Week Ending February 1, 2015

On Monday, a massive Nor’easter formed off the coastline of North Carolina and started sliding slowly up the coastline towards New England. While we in Virginia were only expected to get a dusting of snow from the storm, projects were showing up to 30” in Massachusetts, and over a foot in New York City. In front of the storm, many folks still got out birding across Virginia Beach Monday, and the Western Tanager at Pleasure House Point was again sighted by James Marcum and Peggy Eubank. Of interest also, was a pair of Harlequin Ducks seen at the first island of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel by Clark Olsen (who also recorded a Glaucous Gull out on the ocean viewing from 42nd Street). Bob Ake spotted a Cackling Goose mixed in a flock of some 600 Canada Geese in the farm field across Princess Anne Road from Sherwood Lakes. Last weekend while out driving around in Pungo, Ruth & I also saw this large flock of Canadas, but I didn’t scan it with binoculars since it was so far east of the roadway. Another rarity for the region, the Eurasian Wigeon at Pleasure House Point was sighted again Monday by three individuals (Peggy Eubank, James Marcum and Ashley Merritt), so it is nice to see it is still in the area. All 5 of the species are birds I have not yet added to my yearly list here in Virginia Beach, so all would be welcome sights that would push me closer to my goal of seeing 200 species in Virginia Beach this year! And actually, 3 of them (Eurasian Wigeon, Cackling Goose, and Western Tanager) would all be life birds for me, so all the better.

The solitary Hermit Thrush, seen at Falls Lake State Recreation Area near the Raleigh-Durham metro area of North Carolina on Saturday.

On Tuesday morning I awoke to about 1-2” of snow in our Kings Grant yard, but fortunately the roads were completely cleared since the temperature never got cold enough to allow them to freeze up. There wasn’t even any real ice on my vehicle, just some on the side windows. Ruth & I got to let our kitten Buster out onto the screen porch and see his first reactions of seeing snow. He was pretty darn adorable running around looking out the screens at the snow covered forest & marsh behind our apartment! As  is typical here in Virginia Beach, even though the roads were completely fine, many businesses and most of the school either were closed or had delays. Last night (Monday) I had read an interesting post via listserver from Ned Brinkley that suggested with a storm of this size walloping New England, that Virginia might be the benefactor of some northern waterfowl moving south to escape the storm. He noted that Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese could be mixed in with large flocks of Canadas and Snow Geese. While I believe he was mainly theorizing that this would occur on the farm fields of the Eastern Shore, it would be quite neat to see if any sightings of these species showed up here on the southside over the coming days. I’m hoping that Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday after work I can make it up to the CBBT to try to find the Harlequin Ducks at least, if they’ve weathered the storm and stuck around, so again I’m anxiously watching the eBird reports to see if anyone re-spots these birds. The toughest part about winter for me is just not having the available free time to go and look for the rarer birds that show up here in the area. With the sun setting around 5 PM or a bit later now, it helps more than in December, but it still just doesn’t afford me daylight enough to put the time in outdoors during the work week, which just puts all the pressure on weekends, of which this one I will be out of town in Raleigh. So I hope the rare birds stay put for a while!

The world's largest gull, a Great Black-backed Gull, sitting among the much smaller Ring-billed Gulls on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Tuesday evening I felt the beginnings of a cold coming on and spent the rest of the week with it. So when Friday came around, I didn’t get to dash outdoors hoping to see something before our trip to Raleigh. Instead, I just picked Ruth up in Norfolk and headed out. We stayed with her friend Ally & her husband Justin in Durham. On Saturday Justin & I did a 5 mile or so hike at Falls Lake Recreation Area. Despite having a cold, I felt real good on the hike, better than when I’m just sitting around. We didn’t see a whole lot in the way of wildlife, but mainly because we were talking most of the way. We did however, see several Hermit Thrushes which are difficult to find in my home region. We also saw Eastern Phoebes, Dark-eyed Juncos, a woodpecker (Downy/Hairy), and a possible Brown Creeper. I took barely any photographs though as in the woods there isn’t much light, and we were just too loud to approach anything closely. The terrain was a nice switch up from our flat land in Virginia Beach, since there was a lot of up and down as the trail meanders along the fingers of the reservoir and surrounding hills. On Sunday, when Ruth & I arrived back in Virginia Beach, I drove up to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel since folks had seen a pair of Harlequin Ducks on Saturday there. Naturally though, they weren’t around while I was, and I walked the entire accessible perimeter of the first island from southeast to southwest counter-clockwise. The gulls were actually split up on both sides of the island this time, probably because it wasn’t very windy coming from a single direction. Ring-billed, Herring and Great Black-backed were seen, but no Lesser Black-backed this time around. At the northern point there was a pair of Black Scoters, a lone White-winged Scoter and two Red-breasted Mergansers. On the southwest corner I saw what I’d hoped were the Harlequins due to their size in comparison to surrounding cormorants, but they turned out to be Buffleheads instead. The silver lining bird though was a Purple Sandpiper that posed nicely for photographs on the rocks at the north end. I don’t see them everytime I go there, but, I know they’re always around in the winter time since they like the rocky coastline even though it is a man-made island. After a number of shots, I headed out and got back home from the long weekend. My neighbor and coworker Kathy, had been looking after my kitten Buster for the weekend and while I was over at her doorstep saying “thank you”, I heard my first Pileated Woodpecker of the year (Virginia Beach #104 of 2015). Hopefully I’m able to get more birding in this coming week, or at least shake this cold, which does seem better now than it was yesterday.

My favorite wintering shorebird, a Purple Sandpiper, seen on the rocky man-made coastline of South Thimble Island.