Week Ending March 29, 2015

Sandwiched between a trip to Nashville over the weekend, and an upcoming trip to Chicago for my cousin Adam’s wedding, this was a tough week for outdoor excursions. But, on Tuesday evening after work, I made it out for a short birding trip up at Pleasure House Point Natural Area. On afternoon outings, I prefer to park along Marlin Bay Drive (as opposed to Dinwiddie Drive) so that I can walk the main shoreline trail eastward with the sun at my back (since the later it gets, the worse the angle of light becomes heading west). I took the main trail off that road into the park, which then splits between the largest pond at its west, and a smaller pond at its east before linking up with the shoreline trail. The larger pond held a couple of Buffleheads, and the smaller held a pair of Mallards but that was it. I scanned the trees for Night-Herons, Egrets, and the shoreline for Bitterns but nothing was present. Throughout the walk it was mostly overcast, but the sun peeked out a few times for a short duration. It was relatively quiet as I headed closer to the mudflats at the east end, and the tide was extremely low, which was just lucky timing. On the mudflats there were good numbers of Fish Crows, Ring-billed, Herring, and Great Black-backed Gulls, as well as a grouping of about 20 Laughing Gulls tightly bunched together showing off their black heads. A few Brown Pelicans were sitting on the water beyond the sandbars, and only a couple of Double-crested Cormorants made fly-bys. A pair of Horned Grebes was also seen in front of the mudflats. At this point, the sun began to peek out a bit, so I made a dash up to the stormwater pond at Dinwiddie, hoping to get in a good spot to photograph the Gadwalls that are usually present. Unfortunately, they weren't there today and the pond was completely empty to my surprise. 

A striking male Northern Cardinal perches in a tree at Pleasure House Point!

I headed from there over to where the box culvert that drains the pond outlets to the creek, and found a Snowy Egret standing on the exposed riprap placed there. A Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Song Sparrow were also seen in this general area, hiding up in the trees. A wide variety of birds were present at the park, but the numbers weren't high, most species being just 1 or 2 sightings, so it was a bit of a grind to find them all. Heading back westward along the shoreline trail, now with the intermittent sun in my eyes, or overcast skies obscuring the light, I didn't see much, until I reached the pond made famous by the deer carcrass that has been used as a marker ever since it appeared there in late fall. Here, a Green Heron (species #120 in Virginia Beach this year) flew over me, quickly heading northwest. Their in-flight posture and size are unmistakable, even this early in the season it was obviously not another Heron, Egret, or Bittern species. I knew it had to have been heading to a secluded shoreline spot on one of the waterways in the park, since there really isn't much else habitat for it between here and the Chesapeake Bay to the north. So as I travelled westward to the terminus of the park, I scanned every patch of shoreline I could with binoculars, but came up empty. Duck activity along the main creek is still dominated by Northern Shovelers, with Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and a lone Red-breasted Merganser female rounding out the waterfowl species. No Green-winged Teal were present at the far western pond, which was a reliable spot so far this year. After turning around, now heading eastward again. I continued to scan the waterways for the Green Heron, but again came up empty. On the southeastern corner of the second largest pond, I was delighted to find a pair of Pine Warblers flitting about, hopping from pine stem to pine stem eating whatever seeds were available. I worked around their tree to get the sunlight right (shining for a few minutes at the right time finally), and took a number of shots, though a large number of them turned out to be nice photographs of empty branches.

Still our most common warbler species even this time of year, the Yellow-rumped Warblers can always be counted on for a photo op!

Clearly, shooting sitting ducks all winter has slowed my reflexes for these smaller, more active birds. I'll need some more practice quick so I'm ready for the warbler migrations of April & May. I ended up walking eastward to the large bay on the main creek, then turned around and headed back towards the car. I stopped to scan the pond to the west of the deer carcass, a long canal heading north/south that is tree-lined, and full of cover at the north end. Out of nowhere, an adult Green Heron came flying across the canal at the far end, providing me a great look, albeit, very short, before hiding in the foliage. After finally finding the Green Heron, I kept walking back towards the car and left the park. I was really lucky to have the binoculars right on the spot, but I wasn't able to get a photograph this time, though, I'll get plenty of other chances soon enough I hope as they are quite common summer residents around here. The remainder of my week was unfortunately spent at work, and I left for Chicago on Thursday, returning on Sunday afternoon after spending the weekend with my family and attending my cousin Adam’s wedding on Saturday. Upon my return, it was very evident that the flowers and trees have really started to blossom. Bradford Pears and what I believe are Cherry Blossom Trees are starting to pop with very vibrant colors. Tulip Trees are also showing their beautiful petals now, and it should be just another week or two when the leaves start to pop, and we finally bid farewell to the winter’s drab coloring, yielding instead to beautiful green forest across the region! Migrating songbirds also began showing up in other folks’ reports this week, with Yellow-throated Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher as the prime targets. Hopefully this next week will afford me a lot more time outdoors, since this is getting into my favorite couple months of the year for birding (April & May)!

Another of our warbler, this Pine Warbler provided me a number of photographs during about a 15-minute span of jumping from branch to branch on a pine tree.