Week Ending December 21, 2014

Yet another week of working during all the sunlight hours as we head towards the shortest day of the year (Sunday). Friday, I brought my camera to work in the hopes that it would stay sunny outside long enough for me to at least swing by my local King Grant Lakes on the way home at 3 PM. It did, and I stopped first at the main park off Kings Grant Road to try my hand at getting some waterfowl shots. The typical birds were all present, with Canada Geese and Mallards leading the way and some stray Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, and Hooded Mergansers also out on the main lake. Driving around to the different points surrounding the lake, I also got to see a group of Wood Ducks (near the lake outlet). And also, I was stopped along the roadway near the smallest of the ponds watching a Great Egret and some ducks when a River Otter came swimming by through a mat of floating vegetation. It swam in a few circles, going under water and popping back up and then jumped out onto someone's personal fishing pier. It stayed up there for about 15 minutes as I sat hoping for it to come back into the water, but it looked like it preferred to take a nap in the shade. I've heard of people having spotted them along the lake shores before but this one was the first I've seen in the area. Granted, I don't spend all that much time driving for photographs, I'd much rather be out in the backwoods hiking more remote areas, but it was very fun to watch this otter, as they are a favorite animal of mine. After the excitement with the otter, nothing else really came along that struck me, though I did also see a Red-tailed Hawk and a Red-bellied Woodpecker to add to my species list though!

A River Otter plays amongst the floating vegetation mat at Kings Grant Lake!

Unfortunately, Saturday was a day of work for me, so I can get all my days off at the holidays properly aligned for my & Ruth's trip up to Fairfax, and for my mom & step-dad to come down the following few days. So I didn't get out Saturday, boo. Sunday though, I got up around 7:30 and found the sky not blue as was predicted, but very overcast instead. With NFL games usually dictating my schedule on Sunday afternoons, I opted to go to Pleasure House Point as opposed to traveling further out due to the time constraints since I woke up late. As with my usual morning approach, I parked off Dinwiddie Drive and walked the park east to west first. There was a group of 17 Gadwalls on the stormwater retention pond near Dinwiddie, which will be there most likely the whole winter. A Pied-billed Grebe was also present on the pond, but no American Bittern was in sight this time. Walking along the salt meadow and shoreline, it was very obvious no shorebirds would be seen since the mudflats were completely inundated by the high tidal waters. Parts of the trail were also flooded, perhaps from high tides over the last couple of days that just hasn't yet soaked into the soil thanks to the high water table at the park. Birding was quite quiet as I headed westward along the interior marshy islands, with no sparrows other than Song & perhaps some Savannahs showing up (no Nelson's or Saltmarsh for a few weeks now). When I reached the first major pond, a Great Egret and six Snowy Egrets were posted up in the pine trees on its southeast corner which provided for some really great photographs. While photographing them, I kept thinking how on overcast days the birds that really show up the best in photos are the ones with lots of white feathering. The white birds tend to get washed out when the sun shines directly on them, so the cloud cover actually helps make them stand out great against the green background of the park's pine trees.

A beautiful Great Egret seen on an overcast day against the pine tree backdrop of Pleasure House Point!

Continuing westward, I had an inquisitive Belted Kingfisher come cruise past me, and when I reached the far west end of the park, I could see some Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, a lone Northern Shoveler drake, and a few American Black Ducks huddled across the creek near the golf course. Buffleheads were numerous out on the waters, but that was it for the ducks today. So I headed back eastward down the same set of trails, reaching the mudflat viewing area, and delighted to find a group of 60+ Brants had taken up residence now that the tide had dropped enough to allow the mudflats to sit high and dry. This is the most Brants I've ever seen at one time, it was really neat to view from the shoreline! After Pleasure House Point, I took a trip down to 88th Street at the oceanfront and walked the beach line north up and around Cape Henry. This week, I'll be heading up for Christmas Eve & Christmas to Fairfax County to visit Ruth's family, and then my mother & step-father will be coming down for the proceeding days through New Year's Day to Virginia Beach. My next update might be a bit delayed, but I look forward to closing out 2014 with the family. Happy Holidays to everyone who might read this blog!

A portion of the flock of Brants (small sea geese) seen on the mudflats at Pleasure House Point, with a Ring-billed Gull & Sanderling for good measure.