Week Ending July 20, 2014

With our newly adopted stray kitten, Buster, running around the apartment, I spent my weeknights this week at home. I also spent my lunch break at home playing with the little guy. He seems to be doing very well, though he has a vet appointment next week where we'll see for certain what his outlook is in terms of the infection he had when we caught him, and the worms in his belly issue. He's filled out a lot now that he's had a steady diet, and he took the antibiotics all week long so hoping that he's in the clear, since Ruth & I are extremely attached to the little guy now. I can't imagine what its like having a child, because I'm already feeling the need to be more responsible just worrying about having a kitten at home. He seems to be more and more comfortable with the apartment though, and he hasn't really been running and hiding as much as on Saturday, mostly just playing and running around, or sleeping. We're still trying to figure out what we're going to do with him next weekend when we have to travel, but we'll figure that out later.

Immature Green Heron hanging out at Pleasure House Point in the freshwater shallows.

This week we finally saw a cool down in temperatures after several weeks of 90+ degree heat. On Friday, I went down to Pleasure House Point after work for a quick walk to see what wildlife might be around. On the way up, I drove down Independence Boulevard near Thoroughgood, hoping I might catch a glimpse of one of the Mississippi Kites that has been seen around the area, and I may very well have seen it, or just an Osprey high up. I couldn't stop the car and get the camera lens out fast enough to verify. And I happened to pull into a school parking lot where kids were playing soccer, not exactly the place a lone man wants to be seen sporting a high power camera lens nearby. I'll have to get back up to the area looking for the bird again next week after work one day as several folks have now re-sighted at least one bird here. A few minutes later, I parked off Marlin Bay Drive and headed into Pleasure House Point. I walked the park west to east this time just so the sun would be at my back right off the bat. Right away I could already see that I again managed to arrive at the park during high tide. Since I can only go after work, I don't usually check the tides, since it won't affect my decision, but it was a bummer to see the water so high. When the tides are in, there are no visible mudflats out in the Lynnhaven River, so the smaller shorebirds don't have any ground surface to hunt or feed on. Because of this, the birds I'd expect to see were the ones I did see, lots of Great Egrets and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. However, on my way eastward, I did find a young Green Heron feeding in the long & narrow pond near the end of Marlin Bay Drive. It let me take a number of photographs of it stalking minnows in the freshwater. I didn't actually notice it as I walked past since it was well hidden and at an angle you couldn't notice that direction, but having spotted an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron further down the shoreline, I turned around to try and sneak up on it. That is when the Green Heron came perfectly into view. I did also get some shots of the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, but it was actually asleep at the time while standing up, so the shots are all of a bird with eyes closed, not the usual shot.

Double-crested Cormorant swimming in Pleasure House Creek.

Walking further along the river, I again looked back to see that something must have spooked the Green Heron, probably a dog or it's owner, since folks don't like to leash their dogs here like they are supposed to. It flew past me and continued down the river to a safer spot, so very glad I was able to see it when I did earlier. Along the southern portion of the park I could hear Clapper Rails calling out in the grassy islands in the river, but as usual I didn't see any. You can only find these guys when the tide is low and the sneak out of the grasses to feed, and usually only for a few moments before they disappear into the thick vegetation again. Ospreys were flying around the park like they typically do as well. I was ready for a Black Skimmer to show up this time, having botched my chance at photographing one the last outings, but I never did get a chance. On the way back westward, I cut in on the Meadow Trail which stays inland from the river a little bit. Coming around a stand of pine trees, a pair of Blue Grosbeak were calling and hopping from tree to tree. I took photographs of a male that sat still on top of a tree for about 15 minutes. While trying to get into a better angled spot, I flushed a Cooper's Hawk that had been hiding nearby, and it quickly made a getaway. It was either there hunting the grosbeaks, or numerous Mourning Doves that also flew over. In this same spot there was a number of blackberry plants with plenty of the berries ripened. I didn't see any birds eating them, but I wonder if the grosbeak like this spot because of these berries. And clearly the hawks would like it because of the songbirds they attract to feed. Near the largest pond in the park I spotted an immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was just beginning to grow it's crest feathers, and they looked rather scraggly, almost like he had just electrocuted himself and his hair was standing up in all directions. I walked to the very west part of the park but didn't see any new birds, and so I hit the car and drove on home. While crossing the Lesner Bridge, I could see about a dozen Black Skimmer sitting on the sand right next to the water on the point just east of the boat launch that is not accessible from Pleasure House Point. I had to laugh at that since I've been trying to photograph them, and here was a whole bunch, but out of view from the park and only viewable to the cars traveling down Shore Drive. 

A school of Menhaden baitfish in the shallows at Pleasure House Point.

Saturday, we got up around 7, but the weather was very overcast and they were calling for showers, so it made it difficult to get excited for hiking, or going to the beach, so we ended u doing neither. On Sunday though, we had a perfect day of weather, and we went down to 88th Street beach at the north end of Virginia Beach's oceanfront. On the way out to the beach from the street, we saw an Eastern Towhee and a pair of Northern Mockingbirds, a good start. Since it was sunny, and I never know for how long that sun will last some days, I went walking down the beach onto Fort Story's beach up to where the rock groins begin. Last time out, I saw a few Least Terns here so I figured I'd have a chance to see more today. There ended up being a number of different shorebird species in flight along the beachfront including: Royal Terns, Forster's Terns, Least Terns, Sandwich Terns, and a brand new one for me today, a Gull-billed Tern! I had written it off as a Sandwich Tern while taking it's photograph, but after I got home I realized it lacked the yellow tip on the bill, and it's bill was much stubbier than that of a standard tern. So I got to add a new bird to my life list today, and thats now a 148 species of birds seen in Virginia Beach in 2014! Also along the beach were Brown Pelicans, Ring-billed, Herring, Laughing, and Great Black-backed Gulls. High up I saw some Ospreys circling around, and one did also fly past with a fish in it's talons. Far up the beach, a pod of Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins was swimming just a couple hundred feet offshore, and they stayed near enough to the surface at times to be able to photograph the dorsal fin & part of the back. I've still never seen them breaching from the water again like I did after Hurricane Irene went through in 2011, that day they came fully out of the water, and very close to a group of surfers which made for quite a show. I stayed up on the northernmost stretch of beach before the rock groins for a half hour or so hoping to get as many photos as possible as birds flew along the coast line. A number of Purple Martins were also flying around and then landing on some sort of communications antenna on the base. The Ghost Crabs, like every beach visit this time of year, were all out in full force. I got to watch them scamper every which way as I walked down the beach, even seeing a few go sideways right into the ocean's breaking waves. A couple, I got to observe burrowing down into the sand right as the waves were about to hit them, which was very neat behavior that I'd never noticed of them before. During this walk, the tide was very low, and the beach very wide and flat as a result.

Immature Yellow-crowned Night-Heron sporting some new crest feathers!

As we stayed out for awhile, we got to see the water level rise considerably (the change from low to high tide here is anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 feet depending on the season & phase of the moon), so definitely something noticeable if you're out for a half cycle (low tide to high tide or vice versa, 6 hours change). When I walked back to the spot Ruth had set up our camp at, of course I had a flock of Pelicans fly right over top of me in great view, having already put my camera and lens away so as not to show it to all the other beachgoers. I spent a couple hours out in the water today, more than usual, since the waves were fantastic. Very long period waves, some of them were probably 7 or 8 feet in height, and an absolute blast to body surf on. A few times I had waves take me easily a hundred feet right in to shore, I wish they could be like that every day, maybe then I'd actually give real surfing a try, but until then, its just fun to swim with them, and have them pick me up right on top. I doubt I'll see waves quite like these again for a while, though I hope I do next time!

Adult Brown Pelican in flight, along the coastline above Fort Story's beach.

After the long swim, I did one more walk, this time with Ruth in the same direction and length as the first walk. The same birds were seen this time, 4 species of gull and 5 species of tern, which is pretty good for just a half hour or so walking along the beach. A few Double-crested Cormorants flew by as well this time. A group of Ring-billed Gull had built themselves a little camp near some beachgoers as well, which means they probably had thrown food out nearby. I got a few good shots of one of the gulls as it was wading in the shallow surf. At this point in the day, the water had come up a couple of feet, so the walkable beach was no longer flat and wide, instead it was very steep, having turned into a line of sand cliffs a couple feet high where the waves would come in and slowly undermine the cliffs until they collapsed. Then the process would just continue. Returning from the walk, I went out for another hour or so into the waves before getting completely exhausted and getting packed up to leave. Crossing over the sand dunes on the way out, several Blue Grosbeaks could be seen jumping from shrub to shrub in the more vegetated areas of the beach, but since it had just begun raining (despite being completely sunny over top of us, and no clouds anywhere close to us) I didn't take the camera back out. It was one of the stranger sunshowers I've ever seen, but when it's in the 80s and sunny, it can rain all it wants to in my opinion!

Bottlenose Dolphin just offshore near Fort Story!!

This coming week on Wednesday, we have to get our little kitten Buster back in for a checkup to see how his antibiotics have done, and to see if he needs more de-wormer or anything else. So I'll be nice and stressed out until I get word from the vet that he's healthy and will be around us for a long time, so here's hoping for good news! Immediately after, on Thursday, Ruth & I are driving back to Chicago for my cousin Ryan's wedding on Saturday, and to go to the Pierogi Festival in Whiting, Indiana on Friday night with my mom & stepdad, which I'm very excited for since I've never been to it having spent all my summers in Minnesota with my father until I moved to Virginia. Sunday we have to get up super early, and return back to Virginia, another 14-15 hour day in the car, at roughly 950 miles away. So this will be a very hectic week and I will probably not be supplying a blog of it, unless something happens & I get to see some wildlife somehow. We also still aren't sure what to do with the kitten while we're away, so again, a very hectic week, but hopefully in my next blog I'll be able to discuss how everything went smoothly!

Breeding adult Ring-billed Gull hopping in the shallow beach water at Fort Story!