This week was quite an intense one for me. On Monday evening after work, my girlfriend Ruth & I went down to the oceanfront in Virginia Beach and walked from 88th Street down the beach around Fort Story. It was a gorgeous night out on the beach, with the sun slowly setting while we walked along. This is one of my favorite stretches of beach in the area since not a whole lot of people like to venture out onto it, since it isn't very accessible the further north you go. Along the beach we saw plenty of Sanderlings, and a few Willets as well. Brown Pelicans is large numbers were flying offshore, probably heading back towards Lynnhaven Inlet for the night to roost. All the typical gulls were seen (Laughing/Ring-billed/Herring/Lesser & Great Black-backed), and a few Royal Terns flew by as well, though I haven't seen any other tern species recently in the area so they may have all moved southward at this point in the season. Up around the large rock jetties that protect the beach we spotted a Least Sandpiper mixed in with a flock of Sanderlings, and shortly after, found a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing its tail up and down on the rocks. Both were the first ones I've seen at this particular location, though neither is anything rare around here. They just usually prefer mudflats more than open beachfront in my experience.
We ended up walking to the very end of the publicly accessible beach, which gets you very close to the pair of lighthouses known as the Cape Henrys. Heading back, we saw the same birds again, but we also got some great looks at a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that were swimming just offshore. There was probably a dozen of them or so, and some were very close in the shallows probably chasing a school of fish of some type. The sun had pretty much set by the time we got back down to 88th Street, an unfortunate reminder that this time of year, each day is shorter than the one before it, and it gets tougher and tougher to get outdoors after normal working hours. Photography also becomes much harder as the light is less and less at the same time each consecutive evening, so its just a matter of time before my photography gets cut to just Friday afternoons & weekends. Which, is fine with me since it gives me more time to work on the website finally as the outings calm down a bit. However, it puts a lot of emphasis on what the weather is doing on the weekends, and unfortunately if we get rain both days, it basically kills my outdoors outings for the week. Hopefully we get a beautiful Fall & Winter though, and I don't lose too much time to rain.
Tuesday, a very overcast day, I just did a 6 mile walk around my neighborhood. On days where I can't take good photographs, I tend to just walk close to home & leave the camera out of it. The same went for Thursday, another day of dreary weather where I did the same 6 mile walk around Kings Grant/Little Neck. Friday though, was a beautiful, beautiful day, and I left work at 3 PM like I typically do so I can get some extra walking in. I couldn't decide where to go, but, since Ruth & I were leaving later in the evening to head up to Fairfax for a wedding in adjacent Maryland, I decided on First Landing State Park just to stay closer to home. Parking at 64th Street as usual and walking into the park, I was surprised to see not a single person for actually 4.5 of my 5 mile walk. And there was an obvious reason why. The mosquitoes were pretty horrendous, especially for around here. With all the rain we had gotten the previous 3 days or so, there was standing pools of water scattered all through the forest. Each of these pools is a perfect breeding ground for the mosquitoes this time of year, and they surely took advantage of it. Even with spray on from head to toe, every surface they could find on me to bite, got tore up, especially along my tshirt line around the back of my neck. The bugs made it difficult to stop for any photographs as I was instantly mobbed, however, as I got closer to the water at Broad Bay, the wind off the bay was enough to stop them for that mile stretch or so, a good relief. On the way to the bay, I did see a large flock of songbirds (most of them American Robins) moving in unison through the trees feeding.
There was also a lone Ovenbird, which was my first sighting of one this year in Virginia Beach, and I didn't manage a couple pictures while enduring the bites, because they don't usually show themselves in the open. Along the bay, I spooked a Spotted Sandpiper that was walking along the shoreline, and then just a minute later as I reached the first tidal creek, I spooked something even more rarely seen. I was just thinking in my head how 3 years ago I'd seen my very first Clapper Rail at this spot, and not a minute later did a Clapper Rail flush from the marsh about 5 feet away from me, then dive back down about 20 feet away. Try as I did, I still could not get a photograph of this shy marsh bird as it ran through the reeds back and forth for about 15 minutes. They're incredibly beautiful, but incredibly hard to spot, this was the 2nd one I've now seen in the park after over a hundred times hiking here the last 9 years. In fact, the only one I've ever photographed was just down the river at Pleasure House Point, and it wasn't even that clear of a shot, but enough to prove what I saw. I ended up walking to the second tidal creek's bridge and then turning around again. A Belted Kingfisher cruised by and cackled at me for a while, probably the same one that always manages to do this. On the way back down the Osprey Trail eastward, I got a good view of a large juvenile Bald Eagle flying into Osprey territory and taking up a perch in a tall tree. This was met by a lone Osprey continually dive bombing the eagle, as it was not happy that it chose to come to it's area of the park. Most of the Ospreys have actually left the area already as the bulk of them fly south in the winter, but a few do winter over in the area, though up near Pleasure House Point, and I've never seen one do so in First Landing yet. Heading back inland, I got bit up a lot more, and then finally made it out of the park, alive. Afterwards I had to head back home and shower up, eat, and then start the drive north to Fairfax, where we ending up getting to about 9:30 at night.
Saturday, we needed to head out to the wedding site by about 1 PM, so I had the morning to go hiking around a new area. After reading numerous posts on the Virginia Birding Listserver, I opted to try out Huntley Meadows Park just about 20 minutes up the road. The park has a large marsh centered in it, with boardwalks criss crossing through it. I was there early enough to where the park wasn't too well lit up, so it was a bit tough at first. I did see a small White-tailed Deer running through the marsh, and then saw a number of songbirds at the north end of the boardwalk system. After winding around the trails for a few loops, I came up with several Common Yellowthroat sightings, a Black-and-White Warbler, another Ovenbird, and a number of more common birds like Robins/Jays/Crows/Chickadees/Titmice etc. I thought maybe I'd find a Brown Creeper but it didn't happen. Having left the park about 9:30 I still had more time so I drove to my typical hiking spot at the South Run Stream Valley off Hooes Road in Lorton. I walked a couple mile stretch downstream, but any birds that may have been present were well concealed in the thick forest, and I didn't come up with anything new unfortunately, but did see some pretty butterflies. The remainder of the day was spent on the wedding & reception, and then Sunday we headed back down to Virginia Beach after dropping one of Ruth's friends off back in Fairfax. This coming week is going to be the busiest yet unfortunately, taking away from my nature photography more than likely. I'm in my buddy Chris' wedding on Friday, and therefore also have the rehearsal for it on Thursday evening. Saturday, we have our 3rd and final wedding of the last 8 days as well at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, so perhaps I'll see a hummingbird or two before the ceremony! After this week, hopefully I'm able to get more outings in, as Fall is now setting in and the leaves should be changing soon!