Week Ending August 3, 2014

This week the weather started off hot, but cooled down nicely on Tuesday into the low 80s for the high and mid 70s throughout the afternoon. After work on Tuesday I ran home & put together my things, then headed up to Pleasure House Point in an attempt to start adding some shorebirds to my yearly list. This time of year, the shorebirds begin their migration from the tundra of northern Canada southward along the coastline. They like to stop on beaches and mudflats where they can feed by their preferred method of probing the wet ground with their bill for insects and crustaceans. Pleasure House Point features a lot of shoreline in the tidal estuary, and during low tide there is a lot of surface area of mudflats exposed so it is a great place to try and find them. Also, the birds have just crossed over the Chesapeake Bay moving southward which is about 11 miles of open water if crossing directly from Fisherman Island to Cape Henry on the south side. Because of this water crossing, the birds are likely very tired and very hungry, so they'll stop at the first place to refuel that they can, the Lynnhaven River estuary. For once, I actually managed to get to the park when it wasn't high tide.

Common Buckeye seen at Pleasure House Point!

Since I can only go after work, I don't usually bother to check the tide charts since I can't plan my times of visit anyway, so it is always a surprise to me as to where the water levels are. Well today it was approaching low tide, so the shorelines were packed with birds feeding finally! Most of what I came across wasn't necessarily shorebirds though, in fact the very first bird I saw was a Tricolored Heron flying circles high up over the creek. Folks had posted photographs of some on Facebook earlier in the day so I was very happy to be able to re-locate one, my first one the year in Virginia Beach, bringing me up to 149 species here in 2014! All along the creek, herons & egrets seemed to be in higher than normal numbers. I saw several Green Herons, both adult and immatures, on my way across the park from west to east, and the Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were again seen in high numbers. I ran into a birder as I was watching a Green Heron near the southernmost point, and laughably it turned out to be Ron Furnish, whom I'd just had correspondence with last week for the first time due to a Mississippi Kite showing up in his backyard and him passing information on to me. It was nice to put a face to the emails now, so after crossing paths a couple more times along the trail and passing information, I'm pretty confident I'll get that kite if it shows up again. I also met another birder on the trails today, Becky Morrow, who is living in the area while her husband is here with the military.

Adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron feeding on the oyster flats during low tide at Pleasure House Point!

After all the talking, I had reached the eastern end of the park, where the large mudflat is visible just offshore to the east. It was littered with birds, most of which were Royal and Forster's Terns, Laughing, Herring, & Great Black-backed Gulls, but it also included at least one Killdeer, several Black Skimmers, even a couple of Caspian Terns. I didn't locate any Oystercatchers like I've been hoping for for a while now, and Ron posted a photo of a Pectoral Sandpiper that I  missed (actually I've never seen one in my life either), so next time I'll have to pay closer attention. On the way back westward, the Yellow-crowns were really out on the largest tidal bay, I counted 7 individuals within sight at one moment, so there could be quite a few more in the park scattered around, most of these were immature birds. Green Herons continued to fly past me, and be seen along the muddy exposed banks. Across the creek near the golf course I could see a Raccoon walking on the mud, and quickly realized there was a second, smaller one adjacent to it, more than likely a mother and a pup (?). A short while later, I spotted a third Raccoon, another adult, about a hundred feet or so west of the pair, also feeding on shellfish out on the mudflats. Though I did walk all the way west, then all the way back east again, and returned west to the car, the majority of what I was seeing were Great Egrets and Yellow-crowns. I did see several Ospreys, and of course there was gulls & terns flying overhead constantly, even a few Sandwich Terns. As it was starting to get darker out, I headed back home, but it was a very successful day at the park, hopefully I'll be able to get more shorebirds in the coming weeks as they continue to move southward from their tundra-based summer homes.

Great Egret feeding on the oyster flats during low tide at Pleasure House Point!

Wednesday was another gorgeous sunny, dry, and about mid 70s day, so I wanted to go for a walk through the neighborhood. I ended up walking my 6 mile route through Little Neck, without my camera though since I feel weird walking around residential areas with a 400mm telephoto lens on a camera. Along the walk I saw a number of songbirds and common feeder birds, but the most surprising sightings were the large number of blue-tailed skinks (Five-lined Skink or Southeastern Five-lined Skins, I can't tell the difference yet). They seemed to love being out on the hot asphalt bike path along Little Neck Road and would scurry into the vegetation when I approached. I'll have to take my camera out along the path sometime just to get some of these beautiful lizards, since I don't see them as frequently on hikes, there was probably over 20 that ran off along my route. I thought perhaps the Mississippi Kites might flyover or land in a tree nearby, but again no luck with that, though I did return home to find a voicemail from Ron Furnish stating that they were over in his backyard yet again, but I missed out on that, yet again, so perhaps later in the week I'll get another shot, they seem to be all over the few square mile area around Thoroughgood where a nest has been reported. The remainder of the week unfortunately saw a lot of overcast skies with mainly threatening rain. Friday, the clouds rolled in, and the sun never showed itself again. I'd brought my pack & gear on Friday to work hoping that I could get down to Back Bay NWR afterwards, but unfortunately, the rain had already begun so I ended up going straight home instead. Saturday morning, I got up to the same situation, though it was just sprinkling. Ruth & I went down to the oceanfront to try out the farmer's market at the parking area around Croc's restaurant on 17th Street & Cypress Avenue.

Green Heron feeding on the oyster flats during low tide at Pleasure House Point!

Unable to find a whole lot of good produce though, we ended up deciding to go into Pungo instead. On the way, we detoured into Chesapeake to where the Anhingas have been seen along Blackwater Road just east of Fentress. I brought my camera just in case we got a chance to visit them while the rain was halted, and after a few minutes of surveying the small lake they're nesting on, we made the sighting! A female was perched about half way up a large tree on the north shore of the lake, and we then noticed that the nest was in the same tree, but was better viewed from the western corner of the lake. At least 3 juvenile birds could be seen moving around inside the nest, with an adult male feeding the birds. Another adult male was perched atop the tree for a total count of 6 Anhingas. Also on the lake were a large number of Green Herons, of which we counted 5 at the same time as they streamed in line from east to west across the lake. It appeared a nest, which I believe was one of theirs, was set up in the overhanging branches just next to the eastern viewing spot. I didn't remember this viewing road having been there in the past so it may have been a recently cut access to the lake. Hopefully the added accessibility doesn't cause the Anhingas to not nest here in the future, since they've been a big hit with the locals over the last few years. They really aren't seen anywhere else around here, being that we are at the extreme northeast portion of their expected range. After this quick stop, we drove around Pungo and did find some quality produce for the next week to dine on. I didn't get a chance to see any more wildlife though on Saturday, and Sunday we had the same weather again. I did get out for a 7 mile walk around the neighborhood, but it was so gloomy I didn't risk bringing the camera, and the only bird that showed itself was a male Eastern Towhee so it wouldn't have been used very much regardless. Hopefully the next week can clear off a bit so I can get some photography in, though it at least felt good to get 17 miles of walking in this week after struggling through the month of July, probably averaging less than 10 miles each week.

A new lifer for me, an Anhinga, seen off Blackwater Road in Chesapeake!