Week Ending January 19, 2014

This past weekend I had some friends in town and my usual time alotted for hiking & photography was unfortunately crunched as a result. However, I did still manage to make it out for a little while both Saturday & Sunday mornings. Saturday it didn't appear as though the heavy overcast skies were going to break at all, so instead of going on a long hike through a local park, I opted to just walk around my own neighborhood (Little Neck/Kings Grant) in Virginia Beach. Also, since there was no sunlight or blue sky, I left the camera at home, which is very difficult for me to do. Of course, it proved foolish to do so, as I came across my first Golden-crowned Kinglet of the season just off the bike path I was walking on. I also saw a lot of other songbirds, and several types of woodpeckers in the old-growth trees that line the neighborhood. Little Neck/Kings Grant, 1/18/2014: 6.00 miles, 0 photos taken, and 9 species of birds seen. The full listing of birds I saw on this hike can be viewed Here!

A raft of Buffleheads hunting the shallows surrounding the north end of South Thimble Island at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

Following a non-photography day on Saturday, I at least got to get out and take some photos on Sunday. Off to a bit of a late start, I opted to visit the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel to seek out waterfowl & seabirds on a cold, windy, but very sunny winter day. For those unaware, the bay bridge now no longer offers discounts to commuters unless they have an EZ pass, so the rate is now $13 each direction on the bridge. I parked on the east side I arrived on South Thimble Island around 10 AM and was greeted by the typical thousand or so Ring-billed Gulls that spend the winter on the eastern shoreline of the island. Several Ruddy Turnstones were running around the small parking area as well as were many Rock Pigeons. On the west shoreline a group of about a dozen Lesser Scaups were in tight to shore diving every couple minutes. Mixed in with them was one lone female Black Scoter. Up around the north side of the island, there was a large raft of Buffleheads feeding just like the last time I was out here, and a hundred yards out beyond them, there was a group of Long-tailed Ducks bobbing up and down in the massive swells. This location seems to be a major hotspot for sea-faring ducks this winter as shoals of fish must flock to the cover that the submerged rocks of the man-made islands provide. Amongst the flocks of seabirds, there was a single Red-breasted Merganser female, and also a single male Surf Scoter off in the distance. On the western side of the island I caught a female White-winged Scoter out under the pier moving southward and closer in to shore. This is the first time I've ever seen one, so I was really excited to get some photographs of it. I moved to the south side of the restaurant building, where the sun was behind me, and was able to take quite a few shots from around the corner without spooking the Scoter. Actually, I took photos until my hands were completely numb from the cold wind.

This female is the first White-winged Scoter I have ever seen in the wild. The small white patch on it's back (wings) is the distinguishing mark for this species. It helps differentiate it from the related Black Scoter, which lacks the patch.

After I decided to warm them up, I moved back around the north side of the island to where my car was parked. This time around, the Lesser Scaups were in a slightly better position to photographs so I took a few photos of them as well. I made the determination that were Lessers by the very purplish sheen that can be seen on their head. From what I have read in all my field guides, Scaup are very hard to differentiate into Greater or Lesser, but Greater Scaup never exhibit a purplish sheen, they will show either a black or green sheen. Lessers may show purple or green, but the purple sets them apart from their larger cousins. After taking a considerable number of photos I hopped back in the car and drove away from the island. South Thimble Island, 1/18/2014: 0.00 miles, 177 photos taken, and 19 species of birds seen. The full listing of birds I saw on this hike can be viewed Here!

Another photograph of the White-winged Scoter that was seen during the morning on the western shoreline of South Thimble Island.

After leaving the island I kept heading northward across to the Eastern Shore, and made a quick stop off at Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. This was my first visit to the small refuge, located on the tidal marshes at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. I drove to a small parking area and caught a short trail to an observation point over the marsh. In a short distance I heard a Belted Kingfisher flying out over the marsh, and saw several Yellow-rumped Warblers as well as a White-throated Sparrow. Another park road went down to a large boat ramp area so I walked along the for a few minutes as well and saw some Green-winged Teal, American Black Ducks, and 3 Lesser Yellowlegs on the small pond to the north of the access road. A young Northern Harrier also flew in over the marsh, but quite a distance from where I was walking. Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR, 1/18/2014: 0.00 miles, 21 photos taken, and 14 species of birds seen. The full listing of birds I saw on this hike can be viewed Here! In a real time crunch to get back to the southside to spend some time with my out of town friends, I made a very short final stop up to the parking area for Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve. Here I was able to spook a Northern Harrier, very close to my vehicle, but I wasn't fast enough to get a good photograph. I also scared off an American Kestrel nearby and it bolted towards the treeline to the south, but I did manage to capture a photo of it from a couple hundred yards away just to verify that it was indeed a Kestrel. This marked the first time I've ever successfully photographed one, and one of only a handful of times I've seen them in the wild.

Lesser Scaup along the northeast corner of South Thimble Island showing their beautiful purple heads.