Week Ending November 23, 2014

This was a busy, busy week for me! Monday, was my 31st Birthday, and more importantly, it was the day Ruth & I finally got to get our cat, Buster, in to the vet to have his neck-cone removed after having been fixed about 10 days prior. I was very excited to see our little guy in full happy mode for the first time in a couple weeks! Tuesday through Friday, no hiking for me, and to make this the most difficult week of the year for me, Saturday I had to spend in my office at work. My company gives us the option to work the Saturday before Thanksgiving, in order to get the Friday after it off as a holiday. So its a no-brainer for us to work one day to get a 4 day weekend, however, it makes for a rough week, and one that started with my birthday nonetheless! On Saturday, Ruth's sister Heather and her nephew Christopher had also come up to visit so they all spent the day together. After I left work at 3 on Saturday, I did a quick stop off at Kings Grant Lake and the surrounding ponds to try and photograph some of the waterfowl that has recently showed up in the area. There was a good number of Hooded Mergansers, Mallard, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, and Ring-necked Ducks present on the lakes, as well as comorants, gulls, and Canada Geese. I was able to get a few OK shots before meeting up with the family for some food. Christopher ended up staying at Ruth & I's apartment so I could take him out hiking the next morning. Being 7 years old, animals I might find interesting, might not be as interesting to him. But, we ended up heading out to Back Bay NWR at 7 AM (I was proud he was up early). I was really hoping to find an Eastern Cottonmouth to show him, because what's cooler to a kid than having their soon-to-be uncle putting them right in front of a venomous snake? (At a safe distance).

Ring-necked Ducks are just one of many species to be showing up at local ponds for the winter!

Well we never got our chance, though someone on Facebook posted one not too long after we'd been there, so we could have walked right past it, though I was looking at the ground the whole time just in case. We did find a good number of bird species for only being out about an hour. We saw a massive flock of Common Grackles / European Starlings moving across the sky in a 'murmuration'. As we headed towards it along the Bay Trail, we took a quick look around the small pond, hoping to spot the American Bittern, but to no avail. Many, many ducks and geese, and swans were seen out on the bay offshore of both the Kuralt Trail, and the Bayside Trail. I didn't notice it until I had gotten home, but I found a Redhead, and at least 3 Canvasbacks in one of my photographs, both being first of the year for me in Virginia Beach, and the Canvasbacks being both the first I'd ever photographed, and the first I've ever recorded sighting, so a new lifer to my list! Along the Bay Trail, near the large pond at the west end, we got great looks at a Great Blue Heron that was perched over us on the trail, Christopher really enjoyed getting to see this one. We also saw a high number of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a few Swamp Sparrows, to which he giggled at the nickname of "butterbutts", which the warblers are commonly referred to as thanks to their big yellow rump spot. After walking out to the end of the Bay Trail, we headed back towards the visitor center and then up around the Bayside Trail boardwalk back to the parking area. Waterfowl including Tundra Swans, Canada Geese, American Coots, American Wigeon, Gadwall were the most numerous out on the bay, and we did get a flyover of a pair of adult Bald Eagles, hopefully another very neat sighting for Christopher to see in the wild! When we left the park, we headed back towards Kings Grant, thinking the sightings were done for the day.

Hooded Merganser drakes are one of the most beautiful species of waterfowl that can be found in our region!

However, I decided to pull off at Kings Grant Lake onto Edinburgh Drive, hoping to show him some of the ducks that winter there. As we were watching a group of Hooded Mergansers in the shallows, they suddenly disappeared under the water's surface in unison, with splashes going everywhere. As we watched, a Cooper's Hawk flew in right over top of them towards the road, carrying an Eastern Gray Squirrel in its talons! It flew out over the road, banked to the east, and landed up in a tree at the next intersection. We drove down and parked across the street, then slowly walked up near the tree, me with the camera, and Christopher with my binoculars that I set to the proper distance for him. We both got to watch for about 5 minutes as the hawk (a juvenile bird) stood atop it's catch. After snapped a number of photographs against the overcast skies, we parted ways and headed home. Now, for being the very first time I've taken Christopher out looking for wildlife, if finding a Cooper's Hawk with a squirrel dinner doesn't make me his favorite soon-to-be uncle, I don't know what will! At home, I had to get changed and head back out to meet a couple friends to watch the Sunday NFL games. On my way out to watch the games, I passed by the Kings Grant Lakes area yet again, and this time, I saw a Juvenile Tundra Swan sitting right up on shore next to the road. It seemed so weird to me that I actually called Ron Furnish, an extremely knowledgeable birder who just so happens to live nearby, and as he was already headed out to Back Bay to bird, he swung by and took a look to confirm. Sure enough, it was a lone juvenile, all by itself, so hoping that it was OK, and not injured in any way. But, what a great way to end a weekend that seemed so short at the beginning, but served up so many good birds. This coming week is Thanksgiving, and Ruth & I will be heading south to Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, and returning on Sunday, so my next blog will not be locally based, but I'll try to mix in some sightings from the area.

A juvenile Cooper's Hawks rests atop it's captured meal of Eastern Gray Squirrel. I love my squirrels, but, this was a breathtaking sighting to witness with my soon-to-be-nephew, Christopher!