Week Ending April 5, 2015

During the morning on Monday it sure didn't look like it was going to be much of a day to get out birding. However, the rains stopped, and the clouds cleared off in the afternoon and it turned into a beautifully clear day with temperatures close to 60 degrees F. At 4 o'clock I left the office and headed up to Pleasure House Point for an evening hike, arriving at the park about 4:40 PM. I parked along Marlin Bay Drive and walked in on the main entry trail that splits between the two freshwater ponds before reaching the shoreline trail. Both ponds were empty today, and ducks in general were scarce comparative to other outings this year. It seems the waterfowl are starting to move off their wintering grounds, though Northern Shovelers continue to be present in good numbers. A few Green-winged Teal were on the creek, and a few Gadwall & American Wigeons were as well, with a pair of Canada Geese and a single Red-breasted Merganser rounding out the waterfowl (plus some Buffelheads for good measure). I first headed east along the shoreline, realizing the tide was coming in, and it was somewhere in the middle of low and high tide. Birding was pretty quiet on my first pass across the park, though the mudflats were high and dry, and filled with gulls. Laughing Gulls are now the dominant species at the park, with Ring-billeds now taking up the number two spot after reigning supreme throughout the winter. Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backeds were also visible.  

Red-winged Blackbirds are singing now that springtime has begun!

I caught a tern flying away from the mudflats, and initially thought it was a Royal Tern, but the bill looked too bulky, so I believe it was a Caspian Tern, but I cannot say for certain from the 1 photograph I was able to get. So it'll remain unidentified unfortunately, always a bit frustrating. However, there was also another tern situated on the mudflats with some gulls, and this one was clearly a Royal (#121 in Virginia Beach this year). After viewing the mudflats for a few minutes, and noting that no shorebirds were present, I headed up and around the stormwater pond at Dinwiddie, finding no Gadwalls for the second straight outing, then headed back along the creek shoreline. I walked the shoreline trail again all the way to the western fringe of the park, seeing a few Ospreys along the way, hovering over the water. Song Sparrows were sighted jumping in and out of the dense shrubbery, and it seems that many of the flowering trees have become to blossom finally. Once at the far west end, I repeated the cycle again, walking to the eastern side and back. This time at the mudflats, I caught sight of several large shorebird-looking birds rising out of the marshy island to the south. When I got my binoculars on them, I could see long trailing yellow legs, but bluish bodies with white underparts.  

Ospreys are once again populous on their breeding grounds, filling up all the formerly empty nests at First Landing State Park!

These were my first Tricolored Herons (#122) on the year, a group of 3 of them, and I snapped a few very distant shots as they flew towards the southern shore of the Lynnhaven Bay. Shortly after, a Snowy Egret also flew out of the marshy islands. I thought it was a bit funny that I hadn't seen a single Great Egret or Great Blue Heron, but had seen a Snowy and some Tricoloreds instead, not a typical evening walk! As the sun started to dip lower in the sky, the Red-winged Blackbirds all arrived along the trail and began singing, puffing up their body and feathers while doing so. It was really nice to hear them singing, it just feels like spring out there now with all the vocalizing going on. One could hear the 'laughing' from the gulls halfway across the park as well. I was a bit surprised to find that no Yellow-crowned Night-Herons seem to have reached the park yet this spring, and I could not relocate the Green Heron I saw last Tuesday, so perhaps it has moved further northward and was just stopping by for a few days along its journey. No new migrant songbirds were seen today unfortunately, though many sightings of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher have been logged around the area, I'd expect someone to find one at Pleasure House Point soon enough. 

Our faithful winter warblers, the Yellow-rumped Warbler, are slowly being overwhelmed by migrating warblers moving into the region.

Temperatures in southeast Virginia rose to about 70 degrees F on Tuesday, making for another wonderful evening of being outdoors. However, the southwesterly winds bringing in the hot air made for a tough time in observing birds. Sustained winds around 20mph buffeted the area, sending all the trees and their branches in motion, making it near impossible to spot small songbirds moving between the trees. I went after work up to First Landing State Park's 64th Street entrance, and parking near Pacific Avenue, I headed into the park about 4:20 PM. With migrants starting to show up across the region, I'd hoped to find some warblers today, though it is still a bit early, you never know. I thought perhaps the strong southerly winds might have pushed some birds our way. Walking into the park, I swung a quick left at the Cape Henry Trail, where I came across a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches and a Pine Warbler high up in the canopy. Seeing these so quickly made it seem like perhaps there would be a lot of birds out, but, the next half hour of walking in which I walked the Long Creek Trail, and Osprey Trail yielded no birds at all. It wasn't until I reached the shore of Broad Bay along the Osprey Trail that I finally started to see some. The winds were whipping up across Broad Bay, pummeling the northern shoreline where the trail sticks close to the water. A pair of Carolina Chickadees was seen bouncing back and forth on a small tree right near the water. It was surprising to me that they had not fled the area, and all the movement almost made me dizzy while steadying the camera lens for a photograph. Even all the large pine trees were bouncing back and forth, but in between the two tidal creeks with bridges, a feeding flock of songbirds stuck low in the canopy where they were unaffected by the winds. Among the group was a Brown-headed Nuthatch, a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Pine Warbler, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (#123!) that allowed me a couple photographs before disappearing.

Another of our winter species, the Hermit Thrush, can be heard singing their flute-like songs throughout the woods. 

After heading out from this spot, I crossed the western of the two bridges, and was about to head up White Hill when I realized that the park staff have now blockaded the trail here with lots of branches. The trail now winds around the hill, hitting the Long Creek Trail a few hundred feet to the northeast of where it used to. So instead of the 30 degree or so incline heading up the highest point in the park (roughly 50 vertical feet), you now have a much more gradual incline winding up around the base of the hill. I've hiked First Landing over a hundred times since moving to Hampton Roads in 2005, so it was quite a shock to see a new trail cut into the side of the hill. Anyway though, I hit the Long Creek Trail, and headed west to White Hill Lake, where a pair of Hooded Mergansers and a pair of Buffleheads were out on the water. Also, a good number of Great Blue Heronswere soaring above the lake, and a few were situated on the shoreline. I didn't check the rookery to the east of the lake, but given how many herons I saw today, I'd venture a guess that it is already active. The Osprey nest across the lake, high up in a dead tree, was active as well, with one bird sitting on it. I kept on westward to the White Hill Creek bridge, then turned back around, taking the same path (~3 miles) all the way back to 64th Street. A Tufted Titmouse surprised me near the bridge, and a Belted Kingfisher was sitting on a large branch while holding onto a rather large fish it had apparently just captured. Atop White Hill, an Eastern Phoebe flew out of the trees where the heaviest Spanish Moss is found. I was amazed to see all the moss essentially horizontal in the air from the wind, and I'm not sure that I've ever seen it quite like this in the past. On the way back, I was delighted to find a Raccoon wandering around in the western of the two tidal marshes.  

Pine Warblers, our year-round warbler, are out in larger number now, and more easily seen since it is their breeding season!

With all the marsh grasses from this past winter having fallen to the ground, there isn't much room for them to hide while feeding along the creeks. But, new marsh grasses are starting to spring up through the mud, and their green coloring is started to really show through the drab of the winter's foliage. On the Osprey Trail again, I ran into a flock of songbirds, but everyone I could isolate turned out to be a Yellow-rumped Warbler, our most common warblers around here. Soon enough though, other species will start to show up. After hitting the junction with the Long Creek Trail and continuing eastward, I spotted one Golden-crowned Kinglet, which is the first one I've seen in a few weeks, so I was a bit surprised to find it here, though there's no reason it shouldn't be there. At this point in the evening, the sun was getting pretty low, and it was pretty tough getting any photographs of the birds in the trees given the general lack of light. Fortunately though, a group of 3 Hermit Thrushes was seen nearby on the trail and low in the trees, providing some nice photographs. This trail seems to have a good density of thrushes, and almost everytime in the winter/spring I walk it, I see a few of them. Crossing 64th Street, and cutting down a secondary trail to the Cape Henry Trail was next up. Here, you pick up the trail right at Lake Susan Constant, where a pair of Mallards, and a single Ring-necked Duck were seen. These proved to be the last of the birds for my outing, and I sped along for the last mile, getting back to the car about 6:45 PM, just in time to head on home for some dinner. I was excited to find my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on the year, and actually that's my first migrant songbird of the spring, so another reason to be excited. I can't wait to keep seeing more first-of-year birds over the next few weeks.  

A beautiful adult Sharp-shinned Hawk flies over Pleasure House Point!

Beautiful weather continued for a third straight day on Wednesday so I made it a point to get out for another birding trip. Earlier in the day, Back Bay NWR posted on their Facebook page that they opened the East Dike in lieu of the West Dike due to the amount of wildlife still taking up residency closer to the west side. I'd hoped this was just an April Fool's joke, but it appears that hope won't come to fruition. The East Dike parallels the West Dike en route to False Cape State Park, but it lacks the views over water that the West Dike has on both sides, and also doesn't have a forested section, so my excitement from yesterday was taken back a bit today. Anyway, because of this switch, I opted not to head to Back Bay today after work, and instead headed up to Pleasure House Point. Right off the bat, parking along Marlin Bay Drive, I had some Carolina Chickadees and Northern Mockingbirds fly past while getting my camera all squared away. A good sign when you're still setting up, and birds are already present. Unlike yesterday, where the winds were roaring and keeping all the songbirds at bay, today's weather was a very pleasant 53 degrees F and sunny & calm. I headed into the park on the sandy trail, splitting the two largest lakes en route to the shoreline of Pleasure House Creek. On the largest pond, I encountered a few Mallards, a Hooded Merganser hen, and a pair ofBuffleheads. After heading away from the lake, walking eastward, I caught a flash in front of me, as a Cooper's Hawk cruised just above the ground towards me, right down the trail. It banked off about 20 feet away, but it was one of the neater things I've witnessed this year, as it headed straight towards me with wings spread far, just gliding above the ground. I was so stunned, I didn't even raise my camera, it was something else! A few minutes later, as I was nearing the largest bend in the trail, another bird of prey appeared overhead, moving very swiftly across the sky.  

The first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron to be seen at Pleasure House Point this year, they have returned!

This one was no Cooper's though, and it turned out to be an adult Peregrine Falcon (#124), my first of the year. I got some photographs of it overhead, but I was staring right towards the sun, so I caught the shaded side of the bird. Fortunately, thanks to the ability of photoshop to help lighten up a photo, I could verify the facial mask of the Peregrine. After all the excitement, I kept on eastward, noting a few common birds on the way to the mudflats, like Yellow-rumped Warblers, Song Sparrows, and a Savannah Sparrow. Along the trail it appears that park staff or City of Virginia Beach personnel have set up fences to seemingly protect the high marsh grasses between the Brock Center and the creek itself. The trail it appears, will be re-routed to allow for the grasses to be rehabilitated in this area (just a guess on my part), but anyway, you'll need to take a slight detour en route to the mudflats from the west. I find it a bit ironic that this change occurred a day after I noted a big change along First Landing State Park's Osprey Trail...two parks I constantly visit, and have for years, and now changes show up at the same time essentially. At the mudflats, Laughing, Ring-billed, Herring & Great Black-backed Gulls were visible, and a few Brown Pelicanswere also situated on open patches as well. I didn't see any shorebirds, and no terns were noted today unfortunately. A pair ofHorned Grebes, presumably the same ones from Monday evening, were swimming in the channel in front of the mudflats, and a group of 16 Buffleheads was off to the southwest side. I did my usual quick walk up to the stormwater pond at Dinwiddie Drive, but for the third time in a row now, it was completely empty, and it appears now might be the time of year to stop checking it for ducks as they're exiting our region in lieu of northern lands. Walking the shoreline trail back to the far western part of the park turned up a pair of Greater Yellowlegs on the biggest bend in the trail's cove. Near the western end, a heron-looking bird flew past out on the creek and I initially thought it might be the Green Heron that was spotted last week.  

Seen at First Landing State Park, I caught this Raccoon taking a nap atop it's home tree!

No such luck...however, when I raised the camera, it turned out to be a Little Blue Heron (#125) adult, another first-of-year bird for the outing! Having seen Tricolored Herons on Monday, I couldn't believe I was adding another heron to my list this week. Near the same area, as a dog and its owner passed me on the trail, I raised my head to find a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (#126!) staring at me from the shoreline! Another first-of-year bird, and I'm very excited to have finally found my first at the park this year, just a week or so later than last year's first ones showed up. After this I continued on the west edge of the park, then turned around again and headed east. Shortly after making the turn, a pair of Pine Warblers entertained me for about 15 minutes, jumping from branch to branch, and doing their best job of staying in the shade where I couldn't photograph them. I did get a few decent shots off though finally. The trip eastward was pretty quiet until I reached the area where a lot of folks stop to look for Clapper Rails. Here, a group of 3 individuals were fishing in the creek, and as I walked past them, a pair of herons flew by with bright white underparts, yellow legs, and blueish upper bodies, clearly Tricolored Herons. Unbelievable, I tacked on Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons as well...so it was one heck of a day for wading birds! Not a minute after the Tricoloreds flew past, a Sharp-shinned Hawk came gliding in right over top of me, and again, I was able to get a couple slightly fuzzy photographs as it sped past. Continuing east, the mudflats had all but disappeared as the tide had come in, but the gulls were all still standing, with water now surrounding their legs. I headed back to the west for one last trip across the park. On this trip, I knew where to find my Night-Heron, and spent some time photographing it along the shoreline before moving onward. At the far western section of the creek, a single Red-breasted Merganser and a pair of Green-winged Teals were observed on the water's surface. Above them, in a tree were perched 7 Great Egrets. At this point, the sun was getting low behind the far trees, and so I headed back, making a loop around the largest lake and then exiting the park for the evening. I never expected to see the variety of species that ended up showing themselves today, but it just goes to show you that with birding, anything can happen! 

One of the first butterflies I've seen this springtime, this is a Zebra Swallowtail, photographed at Great Dismal Swamp NWR in Suffolk!

For possibly the first time this year, we had gorgeous weather for a 4th day on Thursday. Though the day started off with frost on the windshield (and temperatures right around 30 degrees F at 7 AM), it warmed up swiftly to about 65 degrees F. The same high-pressure system that was to our west yesterday and driving northern winds (thanks to the clockwise flow) into us, moved eastward, and then started driving southward winds to us, thanks to the clockwise flow again. Friday is a thankful holiday for my company, so I didn't feel too guilty about leaving a few minutes early, and hitting First Landing State Park at 3:50 PM. As with Tuesday evening's walk, I parked in one of the stalls along the north side of 64th Street, just west of Pacific Avenue, outside of the park. Walking into the park, then taking a left at the Cape Henry Trail intersection as I always do, I could tell it was a quiet day for the birds. I continued past Lake Susan Constant, and then took the unofficial connector trail back to 64th Street. Here I heard a Pileated Woodpecker calling, and was able to grab a couple of photographs, though they were long distance shots, as it was hanging out on the side of a large tree to the south. I walked the short amount of 64th Street that leads to the Long Creek Trail, then followed it.

My first Common Yellowthroat of the season!

Like Tuesday, I encountered a small, mixed flock of songbirds along the trail. Today's flock consisted of 2 Carolina Chickadees, 2 Eastern Phoebes, 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a Brown Creeper (#127!)), and a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers.Not a lot of birds, but a great variety of species! After taking a few photographs, I headed onward down the Long Creek Trail. I unfortunately was leap-frogging a pair of hikers most of the way, as I'd pass them up, and then stop to photograph birds, allowing them to pass me, and so on, and so forth. Usually along this stretch, I'm accepting of being close to other hikers, knowing that soon the trail will hit a junction, and I can just go along the route that they don't take. However, in continuing with the theme of my earlier posts this week, I hit a snag at the junction of the Long Creek & Osprey Trails. The Long Creek Trail was completely covered up with branches and other tree litter, forcing folks to go along the Osprey Trail. Typically when the park is doing maintenance on trails, they'll just put up a sign (one was up there for 3 years while they did about a month of work on the Osprey Trail).  

Yellow-bellied Sliders are now numerous along the ditches at Great Dismal Swamp NWR!

So, I'm not sure if they're working on the Long Creek Trail in this section, or if they're actually disconnecting it entirely. Along this section, there is a rookery of Great Blue Herons just off the trail, and I wonder if this might have something to do with the closure. However, I can't be sure, but I plan on emailing the park staff just to check. With this trail now closed, there is no true loop to walk from 64th Street, which, isn't a big deal, but its good to know in advance for planning out a hike. Along the Osprey Trail, nothing was flying, because of the strong wind hitting the shoreline & nearby area. I saw a few Ospreys, and a lone Bald Eagle. I ended up hiking just to the second bridge (the western one), then turned around and came back on the same path. On the way back I found a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Brown Thrasher, and a Hermit Thrush, but no new migrants songbirds. When I arrived back at Lake Susan Constant, I could see a Mallard and a Lesser Scaup out on the water. On Tuesday I had reported seeing a Ring-necked Duck here, but I believe it was actually this scaup. Birds were quiet for the rest of the hike and I headed out of the park back to my vehicle to head home for some dinner. 

A Muskrat swims down the Washington Ditch at Great Dismal Swamp NWR!

Definitely a record week here in southeastern Virginia, with a 5th beautiful day in a row on Friday, and temperatures hit 80+ degrees depending on exactly where you were, but at the Great Dismal Swamp NWR in Suffolk where my car registered 78 at the start of the walk at 1:25 PM and 82 degrees F at the end at 4:55 PM. This was my first visit to the swamp of the year, so I was extremely anxious to see just what I'd find. The first thing I noticed was that the leaves have barely begun budding out along the trail, so all the canopy is very visible at this point. The next thing I noticed was that the wind was intense, whipping the higher treetops in all directions, and causing such a raucous that it made it tough to locate any songbirds. I started down the trail, and began hearing some calls coming from the north side, so I took the boardwalk for a few hundred feet. The calls became quite loud as I closed in, and I discovered its source was that of a mixed flock of Common Grackles and Rusty Blackbirds (first-of-year bird), about 50 in total that were moving through the trees. After watching them for a few minutes, I headed back to the Washington Ditch Trail and kept going eastward. During my time on the boardwalk, a couple of folks had begun hiking the ditch trail, and so they were a few hundred feet behind me over the next couple of miles, always a bit frustrating, but I tried to stay out ahead so that they couldn't scare off anything right ahead of me. Being walkers/joggers though, they eventually passed me and I stopped for a while to put some space between us. On the first mile of the trail (the area prior to the junction with Lynn Ditch), wildlife was almost nonexistent, so I was a bit worried for the rest of the walk. The water levels in the ditch appeared to be a bit low, with the forest floor surrounding the ditch not being fully saturated by water.  

A new life bird for me, a beautiful male Yellow-throated Warbler, seen high in the canope above the Washington Ditch Trail at Great Dismal Swamp NWR!

The reading at the control structure / weir at the junction read 20.97 feet (just so I can compare on future outings). Over the course of the next mile, it was again very quiet, with no birds really calling, and the only ones I could pick out in the canopy against the mostly cloudy skies being Yellow-rumped Warblers. I did find a beautiful Horned Grebe in full breeding plumage at the 2 mile mark on the ditch itself. The bird dove down into the water and I ran to get into a position where I thought it'd pop up...this continued a few times before I was satisfied with a decent enough photograph to document the sighting, and then I moved onward. Over the next mile or so, I began to see butterflies of several species. Now, I don't know my butterflies like I know my birds, however Zebra Swallowtailswere the ones that I can ID, and a few of these made themselves visible. There was another species of small, orange butterflies, and a 3rd species periwinkle in color and tiny in size, but I don't know their ID. Around Mile 3, I encountered a rather chatty Belted Kingfisher, that had flown in down the trail, and then perched on a tree branch over the ditch. It clearly was not happy with my presence, and it did what all Kingfishers do... flew around me several times almost laughing as it moved off. Turtles were becoming very numerous the further down the trail I walked, most of them being Yellow-bellied Sliders, but also seeing a pair of much smaller Spotted Turtles. Most of the turtles didn't seem to mind me being there, and they just stayed up on their logs, but occasionally I'd hear a splash, and see a head peeking out from the water at me. Somewhere about this time also I tried to photograph a swallowtail, only to slip on the mud, fall down sideways, and very nearly end up right in the ditch. After a few choice words said to myself, and a good brushing off, I cleaned up my binoculars and camera and continued on, a bit frustrated.  

Now in full breeding plumage, this Horned Grebe was seen at Great Dismal Swamp NWR!

Nearing the 4 mile mark I could already hear the winds coming off Lake Drummond, it was just a roar of energy. And when I arrived at the final kink in the trail before the lake, waves were actually moving up the ditch, which is quite a feat since the ditch does actually move with considerable flow at this outlet area to the lake. I headed up to the small pier at the end of the trail, and took some shots of the beautiful lake, with some very picturesque clouds flying past with haste. After a few minutes on the pier, I began the 4.5 mile walk back down the trail to the parking area. Coming around the 90 degree kink near the pier, an adult male Wood Duck came flying in from the north, and banked westward over the Washington Ditch. Because the sun was also shining from that direction, I didn't even bother raising the camera, but just enjoyed seeing this dazzling bird. Continuing westward, I again encountered the Belted Kingfisher that had buzzed past me earlier, this time snagging a single photograph for documentation only, not of good quality by any means. Near the 3.5 mile mark of the trail, I observed a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and decided to try to pish them in a bit closer. While I was doing so, to my amazement, a pair of Common Yellowthroats moved out near the trail from the underbrush, and allowed a couple photos (see link above), before heading back into the safety of their thicket. Turkey Vultures were seen along the trail every few minutes as they soared overhead on the strong winds, and a few American Robins also were seen flying overhead, but still, the swamp remained quite quiet.  

Second life bird on the week, this beautiful Horned Lark was seen on a farmfield outside of Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area!

Perhaps it was the winds, perhaps it was the time of day, whatever it was, I know this is just the calm before the inevitable storm of songbirds that will show up very soon. Throughout the walk I did not hear or see any Prairie or Prothonotary Warblers, but I know they aren't far off. No Ovenbirds or Louisiana Waterthrushes either unfortunately, and I couldn't find any Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but again, the wind was probably to blame for most of this. Continuing onward, I had my first encounter with a snake at about the 2.5-3 mile area. This one was resting on the trail, and quickly shot off across the surface water north of the ditch. I couldn't get a good look at it, but it was either an Eastern Ratsnake or a Black Racer, though I'm leaning toward Racer just based off the speed it left with. Near here also, right at a large Beaver lodge in the ditch, I encountered a Muskrat swimming directly towards me down the ditch channel. I paused and took a few photographs of it, and then grabbed a drink of water. While I was tipping the water up, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye up in the canopy. I quickly got the binoculars up and focused, only to find a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler working its way around a tree's network of branches. Not only is this a first of year bird for me, but this is a new Life bird for me! I was so excited after I grabbed a photograph that I actually jumped up and down, feeling like a kid on Christmas day. I never heard any of the Yellow-throats today, but seeing this one was just fantastic.  

Another first-of-year bird, these Glossy Ibis were mixed in with a group of Great & Snowy Egrets at Princess Anne WMA!

After it headed off into the swamp, I continued on my way westward. At about the 1.5 mile mark on the trail, I noticed a trail of bubbles breaking the surface of the ditch, and knew something was swimming underwater that would have to surface. So I back peddled a bit, keeping my eyes on the trail of bubbles, then suddenly another Muskrat popped up, the clear source of the bubbles. It dove again quickly, and when I turned around to try to get down the trail to where I expected it to rise again, I noticed the same Horned Grebe was about 50 feet behind me. It must have been underwater as I'd passed by it, but I again grabbed a couple of photographs of it, this time, some very nice ones (see link above). The remainder of the trail didn't turn up anything new, and just a few Yellow-rumps were seen, but it was such a wonderful day to be on the trail, and amazing to add another bird to my life list which now sits at 245 (photographed species only). The swamp should really start coming alive in the next week, and I can't wait to hopefully get back out next weekend to see just how much has changed! If you haven't ever been...it is an absolute must visit place, especially in April! Make sure you bring bug spray though, there's a reason all these fly-eating birds show up in the springtime, though, I didn't notice any Mosquitoes on this outing, they're return is also just around the corner. 

Bradford Pears are blossoming around the region, making for some beautiful scenery while the leaves start to bud out on most trees!

Saturday, I spent my day helping my friends Chris & Shawnna move into their first house up in Hampton, but it was another beautiful day outside once the morning clouds went away. On Sunday, beautiful weather again continued, so Ruth & I went out in the morning to Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area’s Whitehurst Tract searching for warblers. Folks have reported Yellow-throated and Black-and-White Warblers here, which are two species I’d really like to add to my Virginia Beach list. On our way to the park, turning off Morris Neck Road onto Munden Road, I noticed some birds in the recently tilled farmfield on the northeast corner of the intersection. After stopping, backing up and viewing with binoculars, I could see that the birds were actually Horned Larks, a species I’ve never seen outside of my field guides before! A second life bird now on the week, and a new one for my yearly Virginia Beach list (#128). After shooting a few photographs from the driver side of the car, we headed down Munden Road to the parking area of the wildlife management area. We walked south along the main entry trail to where the trail hits a pinch point, somewhat separate the Whitehurst Tract into a north & south half. At this location, we got to see several White Ibis in pretty close, and walked around them to get the sun behind me before taking some photographs. We ended up walking the southern half the park first, traveling clockwise so that the sun was shaded by the trees on the east side of the park on our first pass. The impoundments are being slowly drained back into Back Bay, so the water levels are down from what they were on my last visit. Because of this, waterfowl are becoming more scarce at the park, but shorebirds are starting to become more populous.  

First Eastern Cottonmouth of the year, photographed at Back Bay NWR! Note: I was about 20-25 feet away from this snake, and was not antagonizing it. It gaped its mouth open just to let me know not to come any closer. 

A group of Glossy Ibis (#129) was sighted on the impoundments, mixed with Snow & Great Egrets and White Ibis as well. As for waterfowl, Blue-winged Teal (#130), Green-winged Teal and Northern Shovelers were the common species, with a few Mallards also seen, and a single Horned Grebe. Shorebirds were made up of mostly Yellowlegs, though too far out to tell for certain, most of them were probably Greater Yellowlegs. There was also some smaller species that without a scope I just can’t identify with certainty. We worked our way around the impoundments, then headed up into the northern half which we walked counterclockwise. We had a nice surprise of a Common Yellowthroat (#131) as we were intently watching a Muskrat swimming up a ditch that Ruth had spotted first, and then shortly after we spooked a White-tailed Deer, which we could hear rushing through the dense woods. We eventually got sight of it as we continued walking, and it was forced to flush out of the narrow strip of land it was moving eastward along. Also, a pair of Wood Ducks flushed from a ditch, and made me jump in the air since we were right up on them before they took to the air, without me even realizing. At the northeast section of the park, we encountered a few Yellow-rumped Warblers and I was able to ‘pish’ a few in close, which also brought in an Orange-crowned Warbler!  

One of our earliest migrant birds, and quite striking, is the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher!

By the time we reached the car, we’d tallied 40 species in the park, not too bad for an hour and a half or so of walking! Our next stop was at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which proved to be less populated by birds this time than it has been recently. The star here was an Eastern Cottonmouth situated near the small pond by the visitor center, that opened its mouth nice and wide when I got about 20 feet away, showing off its very namesake white lining on the inside of the mouth. We walked the Bay Trail, though it was completely empty of birds, and full instead of other hikers, then we did the Loop Road, though not seeing much. Unfortunately as mentioned earlier, the West Dike did not open as is typical of April, but instead the East Dike is open. We didn’t walk it this time and instead went out onto the beach. I’d hoped to hear my first Prairie Warbler of the year at the park, but never did find any. On the beach, no shorebirds could be seen, not even a Sanderling, and only 1 gull was seen in flight. A few Double-crested Cormorants streamed past, and a pair of Common Loons were seen, but that was it, a very quiet day on the beach. Heading up and over the dunes toward the parking area, we encountered two Blue-gray Gnatcatchers which were delightful to see and I grabbed some photographs as they hopped endlessly from branch to branch in the thick shrubbery. After this though, we headed out of the park & called it a day. What a week though, about 33 miles of hiking from Monday to Sunday, and I added 11 species to my Virginia Beach yearly list! Next week should continue the excitement with migration season getting closer to peaking around the middle to late part of April.

A Song Sparrow jumps from branch to branch in the shrubs outside the Back Bay NWR visitor's center!