Week Ending March 2, 2014

Another work week came & went (very slowly), and we had a gradual warmup of weather. This weekend was expected to be a good one. After feeling a bit sick on Friday evening though, I wasn't expecting to get a whole lot of hiking in. Saturday, my girlfriend was going to go shopping up at the Prime Outlets in Williamsburg, about an hour or so northwest of here. I decided to go with but instead go hiking around that area since I haven't been up there to take photographs in quite a while. I have hiked a few times in an area called the Greensprings Interpretive Trail which is actually in James City County and not Williamsburg, but is very near the border. Recently, this trail has been added onto and now connects to the Powhatan Creek Trail. The Powhatan Creek Trail is very similar to the walking/biking paths I've spent a lot of time on in Fairfax County. It wanders through the canyon of a drainage basin. Since the terrain follows the creek, the ground gradually slopes downhill. The local entity in charge of collecting sewage (James City Sewer Authority) also used these areas for their collection systems (underground), since it is easy to slope the systems downhill to allow gravity to drive the passage of sewage towards their wastewater treatment plants. The reason I mention this is because there is a growing trend to place bike paths in these types of areas so they can double as access for vehicles that perform maintenance on the sanitary sewer mains & manholes you'll find scattered along the paths. It's kind of nice that this is occurring, because it is providing outdoorsfolk with lots of extra miles of paved walkways that provide easy access for birding & photography. I actually worked on a project through my company where we analyzed all the sanitary sewer systems of James City County so I feel like my true work experience finally has bled over a little bit into this blog.

Northern Cardinal along the Powhatan Creek Trail.

Anyway, James City County has a great start now to a network of walking paths through their drainage basins. You can catch up with the Powhatan Creek Trail right behind a small elementary school on Ironbound Road (just south of John Tyler Highway). From there, walking westward and southward along the trail will bring you to a large wooden bridge that has been built to pass over top of Powhatan Creek. Along the creek I saw a large number of songbirds (Northern Cardinal, Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Chickadee, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco). The main reason there was so many songbirds here is that, again, as I mentioned, the trail follows the terrain along the creek, and on both sides of the creek the ground slopes upward to where the land has been developed. Basically the trail meanders along the drainage with residential housing backyards butting up against it. Therefore, there are a lot of feeders situation in the yards and it draws in the birds. When they're tired of feeding, they move back down into the creekbed forests. After photographing many songbirds here I kept walking southward until I reached a backyard with a large number of grackles/blackbirds/starlings. You could hear them all gregariously feeding, and while listening I saw a large fast-moving shape cruise through the trees towards them, it was a large Cooper's Hawk. It didn't manage to grab any birds, but it definitely caused quite a commotion and the sky lit up with blackbirds dispersing in all directions. I never got a chance to photograph the hawk, but fortunately, after walking another mile or so, I did hear another one!

Eastern Bluebird near the junction of the Greensprings & Powhatan Creek Trails.

This time though, it was a Red-shouldered Hawk and I got close enough to take some shots before I realized I was even there. I tried to get in better position to align the sunlight on it properly but caused it to fly off instead. The Powhatan Creek Trail feeds into the Greensprings Interpretive Trail very near here and I walked this one clockwise. I saw a White-tailed Deer in the same spot that I've seen a few in the past and then made a turn along the trail to cut through the center of the wetlands that the main trail encircles. Nothing much was around in the swamps yet, but soon they'll be full of waterfowl as they start to migrate northward. Having cut east across the wetlands, I hit the main loop trail again and turned north (counterclockwise) and wrapped up and around the northern portion of the trail before again meeting up with a Red-shouldered Hawk that dropped out of the sky very swiftly. I checked again for the deer I'd seen earlier and yet again it was there so I snapped some photos, and again made the same cut across the wetlands. This time though, after crossing, I cut to the south back in the direction of the Powhatan Creek Trail's connection. It was 2 years ago, the last time I had walked this trail, that I'd found a hawk nest nearby, and photographed the fledgelings, believing them to be Red-tailed Hawks. Now I'm thinking they may have been Red-shouldered Hawks, which might actually make those my first such hawks, I need to check my records. Yet again, I found a nest, in a large pine tree at the northern edge of the forbay (drainage basin area that filters out trash) that sits right next to the trail. I'll have to come back in a month or so to see if it is indeed a hawk nest, but it sure looked like it was, and given that I'd seen the hawk twice nearby it almost must be. I hit the Powhatan Creek Trail again, and caught a lot of Eastern Bluebirds, but the last part of the 6.3 mile hike was pretty quiet, not having seen a whole lot more.

My first Red-shouldered Hawk on the year. This one might have a nest nearby!

I think I might have overdone it a bit though since after I finished up my walk I really didn't feel all that great. I picked Ruth up at the outlets and we headed back towards Virginia Beach. I decided to stop at Fort Monroe in Hampton on the way, just to show her the views over the bay and to check if anything interesting might be hanging out near shore. We saw the usual gulls, and Sanderlings, but not realy anythinng noteworthy before we took off in the car again. Whether its allergies or a cold, or something I ate, really doesn't matter, all I know is I felt real bad on Saturday night and just laid on the couch, and fell asleep by about 9. Sunday though, I woke up around 7 and it was very sunny outside. I didn't want to waste the day but I still didn't feel that great so I asked Ruth if she wanted to just do a couple miles at Back Bay NWR. She said that was fine so we went down and made the park by 9 o'clock. Walking my typical route (Bay Trail, around Pool D, Dune Trail, Beach, Seaside Trail, Bay Trail once more, and Kuralt Trail), we didn't really uncover a whole lot. 

White-tailed Deer just outside the wetlands in the southern half of the Greensprings Interpretive Trail loop.

I did spot an American Bittern at the end of the Bay Trail, but only after I had spooked it from afar. Heading towards the Dune Trail, one Northern Harrier was spotted searching for a meal, but I never saw it again unfortunately. Along the beach, there was some Gannets in very close, but not much else. A few Ring-billed, Herring & Great Black-backed Gulls were aflight, and one Forster's Tern as well. I took a photograph of some ducks in flight way out over the water which I believe were White-winged Scoters, and I think I may have actually gotten some Red-throated Loons finally in a photo but they're just to far out to be certain. I couldn't ID any with binoculars either so they still haven't been added to my life list, one of these days I'll get lucky though! It was the second time in a row that Back Bay has been very quiet in terms of birds, but at least it was a beautiful day out. I'm actually writing this on Monday, as I got to leave work early since we are getting a nasty freezing rainstorm, which really is making me appreciate how nice the weekend was even though I didn't feel that great, but am feeling a lot better now.

Black-backed Gull (unsure on whether Greater or Lesser as I did not see the leg color, though the patterned head does lean towards Lesser) at Back Bay NWR.