Week Ending January 18, 2015

We had a very rainy & dreary week up through about Thursday evening around Virginia Beach. Some birders did venture out, and an interesting sighting was two reports of a Common Redpoll being sighted at Pleasure House Point. On Friday, after my workday ended at 3 PM I headed up to Pleasure House Point to give it a shot & see if I could re-locate the Common Redpoll. I parked at the east end of Marlin Bay Drive to put me in a spot where I could do a loop along the water with the sun at my back, and was very surprised to find that the Common Goldeneye female that I saw over the prior weekend was still present on the pond with the deer carcass. I had figured this bird would have moved out of the area by now. I tried to move into a good spot for a photo, and while walking along the western shore, I inadvertently frightened off an adult Black-crowned Night-Heron that was perched in the pine tree high above me, the first adult of the species that I've seen in the park. The raucous caused the Common Goldeneye to fly out from the wooded pond unfortunately, but it seems to be sticking around the park, so perhaps I’ll get another shot at it. As with this past weekend, I could not locate the Eurasian Wigeon out in the creek, and unfortunately did not find any Redpolls either, though folks continue to post sightings of the Wigeon on eBird.

Bufflehead drake on the waters of Pleasure House Creek!

Good numbers of waterfowl were present though, dominated by Gadwall, with many American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler mixed in for good measure, and what appeared to be a group of Ring-necked Ducks flying in. Also, the Brants were seen flying along the far shore but never landed on the mudflats as the tide was coming in and covering them up. Also nearby I added several Tree Swallows (#88 on my Virginia Beach year) that were flying over the field outside the new environmental center. Just a moment after the Tree Swallows passed over, I saw a pair of Buffleheads with a female Lesser Scaup (#89!). The three birds dove down and I moved in close to get a shot, watching for them to pop up, which they did very close in to me. They noticed me quickly, but I got some photographs off right away before they moved out onto the creek. From the new pier area, I cut back towards the car on the new bike path, seeing one Cooper's Hawk along the way. The Goldeneye was not present when I returned to the pond near my car. After leaving the park I headed up to the first island (South Thimble Island) on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, parking at the very first stall on the right near the southeast corner of the island.

A male Surf Scoter flapping its wings off South Thimble Island on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

I walked the full perimeter of the island (within the pedestrian allowed signs that is), and was pleased to find a large number of birds present for being after 4 PM. The Ring-billed Gulls and Rock Pigeons as usual were covering the eastern side of the island, with a few Herring Gulls and Ruddy Turnstones mixed in. Out on the water, a small group of Buffleheads, a lone Red-breasted Merganser, and a few Surf Scoters were tight in to the southeastern shoreline. When I'd reached the northern point, a pair of male Redheads (#90) were seen mixed in with a group of both male & female Lesser Scaup. Some Black Scoters, and a group of 5 Long-tailed Ducks were also seen. I'd hoped for a White-winged Scoter or a Greater Scaup to show up, but I still haven't found either species yet in 2015, hopefully next time. Walking back to the car I ran into Karen Kearney so I stayed for a bit longer chatting and got to see a beautiful sunset from the island as well. All in all, a very good couple hours of birding to end out my work week. Looking forward to a nice Saturday here in Virginia Beach! Hope everyone gets out and sees some neat birds tomorrow.

Sunset from South Thimble Island looking over Oceanview.

On Saturday, the beautiful weather continued with temperatures in the 30s with not a cloud in the sky, which allowed me to get out all across the city. I started off at Little Island this morning abut 7:30 AM, first walking out onto the pier to find the water a churned up mess from the strong onshore winds. I couldn't spot anything out on the water with my binoculars other than some gulls so I walked across to the kayak launch to check it out. Even though I looked first, I again spooked a Cooper's Hawk from the trees along the path, and then managed to also spook an American Bittern with only marginal photographs results. So it was a good start to the day, just not for photography. After walking the short paths, I headed down to Back Bay NWR and spent the next couple hours there walking the Bay Trail, Loop Road, and out on the beach. Starting off with the Bay Trail, I walked it out to the end where I was greeted to a flyover by two flocks of Snow Geese (#91). There was some ducks out on the bay, but most of the waterfowl were situated to the north of the trail, of which there was several hundred Tundra Swans, and a number of Gadwall, American Wigeons, and even some Northern Pintail this time. I walked back down the Bay Trail to the Loop Road, and for the second weekend in a row, on the Loop Road I scared up a Wilson's Snipe. I had purposely decided to walk the Loop Road clockwise this time hoping if one was in the same area, that I might have the sun behind me for a good shot. Well, clearly they saw that coming so it moved to the opposite side and I spooked it before I put eyes on it.

A pair of Hooded Mergansers on the waters of Back Bay!

Now what direction to walk next time? After the Loop Road, I walked out onto the beach, stopping to see my first Northern Flicker of the year (#92) as it flew over the dunes to the trees nearby. I also saw what looked like songbirds, so hoping perhaps they were Snow Buntings, I usd the binoculars, but found that they were Yellow-rumped Warblers instead. Down on the beach, the wind was screaming and there was foam tossed up everywhere. It was far too choppy for me to pick out any loons or grebes on the ocean, so I’m still waiting for my first Red-throated Loon of the year. I headed up to the north end of the beach, then back over the dunes toward the parking area, seeing a ton of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the process. I did one last walk of the Bay Trail from there, and was excited to find a feeding flock of songbirds near the west end, just before the pond. It was comprised almost entirely of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting about, but there was also a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet (#93) and an Orange-crowned Warbler (#94). The Orange-crowned Warbler is actualy my very first one in Virginia, and only the second one I’ve ever seen, having sighted my first one a couple years ago in California! I headed back towards the parking area, photographing some Tundra Swans out along the boardwalks of the Bayside Trail, and then seeing a group of 8 Forster’s Terns (#95!) come cruising in over the bay just offshore. I got some nice shots of them as they hovered and dove on unsuspecting prey underwater. It was also here that I saw a juvenile Bald Eagle and also a pair of Northern Harriers chasing each other then flying off southward, so it was surely a good raptor day. After a quick walk down the Kuralt Trail, I headed to the car & drove north. I made a quick stop off at Little Island again hoping to get a second chance on the Cooper's Hawk I spooked earlier but did not see it.

My first Forster's Tern of the year, flying over Back Bay.

Instead, I found 2 American Bitterns this time, both flying off over the far side marsh as quickly as I put eyes on them. Heading out of the area north through Sandbridge I finally found my very first Eurasian Collared-Doves (new life bird & #96 on my Virginia Beach year), and photographed them from the side of the road as they sat up on the wire overhead. Also, on Sandbridge Road just before reaching the Hells Point Canal & Bridge, there was a pair of juvenile White Ibis (#97) feeding in the small pond on the west side of the road, another new year bird. Being that I was already in the area, I decided to drive through rural Pungo in the hopes of seeing some of the massive Snow & Canada Geese flocks that folks have been reporting, hoping perhaps to be able to spot a Ross's or Cackling Goose mixed in, or some Cattle Egrets, Eastern Meadowlarks, or American Kestrels & Merlins. I did not find any Snows, but did see a large group of Canadas east of Princess Anne Road from Sherwood Lakes, far back on private property though. On Morris Neck Road I found a single American Kestrel (#98) perched on a wire over the road, and as soon as I slowed down it took off. This was another year bird for me though! After the jaunt in Pungo, I drove up General Booth past the Oceanfront and stopped at 64th Street to go into First Landing State Park. I walked the Cape Henry Trail southwest from the entrance hoping to find some Pileated Woodpeckers, but again missed on them. I did get some nice photographs of a Common Loon near The Narrows though, and saw quite a few other birds (Eastern Bluebirds & Yellow-rumped Warblers dominated). My last stop of the day was up at Pleasure House Point, where parking at Dinwiddie, I walked the park east to west, then back on the interior trails. Some highlights were a Cooper's Hawk perched up in a tree, a group of 18 Ruddy Ducks, a small flock of Green-winged Teal. I did not re-locate the Common Goldeneye on any of the ponds today, and no luck on the Common Redpoll that had been spotted this week either. I'm exhausted, but it was a wonderful day. 

A closeup shot of one of the Forster's Terns that hovered over me searching for fish.

On Sunday, Ruth & I had appointments to get our flower situation and cake figured out for the wedding, so we were out again in Pungo in the afternoon. With heavy rains all morning long, I opted to leave my camera at home but did bring my binoculars hoping to see something while driving around between appointments. Ruth drove so that I could scan the farm fields for birds, and we drove down Morris Neck and Charity Neck Roads, as I had done on Saturday. Just as we had gotten to Morris Neck, the rain stopped, and the sun began to clear up the sky, it was gorgeous out, with incredible views of the storm as it was passing to the east. We ended up seeing 5 American Kestrels on power lines, which is the most I’ve ever seen in a single day. As we stopped on the road to get a better look of the first one, it flew off, scaring a group of birds off the farmfield as it flew over. The birds crossed the road and landed in the field on my side of the car and I was able to see them very clearly with my binoculars, Eastern Meadowlarks (#99!). There was tons of American Robins and Eastern Bluebirds out on the fields, probably looking for worms that retreated to the surface to avoid drowning under the saturated soils. Also, tons of Ring-billed Gulls had landed in the field, almost looking like Snow Geese, but unfortunately none of those were seen. After a half hour or so driving, we headed to our second appointment and then home from another great weekend of birding! I thought perhaps I could get that 100th bird but was just unable to get it. I saw what I believed to be Common Grackles earlier in the week, but there were too far out to be certain, and I’m also fairly sure I heard an Eastern Towhee at Back Bay, but without putting eyes on the bird, I don’t count it. Hopefully this week I’ll get up and over into the triple digits! Some birds I’m really hoping to locate are Red-throated Loon, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Greater Scaup, Common Grackle, so we’ll see if they show up for me soon. 

The Kings Grant River Otter, seen on my way home on Saturday!