Late November 2016 (21st-30th)

LESSER GOLDFINCH! While many other great birds were viewed this period in Virginia Beach, this will always be the headliner that late November 2016 will be remember for. Not only a first for the county, but for the entire state of Virginia (pending VARCOM acceptance, of course)! Other top finds this period included AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN, PARASITIC JAEGER, CAVE SWALLOW, SNOW BUNTING, PAINTED BUNTING and a continuing LARK SPARROW. First-of-season arrivals this period included our first-of-fall Fox Sparrow & Canvasback (23 Nov), American Pipit (25 Nov) and White-winged Scoter (27 Nov)!  Occurrences of late/lingering species were limited to a few reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbird (latest 29 Nov). We continue to see White-crowned Sparrow reports from Back Bay NWR and some cryptic species, including American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Sedge Wren, and Horned Lark were also observed during this period. WEATHER: Fall leaf color appeared to be in full peak during this period throughout Virginia Beach, and by the end of November, winds had started to bring down many of the beautifully colored leaves. Late November’s average daily high temperatures continued to (expectedly) fall, dropping to 58.3 degrees F (-2.5 degrees from the mid-November period); after a whopping 7.9 degree drop in the average daytime lows between early & mid-November, we experienced a slight rebound this period, rising to 39.4 degrees F (+1.6 degrees). The previous 10-year average daily highs & lows for the mid-November period were 58.8 & 40.3 degrees F, respectively which puts this period in 2016 at -0.5 and -0.9 degrees (very near average) when comparing to the 10-year averages. During the previous 10-year period, the maximum average daily highs & lows were 62.9 (2006) & 47.4 degrees F (2011). Though we had 4 days with measureable precipitation, a daily maximum of 0.17 inches occurred 24 Nov, and our total for the period was still relatively low at 0.34 inches.

"I chose this one because THIS IS what I saw as I was on my deck refilling my feeders, this is the first of maybe 5 shots to document it forever in case it didn’t come back…I think that is why this shot is super cool... This is the one that started the story." -Mary Catherine Miguez

OBSERVATIONS (PART I):  On Saturday, 26 Nov, a highly unexpected, and very out-of-range, LESSER GOLDFINCH was observed in the backyard of a residence located in the Lago Mar subdivision of Virginia Beach, just north of Sandbridge Road by the homeowner, Mary Catherine Miguez. Identification was made quickly, and a photograph was initially sent via text message at 12:31 PM to a couple of folks to spread the word, which was closely followed by an uproar of excitement and an afternoon of hoping the bird would again be sighted. A little after 3 PM, it reappeared and was again photographically documented (Mary Catherine Miguez) with video also taken this time (Karen & Tom Beatty). In the evening hours, information had been leaked to a few folks from the immediate area with the hopes that the bird would stay overnight in the area, and by the following morning (Sunday, 27 Nov), around 9 AM, it was observed again (Matt Anthony, Edward Brinkley, James Fox & Jason Strickland). Throughout the remainder of Sunday, the goldfinch made back-and-forth trips between a Crepe Myrtle tree and a water feature. By the end of the day it had been seen by quite a number of folks, including: Andrew Baldelli, Mike Collins, Karen & Tom Beatty, Tommy Maloney & Jason Schatti, Ron Furnish & Marie Mullins, Rob Bielawski & Ruth Bielawski, Kim Harrell, James Marcum, Beth Oristian & Ellison Orcutt and Michelle Payne & Lisa Rose. At this point, it was assumed that the bird would stick around, and eBird reports were initialized to let the general populace know about the find. After which, came a flurry of excitement as folks around the state realized that a first-ever-record was potentially within reach. On Monday, 28 Nov, the bird showed itself early, but remained elusive throughout the day, much to the dismay of many travelers. Just before 4 PM, it showed itself to Robert Ake, Jeffrey Blalock, Adam D’Onofrio, Mike Stinson & Clyde Wilson. Unfortunately, the last sighting (as of this writing) occurred early on the morning of Tuesday, 29 Nov, by the initial finder, Mary Catherine Miguez. Though, this seems a fitting end to the tale of the Lesser Goldfinch in Virginia Beach, pending no one else does re-find the bird.

A report has already been submitted to VARCOM, and with all the documentation that the bird provided during its 4-day stint, hopefully it will be accepted by the committee as our 474th (or 475th species, pending the Tropical/Couch’s Kingbird ruling). The most recent addition to the Official State List for Virginia was a Dusky Flycatcher observed and mist netted in 2013 for DNA analysis to confirm species identification. However, chronologically speaking, the last species to be added was the Zone-tailed Hawk observed over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch (after a speedy same-day flight south from Cape May, New Jersey!) and surrounding area in the fall of 2015, with the Smith’s Longspur of winter/spring 2015 the next-most-recent add. Interestingly, this is the first new state bird found in Virginia Beach since the 20 Nov 2012 occurrence of a single Northern Lapwing was discovered by an ODU field ornithology class at Back Bay NWR. A list of other recent additions to the list can be found Here on the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s website. Lesser Goldfinch is a species for there are very few records on the East Coast. In fact, so far during 2016, the closest report to this one occurred 5-6 Jan at Reelfoot Lake SP in Lake County, Tennessee, a remarkable 742 miles from Lago Mar! In the past, Lesser Goldfinch has occurred east of the Mississippi River only in these states & counties: Delaware (3 Aug 2008 in New Castle), Florida (19-26 Jul 2014 in Brevard), Kentucky (5-7 Dec 1980 in Hardin), Maine (17 Dec 1992 in Sagadahoc and 5 Aug 2015 in Piscataquis), Mississippi (15 Jan 2005 in Warren), North Carolina (2 Mar 2009 in Carteret and 27 Sep 1985 in Forsyth), Ontario (10 Aug 1982 in Toronto) and Wisconsin (11-13 Nov 1984 in Douglas). It should be mentioned that these records are based solely on eBird reporting, and there could be others out there that just haven’t made it into the system. But, given that this species does have a documented pattern of naturally occurring vagrancy in the East, it should be of benefit while the record is being reviewed by VARCOM and hopefully we will see it added to the state list soon. All of the individuals who were fortunate enough to observe (or even try to observe) this bird certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Mary Catherine Miguez for her kindness in opening up her property for observation! I highly encourage anyone who reads this to please check out Mary Catherine's professional photography page. There are very few people who have high level capability in both birding & photography, but "MC" is one of them. Frankly, she is one of, if not the best, bird photographers in Virginia Beach & we are very fortunate that this Lesser Goldfinch decided to set up a temporary residence in the yard of someone capable of properly documenting it! Of all the yards on the East Coast, it is mathematically absurd that this combination occurred.

OBSERVATIONS (PART II): Now of course, there were plenty of other great sightings during late November in addition to the one listed above! Thanks in part to all the folks who made the attempt at seeing the Lesser Goldfinch (and made other stops to-and-from) and also just the fact that the Thanksgiving holiday occurred during this period, Virginia Beach was utterly inundated with eBird reports, well in excess of 200 checklists in total over the 10-day time frame! In addition, and primarily due to the Lesser Goldfinch, a flock of 13 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS was recorded, which otherwise would likely have gone unnoticed within Virginia Beach. The flock was viewed 28 Nov overhead of Lago Mar, around 12:51 PM (ph. Jeffrey Blalock, Adam D’Onofrio, Mike Stinson & Clyde Wilson. Interestingly, the Kiptopeke Hawkwatcher, Anna Stunkel reported having seen a group of 14 American White Pelicans over the platform travelling in the same direction (northeastward) around 2 PM, so it seems highly likely that this was the same group. Perhaps the flock picked up a straggler, or the 14th individual was out of sight over Lago Mar?

Another noteworthy flock of birds continued this period in Virginia Beach, this being the SNOW BUNTINGS found initially 19 Nov by Andrew Baldelli at First Landing SP’s beach-border with Fort Story. Many folks were in town over the holidays to seek them out since the species is very rare throughout most of Virginia, with the coast being the easiest region to pick them up. In fact, this species may be annually occurring in decent numbers along the dune-line of Virginia Beach, but eBird reports thus far don't necessarily support this. Over time, this species will likely become removed from the rarity listing though, as more folks are out searching for them in locations like First Landing SP, Fort Story, North Beach, Camp Pendleton, and Back Bay NWR. Sightings of this particular flock though, which varied from 1 to 8 individuals, occurred on 21 Nov (6, Tommy Maloney & Jason Schatti), 23 Nov (5,Kim Harrell), 24 Nov (5, Richard Korpi), 25 Nov (8, Kim Harrell & Lewis Barnett, Karen & Tom Beatty and Steve Myers), 26 Nov (2, Rexanne Bruno, 4, Janice Frye, 1, Ander Buckley / Tucker Beamer / Baxter Beamer and 7, Tracy Tate), 27 Nov (7, Logan Anderson & George Burruss and 8, Beth Oristian & Ellison Orcutt), 28 Nov (8, Mike Collins, Derek Hudgins, Natalie & WS Barbour, and 7, Loretta Silvia) and 29 Nov (6, James Marcum). Please note that only reports showing photographs have been linked in the previous discussion so anyone interested in viewing the Snow Buntings can quickly load these links.

Along the coastline of Virginia Beach, several reports surfaced of CAVE SWALLOWS during this period, with 5-7 sighted at Pleasure House Point (21 Nov / Bob Swiader), 2 at First Landing State Park (25 Nov / Kim Harrell & Lewis Barnett) and 1 at Back Bay NWR (29 Nov / Karen & Tom Beatty). Cave Swallows seem to almost be reliable finds now in coastal Virginia, with highest numbers being encountered last Fall around the Taylor Pond at Kiptopeke SP across the bay in Northampton County. These should continue to be watched for as we move into December, as last year individuals lingered all the way into the new year.

Also observed along the coast, PARASITIC JAEGERS popped up in several locations this period. With a high count of 5 observed off Back Bay NWR (28 Nov / Robert Ake), 3 were also observed from Little Island Park (25 Nov / Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate), and individuals were observed at Fort Story (25 Nov / Karen & Tom Beatty) and First Landing SP (26 Nov / Rexanne Bruno).

Possibly a third individual for Virginia Beach this fall, yet another female PAINTED BUNTING was found 21 Nov (Camp Pendleton / Mary Catherine Miguez) and observed later in the day (Karen & Tom Beatty) as well as again 22 Nov by the same observers. Please note that this facility is limited to military ID access only, so this one is not something ‘chaseable’.

Lastly, as far as the rarities went, the LARK SPARROW which has been present at Back Bay NWR since at least 23 Oct continued through this period in the same area, being noted 27 Nov by both David Clark and Logan Anderson. This sparrow was found initially with a large wound on the back of the right side of its head, which has thankfully healed considerably, but has also provided something unique to this individual to look for in confirming that the same bird has been present.

First-of-season arrivals (all within normal expectations) this period included 1 Fox Sparrow (23 Nov / Back Bay NWR / Mike Collins), a Canvasback (23 Nov / Back Bay NWR / Bruce Beck), 2 American Pipit (25 Nov / Little Island Park / Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate) and a single White-winged Scoter (27 Nov / Back Bay NWR / Baxter Beamer, Tucker Beamer & Paul Buckley). In addition to the first arrivals, we had several reports of lingering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which at this point in the year need to be scrutinized to ensure a Black-chinned Hummingbird or other species doesn’t slip by us. A lively discussion was produced on Facebook when some excellent photographs were posted of 1 of 2 hummingbirds observed at Camp Pendleton (21-22 Nov / Mary Catherine Miguez and Karen & Tom Beatty). Nothing definitive in the photographs (beyond behavioral traits such as bobbing of the tail) could be linked to Black-chinned unfortunately, and the primary flight feather shape favored Ruby-throated per this document. Another hummingbird, presumed Ruby-throated was at an Alanton residence’s feeder 29 Nov (Michelle Payne). The Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory also began their seawatch program during this period, with a couple of highlights being very high counts of Common Loons (758 on 25 Nov / Tracy Tate) and Black Scoter (1163 during one hour, same day, Tracy Tate)!

SPECIES DOCUMENTED BY MEDIA and submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach during this period included: 21 NOV – Sanderling, Dunlin & Savannah Sparrow (First Landing SP / Mike Collins); Red-tailed Hawk, Hummingbird sp. & PAINTED BUNTING (Camp Pendleton / Mary Catherine Miguez); Hummingbird sp. & PAINTED BUNTING (Camp Pendleton / Karen & Tom Beatty); 22 NOV – Ruby-throated Hummingbird & Orange-crowned Warbler (Camp Pendleton / Mary Catherine Miguez); Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Camp Pendleton / Karen & Tom Beatty). 23 NOV – SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Kim Harrell); Ring-necked Duck, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler & Field Sparrow (Little Island Park / Mary Catherine Miguez); 24 NOV – Gadwall, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Egret, Northern Harrier & American Coot (Back Bay NWR / Carlton Noll); Ring-billed Gull (Lake Windsor / Lisa Rose); Baltimore Oriole (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez). 25 NOV – Tundra Swan, Black Scoter, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorant, Sanderling & Great Black-backed Gull (Back Bay NWR / Carlton Noll); CAVE SWALLOW (First Landing SP / Kim Harrell); CAVE SWALLOW & SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Lewis Barnett); Hooded Merganser (Heritage Park / Carlton Noll); Fox Sparrow (Kempsville / Una Davenhill); Black Scoter, Red-throated Loon & American Kestrel (Fort Story / Karen & Tom Beatty); Merlin (West Gibbs Rd. / David Clark); Northern Harrier (Baum Rd. / David Clark); Black-bellied Plover & SNOW BUNTING (Fort Story / Steve Myers); Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Dark-eyed Junco, Baltimore Oriole, Pine Siskin & American Goldfinch (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); Brown Creeper (Prince Phillip Dr. / Ron Furnish); Merlin (Camp Pendleton / Karen & Tom Beatty); Brown Pelican (Sandfiddler Rd. / Carlton Noll). 26 NOV – Sanderling (Back Bay NWR / Logan Anderson); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Mary Catherine Miguez); SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Baxter Beamer); Carolina Wren, Pine Warbler & Northern Cardinal (Laurel Cove Dr. / Loretta Silvia); Nelson’s Sparrow (Pleasure House Point NA / Baxter Beamer). 27 NOV – LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / James Fox); Red-breasted Nuthatch, Baltimore Oriole & LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Matt Anthony); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Jason Strickland); Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling, Lesser Black-backed Gull & SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Logan Anderson); Bufflehead & LARK SPARROW (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); Black-bellied Plover & Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich) (First Landing SP / George Burruss); Orange-crowned Warbler (Back Bay NWR / Logan Anderson); Mallard & Red-tailed Hawk (Back Bay NWR / David Clark); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Mike Collins); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Karen & Tom Beatty); Bald Eagle, Red-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch & LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Ron Furnish); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Rob Bielawski); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Kim Harrell); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Ellison Orcutt); Black Scoter & Ruddy Turnstone (South Thimble Island / Logan Anderson); SNOW BUNTING & Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich) (First Landing SP / Ellison Orcutt); Clapper Rail (Pleasure House Point NA / Logan Anderson). 28 NOV – American Black Duck, Great Egret, Belted Kingfisher & Nelson’s Sparrow (Pleasure House Point NA / Jeffrey Blalock); SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Mike Collins); Red-tailed Hawk (London Bridge Rd. & Dam Neck Rd. / Jeffrey Blalock); SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / WS Barbour); AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN & LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Jeffrey Blalock); LESSER GOLDFINCH (Lago Mar / Adam D’Onofrio); SNOW BUNTING (First Landing SP / Loretta Silvia); Tundra Swan (Back Bay NWR / Jeffrey Blalock). 29 NOV – Hooded Merganser (Fort Story / Loretta Silvia); Bufflehead & Ring-billed Gull (Pleasure House Point NA / Loretta Silvia). 30 NOV – Muscovy Duck (Domestic type), Mallard & Double-crested Cormorant (Lake Windsor / Loretta Silvia); Hooded Merganser, Great Blue Heron & Black Vulture (Elizabeth River at Princess Anne Rd. / Loretta Silvia); Black Skimmer (First Landing SP / Nancy Barnhart); Common Loon & Pileated Woodpecker (First Landing SP / Loretta Silvia).

LOOKAHEAD: The early December period commences with the first day of ‘ornithologic Winter’, as most journals of bird observations treat Fall migration as Aug-Nov, and the winter season as Dec-Feb. December tends to continue the vagrant season here on the coastline (perhaps to a lesser extent than November) but all birders should be aware that some interesting species still have high probabilities of being spotted this time of year. These can include Lesser Goldfinches as we all just found out this past week, Gray Kingbirds, as we have already seen here this fall, but other species to look for would be Western Kingbird (or any of the yellow-bellied-kingbird species, ie. Tropical/Couch’s/Cassin’s), Say’s Phoebe, Vermillion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher (highly likely at Lake Windsor in mid-November), Scissor-tailed Flycatcher (like the one in Northampton last month) and even Townsend’s or Black-throated Gray Warblers (a recent report surfaced in Fairfax County as well as one ongoing in Maryland). Also, please remember that of the expected species arriving or passing through here during the fall season, we have not yet logged our first American Woodcock (early October arrival), Rusty Blackbird & Great Cormorant (mid-October arrivals), Harlequin Duck & Long-tailed Duck (late October arrivals) and Common Goldeneye (early November arrival) in Virginia Beach yet this fall. As we enter the final month of the year, I wish those who keep them, good luck in closing out your yearly birding lists!

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For more information on this thrice-monthly Birding Blog, please check out the Journal Overview Page on the website. It provides background information as to what sightings are considered for the blog, details about the format of the blog, and it will likely answer many other questions that readers might be wondering about as well! As always, thank you for reading, and please leave me a comment below (you may use your Facebook, Gmail or other accounts to easily do so), or just click the Heart icon to the lower right of this post to let me know you stopped in!