Week Ending July 13, 2014

Another hot, hot, hot & humid week this week in Hampton Roads! I spent Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday out in the field at work again doing this gas main survey up in Newport News & in Norfolk so once again, no hiking after work those days since I was purely drained by the time the day was over. On Wednesday evening, we had some pretty intense storms move through the area, dumping heavy rain, which I fortunately got to watch from the safety of my home after work. Had I not already been in my comfy, household clothes, I would have run down to some of my engineering project areas to see how the drainage systems I designed at work did at handling the huge amounts of rain. Fortunately for me though, I got another shot the very next day, as we had a huge line of storms move through again on Thursday afternoon/evening. This time, I left work early specifically to photograph some of the effects of the heavy rain. I won't go too into my sever weather outing in this supposed-to-be-wildlife-related-blog since I actually wrote up a whole other article about it for my job (can be found at www.rbnature.com/articles). But, I will say that while I was out near the oceanfront taking photographs of how the ditches were handling rainfall, and where the roadways were ponding and things of that nature, apparently an EF0 (lowest scale) tornado formed and blew down the same corridor I was at on Norfolk Avenue. The tornado actually snapped a few power poles in half, threw the steeple off a church, and pulled the roof off of a school gymnasium. I was not aware that this had occurred til I got home and put on the news, only to find out that I had only been a couple blocks away, but was unaware since the rain & wind were so bad everywhere around me. 

Mallard family along the East Dike Trail at Back Bay NWR!

On Friday morning, with all the nasty weather having subsided, I got a nice surprise on the way out to my car to head to work. A little gray kitten was sitting in my front yard, and it ran off under a parked vehicle upon me opening the door. I called for Ruth and she ran down to see it, and actually fed the little thing after I went off to work. We have talked about getting a pair of cats for a long time, and apparently seeing this little furball was all Ruth could handle. When I got home from work, she had talked to someone she knew about how we might be able to catch it, since it was obviously a stray cat. They brought a trap and a carrier over in case we could get it. Well, after going to dinner that night and coming home, the little kitten was back out in the yard and a neighbor was able to get it into a crate with some food, then close the door behind it. We took it immediately up to our screen porch and transferred it over to our borrowed cage, and got to welcome in a new member to the family! While they technically refer to strays as 'feral' cats, I'm saying this little kitten was a wild one, having survived a category 2 hurricane just the week before, and two back to back nights of intense thunderstorms, I'm amazed the it survived. Saturday morning we took the kitten to the vet to have it checked over. We found out that it was a boy, and quickly named him Buster! After his stint in the wild, Buster unfortunately had a bad bacterial infection and had worms in his belly, which was quite bloated. He also, not surprisingly, had fleas & ticks in a few spots on him, so the vet was nice enough to give him a bath (after he had some unexpected belly issues). We got the little guy on antibiotics which will hopefully clear up the bacterial infection, and he got a shot for the worms, and a spray for the fleas. Cleaned up, we brought our new little buddy home and set him up in the apartment. Most of Saturday was spent just keeping an eye on him, and holding him & petting him all day, so again, I didn't get out for any wildlife photography. 

Adult male Red-winged Blackbird singing along the East Dike.

On Sunday though, we felt a bit more comfortable leaving him alone for a couple of hours, and since we hadn't gotten out all week really, we went down to Sandbridge so Ruth could go to the beach, and so I could hike at Back Bay NWR. We arrived before the crowds, a little before 9 AM, so had no trouble getting to the parks (go at 11 AM sometime and enjoy that fun). My first interesting sighting at the park was an Indigo Bunting singing from high up in a tree along the Loop Road's west side, very close to the visitor center. Shortly after I saw a Common Yellowthroat, then another, also singing from treetrops. I was finally able to see them & hear their song together that I think it's now stuck in my memory, so I can add another warbler to the list of birds I just have to hear to properly ID. They sound like they're saying "What-did-you-do!" very quickly, though most website say it's a "wichety-wichety-wichety". Since the East Dike Trail opened up, it'll be open until fall-time, so I'll be on the opposite side of the park from where I enjoyed seeing so many species this spring. The East Dike feels a little more desolate than the other side does, since there is really only a small amount of water on one side of the trail, the marshes on the west side aren't visible this time of year due to how tall the vegetation has now grown. After entering from the Loop Road to the East Dike I could see a number of white birds off in the nearest marsh to the observation building.

Flowers & vegetation are at full growth across the region. 

It turned out to be a mixed group of Cattle Egrets and immature Little Blue Herons. Both species are first on the year for me in Virginia Beach, though I've seen them in the past, and elsewhere in the state this year (Chincoteague). After continuing south for probably a half mile, I got a good look at two White-tailed Deer that were far out in the marshes, before they quickly disappeared into the tall grasses that is. Next up was a group of seven not fully adult Mallards, that were all tucked into the bank and barely visible, except for all their heads sticking up just slightly enough to give away their position. I photographed them for a bit but ended up leaving so I didn't scare them into flight, something I'm working harder on all the time, trying to get good photos, while not disturbing the animals. Just to the south, the dike trail takes two 90 degree bends to the west, then to the south. At this spot, a pair of nesting Red-winged Blackbirds provided great photo opportunities as they hopped from shrub to shrub, flying short distances and almost hovering in the air for me. I grabbed a quick drink of water here (yet another hot & humid day out), and then stumbled upon a midsize Eastern Cottonmouth that was resting in a vehicle tire track that had partially pooled with water. The venomous snake slowly slithered off into the grass alongside the pool and then disappeared from view, even though it was only a few week away. This time of year the snakes are a lot harder to find since it is so hot everywhere, they don't need to focus on laying in open areas to control body temperatures, any place will suffice. Having said that, I was glad to have seen this one, since the last outing I didn't see any.

A Golden-winged Skimmer, who was kind enough to pose with a nice background at Back Bay.

Now that I'm writing this, I didn't really notice any turtles in the park either, which now seems odds to me since the canals are usually full of Yellow-bellied Sliders. I kept on heading southward til just before the False Cape State Park sign, then turned around and headed back up the dike trail northward. The southernmost marsh, east of the dike, had a Great Egret & a Great Blue Heron wandering around in it, but I didn't see any Prairie Warblers in this area this week like I had the last time out. I did however hear more Common Yellowthroats, helping to solidify their song in my head for the next trip out. On the way back, there was more folks out riding bikes and walking as well, so it wasn't as eventful wildlife wise. The blackbirds were still present, and I again took some more shots of them, and also, the 7 duck family was still hiding, though this time I didn't take any shots since I didn't want to give their hiding spot away for the next group of people walking behind me. Hopefully they went unseen, as they did with the group immediately in front of me, who clearly had no idea they were even there. Near the ducks I also saw a Northern Watersnake swimming up the canal, the second such sighting in my last two outings. 

An adult female Red-winged Blackbird calling along the East Dike with her mate, pictured above.

It quickly darted to the side though and went up into the grass where I couldn't spot it again. When I got back to the Loop Road, I opted to take the boardwalk down to the beach to see if any interesting sea & shorebirds were visible. The usual gulls & Brown Pelicans were all over, but I did get to see my first Sandwich Terns of the year, with their black head & bills with just a little yellow at the tip. I saw several as they coasted down the shoreline picking off stray fish at the waters surface by diving quickly down from the sky. What I thought to be an approaching duck of some sort, actually turned out to be my second Whimbrel at the park this season, and this was probably my neatest sighting of the day. Seeing it flying fast by me with its massively downcurved bill out ahead of it was very interesting. Lots of folks were out on the beach shorefishing this time, which I'm not so used to the rest of the year, especially in wintertime when I love going to the park birding. I cut back up at the north end to the parking area, and did a quick loop on the Bay Trail. No King Rail or Green Treefrogs hiding along the Bay Trail today though unfortunately. After getting back to the car, I was pretty beat from the heat, so I picked Ruth up instead of going down to the beach like I usually do. That and we both wanted to get to see how the kitten was doing on his own. When we got home he seemed more upbeat, and was even starting to play a little bit by Sunday night so things were hopefully looking up for him. The infection still worries me though since the vets wouldn't place him on a care plan since they weren't sure if he'd survive long term yet. Hopefully he keeps getting better each day, now that he has a nice place to live & a steady stream of food & people to cuddle up to!

My first Sandwich Tern of the year. Note the yellow tip to the bill, this was seen over the Atlantic Ocean just offshore of Back Bay NWR.