standifer); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 26 Sep (ph. Cindy Hamilton).

  • Black-throated Blue Warbler – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (vis. Andrew Baldelli / Karen & Tom Beatty) and 2, First Landing SP, 25 Sep (vis. June McDaniels); First Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 25 Sep (ph. Reuben Rohn).

Aside from the wide variety of species that were observed this month and logged to eBird, sometimes it is just as interesting to look at which species expected to be present, managed to get missed altogether. Somehow, Virginia Beach eBirders managed to miss Wild Turkey for the month, with the last record occurring 31 Aug! Least Bittern was also missed, with the last record on 29 Aug, though this one is a bit more understandable since they’re typically done vocalizing by summer’s end, and being a cryptic species that hides in dense vegetation it would be easy to miss one if any were still lingering in the city. Another head scratcher, Eastern Meadowlark hasn’t been observed in the city since 14 Aug, and missing that for the month is incredibly surprising since they’re typically a reliable species along the roads in southern Virginia Beach. Perhaps no one was out looking, or listening for them in September? All the other species logged in August, but not in September, were species that one wouldn’t expect to find, so no harm there. It is a little surprising that we had an August record for Northern Gannet but none showed up in September. The same can be said for Black Scoter, though the August records were associated with a strong low pressure system, but we didn’t see any scoters inshore during Hurricane Dorian either so it just feels likely that none were around to be observed.

So, in terms of a comparison between what was logged in Sep 2019 vs. Sep 2018, there’s quite a few differences. The following species were recorded last Sep, but were not found this Sep: Gadwall, American Wigeon, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter, Wild Turkey, Dunlin, Baird’s Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Common Loon, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Purple Finch, Clay-colored Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Nelson’s Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Orchard Oriole, Orange-crowned Warbler & Dickcissel.

Vice versa, we found the following species this Sep, but didn’t observe them last Sep: Northern Shoveler, Sora, Stilt Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Sabine’s Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Roseate Tern, Anhinga, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Least Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Gray Kingbird, Philadelphia Vireo, Veery, Tennessee Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Canada Warbler & Wilson’s Warbler.

Looking at these differences, it’s quite obvious that: 1). The displacements caused by Hurricane Dorian caused a spike of rarities this year. 2). We had much better success with warblers in 2019, whether it was due to better migration conditions which brought us more diversity of species, or due to better coverage is unable to be quantified. 3). Sparrows and waterfowl were found in better diversity last year, and perhaps the record-breaking heat we experienced this Sep was partially to blame for that. Whatever the cause might be for the above, it was certainly fascinating to take an in-depth look at, and we’ll see what changes next Sep!

As always, a wide array of media (photos/audio/video) were submitted during the month in Virginia Beach, and eBird makes it incredibly easy to organize and browse all of these. For those hoping to view every photo/audio/video submitted for Virginia Beach during this period, please see the complete listing for the month of September located on eBird’s Media explorer by clicking here! Please remember, anyone with an eBird user account has the ability to rate these photographs/audio/video on a scale of 1-5 stars (based on these guidelines). Making use of the average rating for each media item is how eBird populates anything media-driven on the website, particularly the Illustrated Checklists. So, if you're one of the many folks who enjoy looking at photographs or watching/listening to video/audio recordings of birds, please take some time to rate their quality, it helps to make eBird more useful with each passing day!

OCTOBER LOOKAHEAD: Since this monthly report was issued a bit late, the lookahead is a little more constricted. Early October is prime-time for passerine migration, and any mornings following north or northwest winds could provide large bursts of songbirds. They tend to be most easily viewed in the first three to four hours of daylight, though feeding flocks can be encountered throughout the day for those who put in the hours. These birds are looking for dense vegetation in fall, and coastal scrub is the ideal spot to find them, meaning places like Back Bay NWR, Little Island Park, the military bases on the coast, and dense tangles anywhere else could hold them. Sparrows tend to take over by mid-October, and waterfowl will be getting into the swings of things by then as well. All parks are worth checking in October, though as mentioned, those with a variety of habitats and those with dense vegetation are going to be the places most likely to produce the best diversity of species.

At the close of September, we have not yet logged first arrivals for the following species with expected arrival dates (listed in parentheses after each species name) prior to October:

Additionally, the following species all have expected fall arrival dates during the month of October and should be looked for throughout the month.

Hopefully over the course of the next 31 days, each of these species, and perhaps some unexpected species, can be found in the city. For those who may want their observations to be included in this journal please remember to submit your records to www.eBird.org, where they can be reviewed for accuracy by local experts and easily found by those of us interested in such things. Thank you to those who made it through the entirety of this August entry, and be sure to check back next month to see what Virginia Beach birders will have found in September!

Next Entry | Entry Index | Previous Entry

For further information regarding this monthly, online publication, please visit the Journal Overview Page which provides an in-depth explanation of the current format, layout and composition of the journal. 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!

Birding Virginia Beach - August 2019

Over the years, this journal has gone through several format modifications. Reasons for these modifications have certainly varied. Several years ago, switching from a personal journal, which this all began as, to a format that celebrated the finds of all Virginia Beach observers during a weekly period afforded me the opportunity to better showcase what was being observed by the full community, not just what was seen through my own eyes. Later, changing from a weekly to a thrice-monthly format allowed for a more scientific comparison across different years during the same timeframe, to better showcase which species would be observed, and what weather patterns were present as well as how the differed year to year. I’ve always maintained that as birders or simply as observers of the natural world, we have a responsibility to document what we see & hear while outdoors. Information is a powerful entity, perhaps more so nowadays than ever. Hopeful of continuing the tradition I’ve set forth with this journal over the years, but also mindful of the time constraints put on me as an individual, I’ve opted to transition the thrice-monthly journal to a full Monthly Journal format. Through this format I hope to give the local birding community a thorough summary of bird sightings and a discussion of weather patterns affection their distribution just as before, but without the personal handcuff of publishing a new edition every ten or so days. Photographs require editing time; reports require time to research; time spent in the field is priceless. Essentially, good things take time to complete, and to do properly. This new format will certainly showcase the highest quality information and photographs available, and with that said, please enjoy what is hopefully the first of many monthly entries to come!

August proved to be a worthwhile period to start fresh with. Over the course of its thirty-one days, a total of 153 species were logged to eBird, which was an increase from the 142 species logged during July and also was an increase (+1) on the 152 species logged during August last year. With August now complete, Virginia Beach has now logged records for 278 species to eBird during 2019 (+5 compared with last year’s 273 through the same timeframe), and the number of complete checklists now sits at 7,304 (2018 produced 8,489 in total, the most of any year thus far). Species highlights this month included new rarity records for Cliff Swallow, Marbled Godwit & Common Gallinule, continuing rarity records for Anhinga, new unseasonal records for Yellow-throated Warbler & Black Scoter, continuing unseasonal records for Common Eider, offshore records for Cory’s & Audubon’s Shearwater and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, early first-of-season records for Bank Swallow, Wilson’s Snipe & Blue-winged Teal, first-of-season records within expected dates for Black Tern, Yellow Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Waterthrush, Red Knot, Stilt Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal, Peregrine Falcon, Bobolink & Baltimore Oriole, and interesting records for Wild Turkey, Least Bittern, Mississippi Kite & Sandwich Tern!

Notable for the month of August in Virginia Beach, the first Cliff Swallow of the year was observed in flight at Back Bay NWR on 29 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Mixed in with a sizeable group of Barn Swallows, this swallow was observed early in the morning following a night of northwesterly winds, which likely helped provide a tailwind for southbound migrants. This same overnight wind setup cause first-of-season Baltimore Orioles, several Bank Swallows and high counts of Eastern Kingbirds to be observed as well though strangely didn’t bring any new warbler species to our portion of the coastline. Cliff Swallow is a low-density migrant on the immediate coastline, maybe slightly more expected in fall than in springtime, though most fall records in coastal Virginia seem to occur in Northampton. The last time one was recorded in Virginia Beach quite a while ago, way back on 17 Apr 2018, when an individual was photographed over a flooded field between the double 90° bends along Back Bay Landing Road (ph. Rob Bielawski). Certainly this species occurs more frequently during the appropriate migration time-windows (the Gold Book lists 25 Apr-20 May & 10 Jul-20 Sep for the Coastal Plain) than eBird reports suggest but with the scarcity of records during either season, any sighting of this species is highly noteworthy in Virginia Beach. Perhaps the key takeaway from this particular record is that nights featuring northwesterly winds during Aug/Sep are key to finding this species mixed among larger scale movements of other, more expected swallow species (Barn Swallow in this case).

Next up on the list of new rarities was the occurrence of a single Marbled Godwit observed flying south along the coast at Rudee Inlet on 24 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Strong onshore winds associated with a low pressure system may have assisted in kicking this individual closer inshore where it could be observed. A few days later, on 31 Aug, potentially this same individual was photographed along the beach not far south of Rudee at Dam Neck NA (Restricted Access) (ph. Paul Block), so perhaps it’ll continue to be observed into September. It had been almost a full year since the last record for this species occurred in Virginia Beach! Last year, an individual was recorded on the beach at Back Bay NWR from 6 Aug 2018 (vis. David Hughes & Lauren Mowbray) through 6 Sep 2018 with two individuals present together on 2 Sep (vis. James Marcum). The only other record for 2018 was a group of 3 observed in flight over Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract on 12 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski). August and September have proven to be the best time for us to observed this species in Virginia Beach, though they do winter north of here throughout the Eastern Shore in large numbers (Oyster, Willis Wharf, Chincoteague), and at Pea Island NWR in Dare County, NC not far south of us. We seem to observe them only as fall transients, and any year we get more than 1 or 2 is an excellent year.

Also notable for the month was a single Common Gallinule observed during the early August impoundment survey at Back Bay NWR on 6 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli). This made for the second report of the species in Virginia Beach for 2019, with the first occurring nearby at False Cape SP on 24 May (vis. Drew Avery & Tracy Tate). While we have struggled a bit finding this species in 2019, last year was actually a banner year here for this species, with records at several locations in spring & fall. This included a pair of adults at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract (south section) from 15 Apr-5 May 2018 (ph. Rob Bielawski), one adult along the Raptor Trail (formerly Bay Trail) at Back Bay NWR from 14-25 May 2018 (vis. Cindy Hamilton), perhaps a repeat adult at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract (north section) from 17-27 May 2018 (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty), an immature on the impoundments at Back Bay NWR on 5 Oct 2018 (ph. Robert Ake), and a single adult on private property north of Little Island Park on 30 Aug 2018 (vis. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate). The cryptic nature of this species makes observation difficult though, and it is likely that quite a few are present in the city in any given year. We do seem to be at the northern limit of their wintering range, with individuals often being records just across the North Carolina border at Mackay Island NWR during Dec-Feb. Typically our first records are in April, which might also have something to do with the opening of the East or West Dikes at Back Bay NWR, giving the public a chance to view the impoundments that have been closed since the start of November.

In terms of continuing rarities, the Anhingas at Stumpy Lake NA continued to put on a show for a wide array of observers throughout the month of August. First observed at this location way back on 21 Apr (2, ph. Stephen Keith), their occurrence alone has boosted the number of eBirders visiting Virginia Beach throughout the summer months. For the first time during the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (running 2016-2020), this species was confirmed as a breeder at Stumpy Lake! It truly has been an incredible year for the species being observed locally, with a minimum count of 27 individuals having been so far observed across five different locations in the city (though none away from Stumpy Lake during August). With almost 200 eBird reports now submitted for the species this year, the number of photographs that have been provided as documentation is also staggering. For anyone interested in browsing the 200+ photographs so far input, these can all be viewed by clicking Here!

Several unseasonal finds during August also proved to be quite exciting and from a month-birding perspective might be just as rare or unexpected as the species listed above in this report! A single Yellow-throated Warbler was beautifully photographed in a private backyard in the Bellamy Manor neighborhood on 24 Aug (ph. Una Davenhill). That record makes for the first observation of the species in Virginia Beach since 18 May, and perhaps benefits from its location being towards the western side of the city. In 2018, we only had a single fall record for Yellow-throated Warbler, coming all the way at the end of the season on 28 Nov 2018 (vis. Tracy Tate). Interestingly, this is certainly not the first time an excellent warbler has been observed at this Bellamy Manor household, with our only Hooded Warbler of the fall season in 2018 also photographed there (ph. Una Davenhill). Both of these species are scarce in Virginia Beach after the spring season, and any report is noteworthy. Last month, there was a singing male Hooded Warbler at First Landing SP, the first summering record in quite some time here, but it didn’t persist into August.

A strong low pressure system off the coast on 24 Aug that sent us strong onshore winds also provided unseasonal observations of several Black Scoters, the first records for the species in the city since 18 Jul. Recorded from two separate locations along the immediate coast and all heading northbound, three females were photographed at Back Bay NWR (ph. Rob Bielawski) and a mixed group of five females & males were photographed at Camp Pendleton SMR (ph. Steve Myers). Over the last few years, records for this species lingering into the summer months along the coastline have become more and more prevalent. However, there is usually a gap in records during August & September, after the lingerers have either departed or perished, but before southbound migrants start showing back up in early October. Any August record for the species is therefore exciting. It is also worth noting that a single female was observed the following day, 25 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski) further inland at Grandview NP in Hampton flying north along the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay (the only western bayshore record since early April). So these strong onshore winds could potentially push coastal lingerers into the bay.

Last of the unseasonals for August, a single adult female Common Eider present since spring managed to linger into this month. Though it was only noted once this month, on 3 Aug (ph. Justin Fuller & Alexis Rabon fide Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center), this individual had been present at Rudee Inlet and along the shoreline of Lake Rudee / Owl’s Creek going all the way back to 16 Jun (vis. Andrew Baldelli). It was presumed that this was the same adult female that had been observed around Lynnhaven Inlet from Apr into early June. In particular, the Virginia Aquarium did an excellent job documenting this eider through the summer months as their Dolphin Discovery Sea Adventure tours went in & out of the inlet. Even beyond eBird, many photographs of this female were posted to the Birding Virginia Facebook group by Justin Fuller, Alexis Rabon & Taryn Paul. Records for other similarly-plumaged adult female Common Eiders (with apparently injuries to wing/flight feathers) also popped up in neighboring Northampton in late July (ph. Warren Rofe), Currituck in mid-July (John Manual & Manual Morales) and Dare in mid-August (ph. Karen Lebing). It’d be curious to know if this same individual account for more than just the Rudee Inlet reports, though, it is impossible to tell for sure from the photographs in eBird.

A private birding & fishing trip to Virginia’s offshore waters occurred on 31 Aug and ended up spending a little bit of time inside Virginia Beach waters (as defined by eBird’s Closest Point of Land Policy). Departing from Rudee Inlet around 5 AM, the group of six (Matt Anthony, Rob Bielawski, Ned Brinkley, James Fox, Nick Newberry & Jason Strickland) spent 12-13 hours offshore & was able to observe at least two species within Virginia Beach waters, Cory’s & Audubon’s Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, with the Cory’s being documented by GPS embedded photographs & the Audubon’s being mixed in with the same group but not photographed before it flew off. Great Shearwater was also observed in the same vicinity but either fell in Northampton County or Currituck County waters when the photo GPS coordinates were checked against eBird. It is possible that one flew through our airspace, but unfortunately there was no photographic documentation to prove this. Each of these species are certainly expected to be found during this time of year offshore along the continental shelf break, but it’s still exciting to see them logged into eBird. Currently, all of these do flag as rare in eBird, since we do not have a pelagic data filter and since any inshore (or onshore) sighting would be remarkable, though it is possible ahead of, or in the aftermath of tropical cyclones.

While July really kicks off the season of Fall Arrivals (mostly shorebirds), August tends to be the first month in which passerines are on the move. This month, regarding expected/annually occurring fall migrants, records occurred for the following first-of-season arrivals (dates listed in parentheses after the species name are the expected/average dates of fall arrival):

  • Black Tern (10 Jul) – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 5 Aug (vis. Tracy Tate); First Photographed: 2, Back Bay NWR, 18 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Yellow Warbler (5 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 2, Back Bay NWR, 6 Aug (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty).

  • Bank Swallow (10 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Muddy Creek Rd. at Shipps Cabin Rd., 7 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Black-and-white Warbler (10 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 10 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • American Redstart (5 Aug) – First Observed: 1 adult female, Oak Springs (Private Residence), 12 Aug (vis. Carolyn Page); First Photographed: 2, Stumpy Lake NA, 25 Aug (ph. Betty Sue Cohen).

  • Northern Waterthrush (5 Aug) – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 15 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Species not yet photographed for the Fall season!

  • Red Knot (20 Jul) – First Observed: 1, Back Bay NWR, 21 Aug (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty). Species not yet photographed for the Fall season!

  • Stilt Sandpiper (20 Jul) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Muddy Creek Rd. at Shipps Cabin Rd., 23 Aug (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty). Please note: This was also the very first record for Stilt Sandpiper in Virginia Beach for 2019 after not a single one was logged during spring migration and it took over a month beyond their expected fall arrival date for the first (and still only) to show up!

  • Wilson’s Snipe (5 Sep) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Muddy Creek Rd. at Shipps Cabin Rd., 23 Aug (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty).

  • Blue-winged Teal (25 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Princess Anne WMA, 24 Aug (ph. Steve Myers).

  • Green-winged Teal (25 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 1, Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract, 25 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Peregrine Falcon (15 Aug) – First Observed: 1, Pleasure House Point NA, 25 Aug (vis. Tracy Tate). Species not yet photographed for the Fall season!

  • Bobolink (20 Aug) – First Observed & Photographed: 56, Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract, 28 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski).

  • Baltimore Oriole (15 Aug) – First Observed: 9, Back Bay NWR, 29 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Species not yet photographed for the Fall season!

In additional to all the rarities, unseasonals, and first-of-season finds, there were also some expected species found in some unexpected places around the city. Kicking off the month, a single Sandwich Tern was recorded at Lake Trashmore on 1 Aug (vis. Jason Schatti) making for the furthest inland record this year for the species in Virginia Beach. Typically it’ll take some intense winds to fling these terns to inland locations such as the freshwater Lake Trashmore. It is certainly a species to look for over freshwater following the passage of low pressure systems that yield strong onshore winds along the coast… definitely something to try for on a rainy day. Though they have nested in Thoroughgood over the last few years, Mississippi Kites tend to be difficult to find south of I-264. However, one was photographed this month at Marsh View Park on 4 Aug (ph. Stephen Keith), only the third such record to fall south of the interstate this year. For a second straight summer season, at least one Least Bittern appears to have set up a breeding territory in the marshy islands of the Lynnhaven River’s brackish estuary south of Pleasure House Point NA. With a single individual first logged here back on 31 May (vis. Bob Swiader) it was exciting to see additional reports continue into August. One sight record occurred 1 Aug (vis. Andrew Baldelli) with a followup on 10 Aug (vis. Jeff Souther), and the very first photographic record at this location (all years) finally occurred 18 Aug (ph. Rob Bielawski, later viewed alongside Tommy Maloney). In 2018, a confirmation of breeding was achieved here on 21 Jun when an adult was observed feeding young, and vocalizations of the adult were recorded (a.r. Andrew Baldelli). That record marked the first breeding confirmation in Virginia Beach for Least Bittern for the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, and also the first “coded” entries away from the Back Bay watershed where they’re expected. Lastly, a single Brown Pelican observed soaring over London Bridge Creek at the bridge on Lynnhaven Parkway (near Holland Road) on 28 Aug (vis. Rob Bielawski) made for an unexpectedly far inland record for the species. Outside of a group of 4 Brown Pelicans observed at Stumpy Lake way back on 26 Feb (vis. June McDaniels), this is the most isolated record for the species in the city this year so far.

Aside from the wide variety of species that were observed this month and logged to eBird, sometimes it is just as interesting to look at which species expected to be present, managed to get missed altogether. For example, Wood Thrush was not recorded to eBird during August, most likely because they stopped singing sometime in July and are difficult to detect without their song belting through the forest. Similarly, the last Ovenbird logged in the city occurred way back on 6 Jul at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract of all places. This species most certainly breeds at forested parks like Stumpy Lake NA, West Neck Creek NA, Red Wing Park and First Landing SP, but like the Wood Thrush, its silence this time of year makes it tough to track down following the nesting season. Several other species more likely to be noticed by ear than by eye were missed as well, including: Barred & Great Horned Owl, Chuck-will’s-widow and Northern Bobwhite. Three of these being primarily nocturnal species likely means that birders simply weren’t out in the dark searching for them. However, Chuck-will’s-widows may have stopped calling by the end of July as well, and the best places to find them (False Cape SP & Back Bay NWR) are inaccessible past dusk, unless camping, so there is some extra effort required there beyond the norm. Northern Bobwhite has been reported very few times this year, which seems surprising, but the species may also have been extirpated from Virginia Beach. It is unknown whether the individuals we see & hear are released birds or of wild descent.

So, in terms of a comparison between what was logged in August 2019 vs. August 2018, there’s quite a few interesting differences. For starters, last August we didn’t log records for these species, but did find them this August: Green-winged Teal, Common Eider, Black Scoter, Common Gallinule, Wilson’s Snipe, Peregrine Falcon & Yellow-throated Warbler. On the flip side, we did find these birds last August, but could not repeat that success this August: Northern Bobwhite, Common Nighthawk, American Avocet, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Lark Sparrow & Hooded Warbler. Interesting that we had 3 waterfowl species this August that went unseen last August, two being lingering and one being an arriving species.

As always, a wide array of media (photos/audio/video) were submitted during the month in Virginia Beach, and eBird makes it incredibly easy to organize and browse all of these. For those hoping to view every photo/audio/video submitted for Virginia Beach during this period, please see the complete listing for the month of August located on eBird’s Media explorer by clicking here! Please remember, anyone with an eBird user account has the ability to rate these photographs/audio/video on a scale of 1-5 stars (based on these guidelines). Making use of the average rating for each media item is how eBird populates anything media-driven on the website, particularly the Illustrated Checklists. So, if you're one of the many folks who enjoy looking at photographs or watching/listening to video/audio recordings of birds, please take some time to rate their quality, it helps to make eBird more useful with each passing day!

SEPTEMBER LOOKAHEAD: Waterfowl should begin showing up with increasing diversity. As far as dabblers go, we’ve already added both Blue & Green-winged Teal onto our typically present Mallard, Wood Duck & American Black Ducks. The impoundments at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract and Back Bay NWR should be the best spots to hold them. Throughout the month though, any neighborhood pond could pick up some neat ducks and lakes in Kings Grant, North Witchduck, and at Sherwood Lakes should all be checked out frequently. There could always be some Black or Surf Scoters lingering somewhere along the coast and it isn’t out of the question to find a Red-breasted Merganser, though none have been documented since springtime here. Waders should continue with their post-dispersal movements away from breeding colonies. Large numbers of Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons & Tricolored Herons are likely to be seen at Back Bay NWR in the coming weeks. Yellow-crowned & Black-crowned Night-Herons are likely to pop up in unusual locations, and Cattle Egrets have begun gathering in larger flocks in southern Virginia Beach (Muddy Creek, Nanney’s Creek, Gum Bridge, Morris Neck Roads are good areas to check).

Shorebirds, terns and gulls should continue to be observed with strong diversity of species and counts of individuals along the immediate coastline at places like Pleasure House Point NA, First Landing SP’s beachfront, Fort Story JEB (Restricted), the Resort Area beaches, Rudee Inlet, Camp Pendleton SMR (Restricted), Sandbridge, Little Island Park, Back Bay NWR & False Cape SP. Special attention to the coast should be given during days featuring onshore winds (easterlies), which can help bring these species closer inshore. Heavy rainfall events tend to also help concentrate these species onto the beaches and can cause shorebirds to “fallout” into flooded fields in the southern interior of the city. Currently, the only agricultural field known in Virginia Beach to be holding shorebirds after rainfall events though is the field at the junction of Shipps Cabin Road with Muddy Creek Road. This field has stayed mostly mud due to its very low elevation, as wind tide flooding from adjacent Back Bay tributary ditches has resulted in the loss of crops here leaving the ground open for ponding & as a result, for shorebirds to congregate. Crops elsewhere (primarily corn & soy beans) have not yet been cultivated except in a couple of locations (Nanney’s Creek and Munden Roads). Please remember that this field is private property and can be viewed only from the roadway, with caution! September can be an excellent month for rainfall-induced shorebird fallouts, and any field where crops have been cultivated can provide proper habitat. The northern-most impoundment in Princess Anne WMA’s southern half is suitable for shorebirds, depending on the water levels on any given day that is. However, please know that the park is now only open to birding / wildlife viewing on Sundays until May!

Passerines should be on the move any night that has northerly winds featuring a westerly component. The stronger northwest, the better the odds that the overnight flight will bring migrants into the city. The first three or so hours of daylight following these flights will yield the most birds. Migrant traps like the visitor contact station area at Back Bay NWR, Marsh View Park, the campgrounds at First Landing SP, Chesapeake Beach Park, the public shared-use path on Shore Drive near Taste (the restaurant), and the heavy vegetation along Marlin Bay Drive at Pleasure House Point NA are all worthwhile places to check. Migrant passerines in fall tend to stick to dense vegetation, so anywhere you can find it, you may find something noteworthy.

At the close of August, we have not yet logged first arrivals for the following species with expected arrival dates (listed in parentheses after each species name) prior to September:

Additionally, the following species all have expected fall arrival dates during the month of September and should be looked for throughout the month. Thus far, the only September arrival we have logged is Wilson’s Snipe and all the others still await their first Virginia Beach record for the season:

Hopefully over the course of the next 30 days, each of these species, and perhaps some unexpected species, can be found in the city. For those who may want their observations to be included in this journal please remember to submit your records to www.eBird.org, where they can be reviewed for accuracy by local experts and easily found by those of us interested in such things. Thank you to those who made it through the entirety of this August entry, and be sure to check back next month to see what Virginia Beach birders will have found in September!

Next Entry | Entry Index | Previous Year | Previous Entry

For further information regarding this monthly, online publication, please visit the Journal Overview Page which provides an in-depth explanation of the current format, layout and composition of the journal. 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!

Early July 2019 (1st-10th)

The early July period typically marks the beginning of fall migration for shorebirds into Virginia Beach, and while birding overall can still be a bit slow since passerines and waterfowl are still a ways off, the incoming shorebird are cause for excitement even in the typical hot & humid weather of July. In contrast to June, where diversity tends to drop steadily as late spring lingerers disappear, leaving behind only the true breeders, July is a month to truly celebrate as these shorebirds begin to trickle in and overall diversity of species therefore increases throughout the month! In total, 123 species were logged to eBird during the early July period, topping the 120 species logged during the same period last year. Highlights included continuing rarity records for WARBLING VIREO & ANHINGA, new unseasonal records for AMERICAN BLACK DUCK & SURF SCOTER, continuing unseasonal records for HOODED WARBLER, early first-of-season records for SPOTTED SANDPIPER & WHIMBREL, first-of-season records within expected dates for LEAST SANDPIPER & SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER, and interesting records for CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW, WILD TURKEY & OVENBIRD!

Most notable for this period were ongoing reports for a nesting pair of WARBLING VIREOS in the Ashville Park neighborhood just north of Pungo. With the first individual, a singing male, noted at this location 19 Jun (a.r. Karen & Tom Beatty), and shortly after, a female observed staying close to the male, it seemed probable that the pair were nesting somewhere nearby. Fast forward a couple of weeks and excitedly, a nest was indeed found in the neighborhood 1 Jul (vis. Andrew Baldelli and ph. Karen & Tom Beatty), making for an incredible first breeding confirmation for this species in coastal Virginia for the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas! Thus far for the project, which runs from 2016-2020, the only other confirmation for Warbling Vireo within the Coastal Plain region of Virginia occurred at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve / Belle Haven Park in Fairfax County, roughly 150 miles away! The Atlas Map for Warbling Vireo really showcases the rareness of this record more than any words being typed here can, so be sure to check it out when you have the time! Additionally, this represents the first Warbling Vireo record during the month of July in a coastal county south of New Jersey (as far as eBird goes)! These rarities were further documented by photographs & audio recordings on 2 Jul (2, ph. Emily Johnson & Nathaniel Watkins), 5 Jul (ph. & a.r. Reuben Rohn) and on 6 Jul (2, ph. Rob Bielawski) which is the most recent report logged to eBird.

The summering ANHINGA population at Stumpy Lake NA first noted way back on 21 Apr (2, ph. Stephen Keith) continued to be observed throughout the period with a high count of 3 individuals logged, and photographic records occurring 1 Jul (3, ph. Reuben Rohn), 2 Jul (1, ph. Rob Bielawski) and 4 Jul (3, ph. Jonathan Snyder; 2, ph. David Clark). Additionally, a new location, Rock Creek Recreation Area roughly 2.5 miles to the east of Stumpy Lake yielded records for Anhinga as well, and it is possible these may be some of the same individuals or a separate group. Reported initially by Nilda Schwartzwalder to Mary Reid Barrow (long-time author of the Close Encounters wildlife section of the Virginian Pilot), the first eBird record for the species at this location was input 1 Jul (1, Pamela Monahan), with another record on 4 Jul (2, Rob Bielawski). Surprisingly, this species has apparently been present at this location for several summers, starting back in 2014 as mentioned in this article in the Virginia Pilot! It would be truly interesting to find out whether the species has bred somewhere in the neighborhood along the shorelines of the collection of storm water retention ponds. At least 3 individuals have been observed here this summer (1 male, 2 female/immatures).

We had a pair of unseasonal waterfowl species reported this period, with a single AMERICAN BLACK DUCK observed at Pleasure House Point NA on 5 Jul (vis. Adam Sell), and also a single SURF SCOTER along the coast at False Cape SP during the early July survey for Back Bay NWR on the same date (ph. Drew Avery & Edward Brinkley). Additionally in the realm of unseasonals, a male HOODED WARBLER continues to be heard along the upper reaches of the Long Creek Trail at First Landing SP, with records logged this period on 2 Jul (aud. June McDaniels) and again on 7 Jul (aud. Cindy Hamilton & June McDaniels). This individual was first documented back on 23 Jun (ph. June McDaniels) in the same area, which marked Virginia Beach’s first summer (Jun/Jul) record for Hooded Warbler in eBird going all the way back to 1979! This individual also earned a “probable” breeding code for the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, the highest code for the species in the city so far submitted to the project.

As mentioned above, early July is the first period to showcase fall arrivals, typically in the form of southbound shorebirds that have departed from their northerly breeding grounds. Four such species occurred this period, two on the early side of the expected dates, and two within their expected range. Our first records for SPOTTED SANDPIPER occurred just a day on the early side of the expected 5 Jul arrival with one individual observed at Back Bay NWR on 4 Jul (vis. Adam Sell) in the early morning hours, and another was found later in the day at Princess Anne WMA (ph. Rob Bielawski). In similar fashion, the first WHIMBREL of the season was documented at Back Bay NWR on 9 Jul (ph. Cindy Hamilton), just a day ahead of its typical 10 Jul arrival date. In terms of arrivals that fell within expected date ranges, the first was LEAST SANDPIPER with an individual found at Princess Anne WMA on 7 Jul (ph. Rob Bielawski), two days after the expected 5 Jul arrival date. Additionally, our first SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER of the season showed up at Back Bay NWR on 9 Jul (ph. Cindy Hamilton), just four days after the expected arrival date.

Several interesting records also popped up during the early July period, led by an incredible high count of 22 CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOWS heard vocalizing overnight at False Cape SP on 1 Jul (aud. Tracy Tate) as part of Atlasing outing. A WILD TURKEY was reported at the Adventureworks Wetland Zipline Park near Red Wing Golf Course on 2 Jul (obs. Shawn Callahan), which is quite unusual given how scarce this species is north of Indiana River & Sandbridge Roads. Lastly, a vocalizing OVENBIRD at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract on 6 Jul (aud. Rob Bielawski) marked the first time one had been recorded during the summer (Jun/Jul) at the WMA for eBird. It’s possible this is already a very early post-breeding dispersal, but it is also possible that the individual is breeding in the small forested area that lines the west side of the tract. Either way, it’s exciting this time of year.

Breeding bird observations were still going strong through early July and the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas has continued to steam ahead with full momentum! Scattered breeding bird confirmations were photographically documented around the city this period as follows: a pair of recently fledged KILLDEER along Shipps Cabin Rd. on 1 Jul (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty, and later also 6 Jul, ph. Rob Bielawski); a recently fledged BLUE JAY & BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD off Holland Rd. on 1 Jul (ph. Carolyn Page); recently fledged TUFTED TITMOUSE & OVENBIRD at Stumpy Lake NA on 2 Jul (ph. Rob Bielawski); an occupied nest of GREAT BLUE HERONS at First Landing SP on 4 Jul (ph. Rob Bielawski); and recently fledged CLAPPER RAILS at Pleasure House Point on 4 Jul (ph. Rob Bielawski). Keep up all the great work Atlasing folks, and please remember, if you have any questions regarding the project, please check out the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Website, the official Atlas Facebook Page, or the Facebook Group for more information!

For those hoping to view every photograph submitted for Virginia Beach during this period, please see the complete listing for the month of July located on eBird’s Media explorer by clicking here! Please remember, anyone with an eBird account also has the ability to rate these photographs (1-5 stars), and based on the average rating, this is how eBird populates anything media-driven on the website, particularly the Illustrated Checklists! So, if you're one of the many folks who enjoy looking at photographs of birds, take some time to click them all and rate them, it helps make eBird better and better each day!

LOOKAHEAD: With regard to annually expected fall arrivals, as of the reporting period close date, we have not yet logged first arrivals for GULL-BILLED TERN (5 Jul average expected arrivals), BLACK TERN, WESTERN SANDPIPER, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, PIED-BILLED GREBE & RUDDY TURNSTONE (10 Jul), PIPING PLOVER, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, SEMIPALMATED PLOVER, PECTORAL SANDPIPER & BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (15 Jul) and RED KNOT & STILT SANDPIPER (20 Jul). Since passerines aren’t yet on the move, this month is truly dedicated to a search for shorebirds! The coastal beaches of First Landing SP, the Resort Area & North End, Little Island Park and Back Bay NWR, as well as any low-tide marshes like those at Pleasure House Point NA and flooded fields will become highly sought-after locations to search for shorebirds as we move deeper into July. Depending on the winds, and potential for rainfall, Back Bay NWR’s H Pool (along the currently open East Dike), and a pair of impoundments at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract could provide for shorebirds.

Next Entry | Entry Index | Previous Year | Previous Entry

For further information regarding this thrice-monthly, online publication, please visit the Journal Overview Page which provides an in-depth explanation of the format, layout and composition of the journal. 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!

Late February 2019 (21st-28th)

While it is the shortest of the thrice-monthly periods, Late February managed to hold its own in terms of both quantity and quality! Matching mid-February, 144 species were logged to eBird this period, and Virginia Beach birders closed out the month with a strong list of 168 species (up significantly from the 155 logged in February 2018). Temperatures dropped a bit this period from the late winter heat wave experienced in the middle of the month, though flowering trees continue to blossom. The real weather headline was the amount of rain we received though, and it felt as though the sun was only out for maybe one or two days in total this period. Highlights this period included new rarity records for  CACKLING GOOSE, BARN OWL & LARK SPARROW, continuing rarity records for TUFTED DUCK, HARLEQUIN DUCK, COMMON MERGANSER, PURPLE FINCH & BREWER’S BLACKBIRD, continuing unseasonal records for BLUE-WINGED TEAL & BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER and interesting records for BRANT & RED-NECKED GREBE!

A pair of CACKLING GEESE were discovered foraging in a flood field north of Gum Bridge Road (just west of Charity Neck Road) with a large flock of Canada Geese on 23 Feb (vis. Matt Anthony & Nick Newberry). The pair was observed again the following day along with Canada & Snow Geese, as well as a single Tundra Swan (ph. Rob Bielawski). Later in the day, the several-day-long rainstorm finally cleared and the water quickly receded from this field; a quick check in the late afternoon revealed most of the flock had dispersed just as the floodwaters did. While a single Cackling Goose has been known to be present in the larger goose flock near Sherwood Lakes, this is the first record for the year of multiple Cacklers, and the first at this particular location.

Only the second ever recorded to eBird in Virginia Beach, a BARN OWL observed being mobbed by crows at Pleasure House Point NA on 27 Feb (vis. Ezra & Theo Staengl, vis. Shawn Kurtzman) was a huge surprise! Last May, a single Barn Owl was also reported at this location under the same circumstances, but it was never found again. One must consider that this is likely the same individual, and it has managed to stay hidden due to its nocturnal habits. The nearby golf course and surrounded fields/pine stands could provide perfect habitat for this bird, and frankly it’s just exciting to know there is one hanging out somewhere in the city.

Last of the new finds this period, a single LARK SPARROW was found foraging along the edge of the asphalt on Nanney’s Creek Road on 24 Feb (ph. Andrew Baldelli). This is the first Lark Sparrow seen here this year, and the fourth of the rare winter sparrows to be logged, along with White-crowned, Lincoln’s & Clay-colored. Perhaps as we head into March, Vesper will find its way into the crowd. *Please note: There were murmurings across social media that later in the day, twitchers hoping to spot this individual were trespassing on private property. So everyone reading this is aware, this Lark Sparrow was easily viewed from the public roadway during the initial and subsequent observations (ph. Steve Myers, ph. Rob Bielawski), and there is simply no excuse for anyone walking onto private land to see this, or any other species. This is by no means an isolated issue in the grand history of birding, however, the internet has made getting the word out about rarities significantly faster, for better and for worse, and it is the responsibility of all individuals to behave properly with regard to the property of others. Birding from a public roadway often yields great birds (the Wood Stork of 2017 for example) and it is a style of birding that will always continue. Parking a car on a driveway apron and stepping onto private land is something different altogether and should never be done without permission. While this Lark Sparrow was not observed again at this location, another was reported at Stuart Road on 26 Feb (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty), which is another public road surrounded by private property, please stay on the asphalt if searching here.

Moving on to continuing rarities, the first-ever TUFTED DUCK found on the lake behind Chartway Federal Credit Union’s headquarters on Cleveland Street on 19 Feb (ph. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate) continued to be observed at the same location through 26 Feb (last vis. Marlee Morris). It was thoroughly searched for on the 27th & 28th, as well as on 1 Mar (as this is being written), and has not been observed. There are a large number of neighborhood ponds scattered across the Hampton Roads metropolitan area though, and it could have simply moved to another nearby location, perhaps with the group of Lesser Scaup is was associating with. If it pops up again, it’ll certainly be out on the eBird alerts quickly. Many of will be left to muse about where it may have gone too, and perhaps another city nearby is in for a first record just like Virginia Beach was fortunate to enjoy. Throughout the course of 8 days while it was known, a total of 120 eBird reports were logged for the bird, probably the most for a single bird in the city dating back to the miraculous 157 reports for the Back Bay Fork-tailed Flycatcher of 2017.

Also in the waterfowl realm of continuing rarities, the immature male HARLEQUIN DUCK present since the Little Creek CBC on 31 Dec 2018 was logged again this period, though only a single time on 25 Feb (ph. Baxter Beamer). This pesky individual has been very difficult to pin down to a single viewable location, with probably better than half of the folks who’ve looked for it coming up empty. It has been observed ranging from the west side of the Lesner Bridge, east to the marina on the east side of Chic’s Oyster Bar. However, there are many nooks & crannies for this bird to hide amongst. Twitchers be warned.

COMMON MERGANSERS continued at two separate location this period, around Lynnhaven Inlet and at Sherwood Lakes. Last period, a group of three females was observed at Lynnhaven Inlet and two of them were again found on 22 Feb (ph. June McDaniels). Additionally, the group of female Common Mergansers at Sherwood Lakes persisted through at least 26 Feb (vis. Karen & Tom Beatty, vis. Cathy Williamson). Hopefully individuals from at least one location are still present heading into March, as it is a difficult month-bird to come by out here (for those of us who are crazy enough to maintain month-lists).

Continuing female PURPLE FINCHES were observed at three separate private residences during late Feb, as follows: one in Great Neck Estates on 23 Feb (ph. J.A.), one in Laurel Cove on 26 Feb (ph. Loretta Silvia), and one in Church Point on 28 Feb (vis. Tracy Tate). This continues to be an excellent irruption year for this species in southeastern Virginia, however, there are currently no public locations known harboring the species (possibly First Landing SP?). Perhaps that will change in March?

The wintering flock of BREWER’S BLACKBIRDS along West Gibbs Road in the Blackwater section of Virginia Beach continued to be seen this period, with several reports occurring from 24-27 Feb (ph. Lisa Rose & Jason Strickland, ph. Rob Bielawski, vis. Will McPhail, vis. Cindy Hamilton) after having gone unrecorded dating all the way back to 13 Jan. The birds have been present on a private farm, Breeze Farms to be specific, and like with the Lark Sparrow mentioned earlier it is important to note that observers visiting this site be highly respectful of their surroundings. Unless you receive permission from the homeowners, it’s probably best to stay on the public roadway. The blackbirds will often tee up in the nearby trees, though the bulk of their time is spent hopping around the muddy horse pens (sometimes perching on the fences). Birders beware, there are plenty of Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds at this location that can cause confusion of which species you might be looking at from a distance.

In what has continued to be a banner winter for the species, continuing BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS were observed at two locations during late February. The single individual that has been observed at Stumpy Lake NA going all the way back to 15 Jan was again viewed on 26 Feb (ph. Steve Myers) along the second loop of the wooded trail, and once more on 27 Feb (ph. June McDaniels). A second continuing individual was observed at a private residence in Great Neck Estates on 25 Feb (vis. J.A.). Four separate locations have yielded Jan/Feb records in the city this year, and with their average arrival date of 5 Apr still a few weeks off, we still have time to find another potential winterer before the true migrants begin arriving, and obscure whether or not a bird wintered here.

Late February is the final period for which BLUE-WINGED TEAL are considered noteworthy, and we had our last such record at Little Island Park on 24 Feb (vis. Andrew Baldelli). Since this species has a 5 Mar average spring arrival date, the cutoff for being mentioned in this journal is 25 Feb (10 days ahead of the arrival date). For more information regarding these dates for other species, please be sure to consult the Noteworthy Observations Criteria Page for 2019.

BRANT continue to defy typical logic this winter, and yet another inland location yielded a foraging flock. This time it was the fields around Great Neck MS on 26 Feb (vis. Loretta Silvia), where a total of 34 were observed! It isn’t unprecedented, but it’s been a few years since we had reports like this continue to stream in for agricultural fields. Others have been noted this winter at Oceana NAS, HRSD’s Atlantic Plant on Firefall Drive, and at Oliver’s Pond near Lake Smith. Also interesting, a total of 22 RED-NECKED GREBES were counted off of Guy Avenue on the Chesapeake Bay on 27 Feb (vis. Andrew Baldelli), marking a 2018-19 seasonal high count, besting the previous high count of 4 by a considerable amount!

Heading into early March, the coastline should continue to be watched closely for large-scale movement of Razorbills as they begin departing the area. Snow Geese should continue to move through in large numbers, with massive flocks descending on agriculture fields in southern Virginia Beach to forage. There is only one expected spring arrival species during early March, being Blue-winged Teal (5 Mar). However, this is a good time of year to get an early Royal Tern or Piping Plover, and it’s also worth searching for Vesper Sparrows which are an early migrant. We are just a couple of weeks away from the real beginning to spring migration so early March is always a good time to wrap up seeing some species that were missed in Jan/Feb before we start the flood of northbound migrants.

For those hoping to view every photograph submitted for Virginia Beach during this period, please see the complete listing for the month of February located on eBird’s Media explorer by clicking here! Please remember, anyone with an eBird account also has the ability to rate these photographs (1-5 stars), and based on the average rating, this is how eBird populates anything media-driven on the website, particularly the Illustrated Checklists! So, if you're one of the many folks who enjoy looking at photographs of birds, take some time to click them all and rate them, it helps make eBird better and better each day!

Next Entry | Entry Index | Previous Year | Previous Entry

For further information regarding this thrice-monthly, online publication, please visit the Journal Overview Page</journal/overview> which provides an in-depth explanation of the format, layout and composition of the journal. 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!