Week Ending May 31, 2015

Thankfully, this week started out with a holiday from work being Memorial Day! Due to this, I was able to extend my weekend an extra day, and not have to go into my office. Instead, I headed out to Back Bay NWR after I woke up around 6:30 AM. The last few days, and weeks actually, I’ve been pushing it pretty hard, trying to see as many different species of birds as I can while the migration season was underway. As a result, I was pretty exhausted on Monday morning, but decided to head to Back Bay to hopefully check out the trails near the visitor center since they’ve been hot lately for new birds, with maybe a quick stop at Princess Anne WMA on the way home since there really is only a couple of miles of trails there that can be walked. From Tuesday through Sunday I had covered just about 25 miles, so a bit of a break sounded good to me. Arriving down at Back Bay’s parking area at 8 AM, I sprayed up with bugspray, now that the Deerflies have really come out, and then I headed down the Bay Trail. I stopped first along the grove of Bald Cypress trees that are found near the trail start, hoping for something to come flying past. Unfortunately, this spot was quiet with no birds visible for the first time out of my last few outings. Continuing down the Bay Trail, I flushed a few Northern Cardinals, and spotted some Carolina Chickadees, but nothing else of note. I walked out to the far end, just to see if anything could be seen out over the bay itself, though nothing was. When I turned back, headed east, I ran into another birder who mentioned he was hoping to find the Virginia Rails that a friend had seen recently here. Well, given how closely I follow the reports that come out of Virginia Beach parks, I knew that this friend must have been Ron Furnish, since he’d seen 3 of them. When mentioning that to him, I found out that this was Jason Strickland, a birder who’s been sitting atop the state rankings on eBird on and off throughout the year, and someone that Ron had personally mentioned to me was a trustworthy reporter.

Red-winged Blackbird: Coming in for landing!

A very personable fellow, we hit it off right away and ended up walking the Bay Trail back to the parking area, pointing out mostly Red-winged Blackbirds along the way. Since I was heading down the West Dike, I ended up waiting for him and we both walked down it together. I figured I could learn a few things from someone who has amassed a count of 250 species in the state this year, and perhaps he could learn something from me since I know this particular park like the back of my hand, and had seen 127 species in the park this year so far. Walking the west edge of the Loop Road around the D-Pool we saw a number of blackbirds, and a few grackles, hearing a Prairie Warbler calling from the east, but nothing else. At the gate to the West Dike Trail, we continued on, and I recalled having seen a pair of Sora in the vicinity last year during the springtime. At this point in the season though, the ditch slopes are very overgrown which makes it near impossible to spot birds that know how to hide well, like the Sora. Along the West Dike Trail’s northern portion, which winds around the C-Pool we didn’t really note any interesting birds. Arriving at the B/C cross dike, the Black Scoters I’d seen on Friday was again nowhere to be found, which is probably a good thing. In this area we had a few Eastern Kingbirds hover-flying over the marshes, and we had spotted a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds as well. No waterfowl or wading birds could be seen on the C-Pool though. On the C-Storage Pool just to the south, a few Mallards were swimming on the deeper water sections, and a few Greater Yellowlegs were walking around in the shallower area. On the B-Storage Pool (the next pond south), we could see a tern or gull flying over the B-Pool, but couldn’t make the ID at the distance. My photographs show a very white bird, possibly a Bonaparte’s Gull, though I’ve never seen one inland like this, so all I can do is speculate. In the trees along the West Dike Trail here, we encountered at least one male Orchard Oriole that was singing from atop a tree. This spot is a favorite of mine, and I’ll typically see several interesting species around it. Last year, I saw Yellow Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and the aforementioned Orchard Orioles. Also, it was last year that I had rescued the Chain Pickerel here that was choking to death on a Bluegill it had tried to swallow whole (full story on that one is located here: http://www.rbnature.com/blog/we-20140504).

Sanderlings on the wing at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Memorial Day!

Back to this outing though, the American Coot I’ve been seeing here was still around, as were several Greater Yellowlegs that seem to be stuck to this area no matter how many times I accidentally flush them. Plenty of turtles were also lined up at the end of the pool near the forest, which is also typical. At the entrance to the maritime forest, I got a quick look at a Red-headed Woodpecker as it flew to a tall, dead pinetree, before pausing momentarily and flying off again. As we neared the B/C cross dike, we could see a vehicle coming across so we waited to see who it was. To my excitement, it was Bob Ake, who was out doing his impoundment surveys with what appeared to be some interns/students. Bob is one of the few birders in the area that is regarded as a ‘Legend’ among the birding community, and he is also a professor/PhD. From conversations with Ron Furnish, who knows him well and was actually advised by him for his Big Year planning in 2013, Bob is closing in on 800 species in the ABA area, which is incredible. It was a true honor to finally run into him and get to introduce myself to him. Ironically, Bob & Jason have been going back and forth for the lead on the state eBird rankings, so to run into both on the same day is something of a spectacle to me. After their vehicle continued on its predetermined route southward down the West Dike Trail, we followed suit. When we started out on the West Dike, I figured I’d make it to the forest entrance and then head back, but, we continued on. This time I said to myself, I’ll turn around at the False Cape SP entry sign. Through the forest, we had a family of walkers behind us, so we were forced to walk quickly to stay ahead of them before they could spook the birds. We did note some Great Crested Flycatchers, hearing a Red-billed Woodpecker, and seeing one Prothonotary Warbler also. No Yellow-bellied Cuckoos or Summer Tanagers  were seen though, which I had hoped to get looks at. At the exit of the forest, a Prothonotary Warbler was calling loudly from just across the ditch on the east side of the trail. I was amazed when the bird flushed, landing right out in the open for a few nicely posed shots, one even during mid-song. I’ve had success with these birds at Great Dismal Swamp NWR, given their sheer numbers there, but here at Back Bay they are a little tougher to locate, so this was a rare treat.

Atlantic Ghost Crabs have returned to the beaches of the East Coast!

Walking from here to the border road between Back Bay & False Cape we could see many Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk flying high up. On the road, we ran into Bob’s vehicle again as they were heading westward, back from False Cape. While standing aside the vehicle, Jason spotted a young Bald Eagle very high up over the beach of Back Bay. Bob had mentioned that they’d seen a couple of Bobwhites out in front of the vehicle on one of the cross dikes, a bird I would love to be able to see out here. Only once in my life have I found the birds in the wild, and it was at Back Bay, though I couldn’t pull of a photo before they disappeared into the thick underbrush along the East Dike Trail. Maybe I’ll get my chance again soon, though that was about 3 years ago so you never know. Well when we hit the False Cape sign, I figured, we’d come this far, we might as well finish off the loop and walk the beachfront. Jason said he was hoping to see some Red Knots, and given that Ron Furnish & Marie Mullins had indeed seen a group of 8 on the beach on Friday evening, I kind of hoped to see them also. I had walked the beach on Saturday morning, but they were nowhere to be found. So we entered False Cape SP along the Marsh Ridge Trail, heading toward the visitor center. We passed the newly constructed observation tower where I’d seen a King Rail a couple weeks ago, though nothing was on this small patch of water today. Overhead, we had a Little Blue Heron soaring circles, climbing higher and higher each time. Nearing the visitor center, we saw Indigo Buntings, Eastern Kingbird and Brown Cowbirds. I had to make a quick stop at the visitor center so I could grab sunscreen for my neck, which has gotten burned a couple times now along the beach, since northward walks put the strong sun right on the back.

Shorebirds all lined up nicely... Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, and Red Knot!!

Typically, I’ll have a collared shirt in my pack, but I hadn’t expected to hike as much today as I ended up doing. Turning east onto the Barbour Hill Trail, we could hear more birds than we could see. White-eyed Vireo & Red-eyed Vireo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and likely Gray Catbird or Yellow-breasted Chat were heard. An Eastern Towhee was heard in the scrubland at the dune line, though no Prairie Warblers were out today. We reached the beach and scanned in both directions, noting a large group of shorebirds to the south, but not traveling that way to investigate. Turning north, back towards Back Bay, we had good numbers of Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers, but that was it. Most notable was an all-around lack of birds in flight. With very slight easterly winds pushing small waves into shore, I’d have expected there to be a lot of birds cruising the coastline. However, we only saw 8 Brown Pelicans in the 4 mile stretch, and just a few Royal Terns. Only 1 Great Black-backed Gull, and one possible Herring Gull were observed. This is probably the lowest totals of these birds I’ve ever seen along the beaches. About 2 miles north of the border between the parks, I finally spotted something new, a Black-bellied Plover. While viewing it through my binoculars, Jason shouted “Red Knot!”. About 10 feet to the right of the plover, there it was, a Red Knot (#176 in Virginia Beach this year!), just standing on the beach! I snapped some hurried photographs, hoping it wouldn’t fly away. Both birds flushed as we got about 50 yards away, heading around us and landing to our south on the beach again, apparently not too disturbed. Walking further up the beach, we encountered 3 additional Red Knots, with a group of another Black-bellied Plover and 2 Ruddy Turnstones. These made for a few better photographs, although a pair of walkers coming from the north ended up flushing them. We ran down the beach, higher up near the dunes, to get downstream of the birds for better looks, before they were again flushed by the same walkers. But, it didn’t matter, I was excited for several reasons to see these birds. Firstly, I just added Red Knots to my life list in February, when my fiancé Ruth & I saw one at Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks on a very cold day. The bird today, were the first time I’ve ever observed them in their ‘red’ breeding plumage, and they were also the first one I’ve ever seen in Virginia, therefore also a new bird for my yearly county list, making them #176 in Virginia Beach in 2015. When we arrived at the Dune Trail, we took it up to the Loop Road, forgoing the last section of beach since so many people were out on it. On the Dune Trail, Eastern Towhees were seen, and one Prairie Warbler was heard off to the south. We did one last go at the Bay Trail, though nothing new turned up unfortunately though we spotted a Great Egret over the water, and a Carolina Wren sang from the grove of trees behind the visitor contact station. After this I headed off from the park, and opted not to make a stop at Princess Anne WMA since I was again exhausted. Jason went on to try for the Anhinga that has showed up at its 2014 nesting site again along Blackwater Road in Chesapeake. So what started out as an easy day, with just a couple miles of walking planned, turned into a 10.5 mile long adventure, but, it was well worth it!

Great Egret foraging in the shallows of the E-Pool at Back Bay NWR!

Tuesday, we had warm weather in the 80s and sunny skies. I probably should have gone out hiking, but I was burnt out after the last week! On Wednesday, mostly cloudy skies that looked fairly threatening moved in during the evening hours, and though I hadn’t planned a hike or taken my gear to work, I don’t think I’d have gone out anyway. Thursday, taking in a third straight day of rest, we had similar conditions with heavy looking clouds moving in during the afternoon. But, on Friday evening, I made it out for a post-work hike at Back Bay! From the moment I arrived it just felt like it was going to be a good outing. On the entry road, I spotted some Eastern Towhees, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and several Ospreys. Just after parking and stepping out of the vehicle, a Prairie Warbler was calling from a tree just east of the parking lot, offering good looks and a couple identifying photographs. Though they're common in the park, it was nice for one to show up right in view here, instead of having to hunt them down in the scrubland like usual. I quickly walked along the visitor contact station and worked my way towards the small pond, then down the boardwalks to the Bay Trail. Perched in the grove of trees nearby was a Northern Cardinal and Red-winged Blackbird, both calling loudly. I'd hoped to see a warbler or two along the Bay Trail, but as I walked it westward, nothing whatsoever flushed, so I turned around at the pond, heading back towards the Loop Road. I stopped for a moment at the cypress grove at the eastern end of the trail, but nothing was moving around here and it appears that this spot, a hot spot just a week or two ago, has now finally cooled off. Coming into the park, I had it in my mind that perhaps if I walked the beachfront, that maybe I'd pick up some shorebirds I hadn't yet seen, hoping for a possible Whimbrel or Black Tern. I took the Seaside Trail boardwalk down to the beach, seeing a Great Egret on the E-Pool next to the parking lot, and another Northern Cardinal along the boardwalk itself. On the beach, the wind was really driving into shore, blowing sand inland.

Yellow-bellied Slider atop a log at Back Bay NWR!

The crashing waves have carved out the beach considerably, and it was a bit difficult to walk on given how moist it was just beneath the surface. While attempting to walk along the water's edge, a wave rolled over my feet, and I thought to myself just how terrible a Sanderling I would make. Speaking of which, Sanderlings and Semipalmated Sandpipers were both present, though they were the only shorebirds seen between the Seaside and Dune Trails. Only a pair of gulls passed overhead, otherwise, birds here were nonexistent. So, I abandoned my plans to walked the beach towards False Cape, and instead walked up the Dune Trail back onto the Loop Road. Along the boardwalk just prior to reaching the Loop Road, a Yellow-breasted Chat and a Blue Grosbeak were seen up on the power wires. This was only the second chat I've ever seen, having just added this species to my life list a couple weeks ago after finding one in False Cape State Park to the south. Excited, I snapped some shots, but was in a poor spot given the light streaming in from the west. I tried to work around the bird, but it dropped down into a thicket unfortunately. The Blue Grosbeak though, in a surprise move, flew right at me, landing in a shrub nearby, and though shaded a bit, I was able to get a nice photo showing off its blue plumage! I walked the eastern side of the Loop Road around to where the West Dike Trail begins and then continued onward. With the sunlight facing me from the west, I spent most of my time focused on the impoundments to the east side of the trail. Walking along the C-Pool, I picked up a Yellow-billed Cuckoo gliding over the ditch and into the nearby forest canopy. Nearby, a Barn Swallow was snapping water off the ditch's surface, and several Great Egrets were visible, standing tall out in the marshes. As I approached the 'island' of trees along the southwest corner of the pool, I noted a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds again in the same spot as seen on Monday, but also noted a lack of Eastern Kingbirds at the park, of which I didn't see a single one for the first time in a while. Near here, I spotted a large Red-bellied Watersnake that swiftly moved off the shoulder into the ditch, and a few minutes later also saw a Northern Watersnake swimming along the water surface down the ditch.

Our most common resident shorebirds here in Virginia Beach, a Greater Yellowlegs!

Clearly, the reptiles are out enjoying the start of summer weather. The Black Scoter I had seen last Friday was nowhere to be found today again, so it is clearly gone from the area at this point. Walking up near the C-Storage Pool it was obvious that much of the water had recently been drained from this usually deeper-than-the-others pond. This pool is now mostly mudflats, giving a great amount of habitat back to the shorebirds. And today, they were taking advantage already. As I arrived at the northwest corner of the pool, I could see birds walking around, and as soon as I got the binoculars up, I about jumped for joy, seeing two black & white birds with long legs & neck, clearly Black-necked Stilts (#177)! These are the 2nd and 3rd stilts I've ever seen in Virginia, and the first ones ever in Virginia Beach. I snapped lots of long range photographs, then scanned the rest of the pool. Canada Geese, 14 Mallards, and a few Greater Yellowlegs were out walking the flats as well. Several peeps were also visible, but too far out for me to confidently identify. Walking along the B-Storage Pool, the same American Coot that has been sighted each outing over the last couple of weeks was again in the same area of the main pond mudflats. A pair of Greater Yellowlegs, also seen every outing recently, were in their spots again. And, this time I saw a male Orchard Oriole flush from the trees on the west side of the trail. Entering the maritime forest, an Indigo Bunting was singing loudly from a perch that it seems to use often, and a Mourning Dove flushed from the A/B cross dike, in sight just beyond the gate. A pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers was seen flying over the roadway, disappearing quickly into the forest, and several Great Crested Flycatchers were also observed making their raucous Wheeep calls, then landing on open perches. No cuckoos were seen in the forest this outing, and it wasn't until I had reached the south exit of the forest, turned around, and walked halfway back before I heard my first Prothonotary Warbler. I've been hearing at least 2 of these each pass through the forest over the last couple of weeks. Exiting the north end of the forest, I stopped to chat with Kyle, one of the park staff that had driven past. As soon as he had taken off, I noticed that in addition to the coot and yellowlegs, an Eastern Cottonmouth had taken up residence on the mudflat in the center of the B-Storage Pool. This snake was laying out of the water, with its head raised high up, moving slowly around the mudflat, very close to both bird species. It was very interesting to observe the three animals in such close proximity to one another. I was a bit curious if the Cottonmouth was capable of taking prey as large as a Greater Yellowlegs, or even the Coot, but it appears it didn't want anything to do with either, because if it had, there was nothing to stop it.

An adult Bald Eagle passed by the Moon on Friday evening at Back Bay NWR!

Several times, the birds moved within just a few feet of the large snake, before the snake finally decided to cruise off along the water surface back to the shoreline marshes. While observing this in the middle of the pool, a Raccoon also appeared on the far shoreline, walking along it, meandering in and out of the reeds and offering up some photographs. Continuing north along the B-Storage Pool, I found a female Red-breasted Merganser at the northern end, the first I've seen out here in a few outings, though not a rare sighting by any means. From the West Dike, I could see 4 Glossy Ibis walking around out on the B-Pool's marshes, the first I'd seen on the day. I passed the pumphouse, and scanned the C-Storage Pool, finding both Black-necked Stilts still out on the exposed mudflats. I had figured they would probably move on but they were there for at least an hour and a half between my two passes of the pool. This second time, they were in quite a bit closer and I was able to get some better, although still not stellar, photographs to be able to prove the IDs. After watching them for a few minutes, I continued north to the C-Pool. From far off, I could see a large bird to the north flying out over the marshes. Noting that all the egrets on the marsh took to flight, and seeing many crows or blackbirds chasing the bird in the air, I figured it was either an Osprey or an eagle. It turned out to be an adult Bald Eagle, making several passes over the marshes, then landing up in the tall trees along the dike trail to halt the attacks by a ravenous Red-winged Blackbird. I walked up towards the tree as quiet as I could, hoping to be able to view it on its perch, but a biker rode past me, and caused it to flush from the tree. It made a couple of sweeps and I took a few photographs as its wings tilted its body into good light, capture one nice shot with it very close to the Moon as a backdrop before it flew off to the west! The rest of the way up the West Dike was dominated by Red-winged Blackbirds, with a couple cardinals and a Great Crested Flycatcher seen where the trail banks to the northeast on the final straightaway. I then walked the Loop Road's west side up to where the fishing 'pier' splits the D-Pool, following the song of a Prairie Warbler to the eastern side of the Loop Road for a viewing opportunity. It was amazing how the strong wind today was carrying the sounds of birds.

A Dragonfly (not sure on the species) with a beautiful background seen at Princess Anne WMA!

This warbler sounded as if it was 20 feet away, but it was more like 500 feet away. I saw another pair of Yellow-breasted Chats, and a single one nearby also, bringing my count for the day to 4, the most I've ever seen in a day, by a factor of 4. Several Purple Martins were seen on the wire across the E-Pool near the visitor center, and a Great Blue Heron & Great Egret were stalking fish in the shallows. I walked the Bay Trail to the boardwalk, and around the small pond back to the parking area, not noting anything new in terms of birds, though seeing 3 of the rodents I've seen a lot of recently (still not certain on what they are). I headed out from the park at 7:05 PM, feeling very fortunate to have added the stilts to my county list, and having seen so much wildlife on just a beautiful evening. Sunny skies and weather around 70 degrees F allowed me another nice morning of birding on Saturday! I headed down to Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area in southern Virginia Beach, hoping to maybe sneak in a less common shorebird species like a Pectoral Sandpiper. I figured it was worth a shot to explore the park since no one has posted any checklists on eBird from here since May 9th (3 Saturdays ago). On the way along Munden Road, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks flew off the overhead wires, landing in the field north of the road which currently has corn (roughly a foot tall) growing up across it. Earlier in the year I'd gotten a few Horned Larks on this field, a life bird at the time, so I always pay close attention just in case. A pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also flew across the road near here. At the parking area, I headed down the entry trail to the south towards the collection of 5 southern impoundments. Walking this trail, the vegetation was about waist high in the center, though there are well worn tire tread marks on either side of the road that make for easy walking. The forest edge on the east side of this trail is a good spot for seeing birds in the morning, with the sun shining from the east and lighting up all of the canopy.

The brilliantly colored male Indigo Bunting, seen here at Princess Anne WMA!

Today, there was several Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and American Goldfinches seen along the trail, flushing several times, typically staying out ahead of me no matter how silently I thought I was walking along. A Great Egret and a Snowy Egret were seen in the disappearing puddles on the east side of the trail. Reaching the pinchpoint in the trail that separates the northern and southern halves of the Whitehurst Tract, I headed into the southern section. Interestingly, the forest that had grown to about 10 feet or more tall just south of here (between the western pond and the northern & middle ponds) has been clearcut. A portion of this had been done prior to my last May 9th outing, but now the entire section is gone. I assume this has something to do with providing suitable habitat for migratory songbirds as they pass through, but since I don't work for the refuge I can't know for sure. On the northern impoundment (where the Ruff was found last fall), I could make out a Greater Yellowlegs from the west side. Following the trail on this western edge to the south, I walked to the southwestern corner of the middle impoundment, then turned to the east. This section of trail has quite tall vegetation, close to chest high depending on how tall a person you are. I made sure to spray myself down with deet before venturing out into the park, fearing chiggers & ticks given the height of the grasses, so hopefully I don't wake up tonight with intense itching. I've had chiggers once, and once was once too many times. Anyways, I'd highly recommend high percentage deet if you're heading out into this park during the heat of summer, though it is obvious that not too many folks (at least in terms of birders) use this park in non-migration seasons.

A Halloween Pennant (Dragonfly species) seen at Princess Anne WMA!

Back to the birds though, heading east from here I walked the trail that splits between the middle and southernmost impoundment. No birds could be seen on the southernmost impoundment, which is now fully covered in vegetation and lacking water except in the outlining ditches. On the middle impoundment, a single Greater Yellowlegs was sighted, but this was the only bird present. Last outing, a pair of Canada Geese were seen here with a Domestic Goose, but were nowhere to be found this time. Reaching the southeastern corner of the middle impoundment, I turned north, walking up the eastern edge of the middle impoundment. It was along here that I had a pair of Killdeer flying around in the air, calling out their rather ear piercing songs that their name is derived from. I continued to encircle the middle impoundment, heading west around its north edge, now split between the northern & middle impoundment. Three Mallards could be seen on the northern impoundment, another Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeers, and a pair of Snowy Egrets..and that was it for the birds. The female Bufflehead that had been sighted several times at the beginning of the month was not seen this time out. Hopefully it moved northward on its own, as it didn't appear injured when I'd seen it. Plenty of species of dragonflies were visible all across the park, including Eastern Pondhawks, Needham's/Golden-winged Skimmers and Halloween Pennants, with a few I just can't yet identify properly. Reaching the pinchpoint of the two halves of the park, I headed up into the northern half, following the treeline counterclockwise around. I finally spotted an Eastern Kingbird near here, and more American Goldfinches were seen. Red-winged Blackbirds were also fairly common. I ended up walking up towards the old farmhouse, where segments of PVC piping are all laid out in the yard, and two centrifugal pumps as well. The staff must be doing something related to the pumping of water into the impoundments, perhaps laying new segments of pipe to reach more impoundments than the current system can handle?

The 5th Yellow-breasted Chat I encountered during the month of May, after going the rest of my life without ever seeing a single one!

From the farmhouse, I walked down the road back to the parking area, seeing Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Blue Grosbeaks, Mourning Doves, Indigo Buntings, Northern Cardinal, and Turkey Vultures along the wires & in the sky. At the parking area I decided to check out the Beasley Tract to the north since I'd never walked it before. I didn't get too far though, as I'd reached the first open impoundments, the grasses were chest high and I just decided I'd had enough of walking through them. I could see from there that at least 20 egrets were out on the now mudflats though. On the way back again to the parking area, I found a snakeskin that was about 3-4 feet long, though whatever shed it had already moved on. From the parking area this time, I opted to walk the entry trail one more time, after seeing a sparrow near it that I couldn't identify (I'm still looking for my first Chipping Sparrow of the year here in Virginia Beach). Walking the entry trail again yielded the same species though I did find a cooperative Yellow-breasted Chat on the first east-west cross trail. Also, a Common Yellowthroat was seen in the same tree, kind of neat to see these two 'warbler' species side by side momentarily. After swinging around south again to the pinchpoint, I headed back to the car along the entry trail, snapping some American Goldfinches along the way, showing off their beautiful breeding yellows & blacks. After my trip to Pungo, I spent a half hour driving around the streets of Thoroughgood, attempting to locate the Mississippi Kite that has been seen up there to no avail. I drove around the area, but a large number of folks flocking the streets for garage sales might have the birds a little spooked. Also, I’m not quite sure where the nest is, but it is somewhere up in one of the taller trees I imagine. I will have to give that one another shot here soon, as this would be a life bird for me, and given that its right in my home county, it'd be a bummer to miss out on again for the second year in a row! Hopefully it cruises over to my neighborhood of Kings Grant just across the Lynnhaven River, as others have in fact seen it on flyovers in the area. 

Either an American Lady or a Painted Lady (Butterfly) with wings folded closed, seen at Princess Anne WMA in Virginia Beach!

On Sunday morning, we were again blessed with beautiful blue skies. With the amount of times I’ve been down to Back Bay recently, I decided I needed a break and instead headed over to First Landing State Park at 7 AM. I’ve been trying to find a Hairy Woodpecker the last few outings since I’ve yet to see one in Virginia Beach this year, and it is the last one for that family of birds I need to find. Parking out on 64th Street, I walked in as I usually do, turned south on the Cape Henry Trail. In the marshy patch where the boardwalk connects to the entry road I could hear a single Prothonotary Warbler calling, which is the 3rd time I’ve heard one in this spot in as many outings. Following the Cape Henry Trail around yielded some Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice but not much else. I walked the Long Creek Trail to the Osprey Trail, and again, it was very quiet, though I spotted two Fowler’s Toads on the trail, which was a neat surprise. The Deerflies are now out in force, and were quite ravenous along the trails. Had I been counting the number I had to kill,  it was over a hundred by the end of the morning, even with spray on from head to toe. When I reached the Osprey Trail, things picked up, as they usually do here. I had an Ovenbird fly in close, landing on a branch just off the trail, and posing for a dimly lit photograph before disappearing again. Also, a pair of Brown Thrashers were seen nearby on the trail, doing their best to stay one step ahead of me as I slowly crept up on them. Nearing the Osprey nesting area, I could already hear their shrill voices calling out to let their neighbors know that someone was approaching. As I passed the first close nest, I could hear a Northern Parula singing up in the trees, in the same spot along the trail I’d heard one the last outing, and I also had at least three Red-headed Woodpeckers zooming around in the woods to the north where the dead trees ring the first tidal creek. Just before reaching Broad Bay, a Raccoon was sighted in the marsh grasses near the spill-over pond, and I was able to get in a good spot in front of it without giving myself away. As it fed and crept along, it finally came into an opening, staring directly at me for a photograph before darting into the grasses again.

The 6th Raccoon I've encountered this year at First Landing State Park, and about the 12th overall on the year, way up from any other years out here!

The wind was blowing right at me, so this one had no idea I was even there until it laid eyes on me, a nice switcharoo from the norm! I continued towards the beach at Broad Bay, walking along to where the first bridge is located where I planned to grab a drink of water, given the hot & humid weather. As I reached the bridge after seeing a number of dragonflies just off the trail, I inadvertently spooked a Spotted Sandpiper that was on the sand into flight. The bird flew back to where the trail comes down to the beach, so I had to walk back again to try getting a photograph. I was successful the second time, and continued on the walk westward. Another parula was heard calling between the two tidal creeks, but again I couldn’t locate the little bugger. The second overwash pool was completely empty of water for the first time I’ve ever seen. This little pond typically gets filled when large waves push the water of the bay over the beach into it, but I guess it has been a while since conditions have been right. Small fish will end up trapped here, making it a nice stop for wading & shorebirds looking for an easy meal. At the second bridge, the western one, quite a few Blue Crabs were seen hanging out in the incoming tidal waters of the creek the bridge is built over. Some of them were seen snapping at passing minnows, but none appeared to get captured. I walked up the new route around White Hill, then down west along the Long Creek Trail all the way up to the bridge crossing White Hill Creek. Though mostly quiet through this stretch, I did see a beautiful male Eastern Bluebird at the bridge, though it flew past too fast for a photo. Walking back eastward across the park I stuck with the Long Creek Trail, since the sun was in my face, and I figured the forested trail would help my eyes a bit more than the more open Osprey Trail would. Along the trail, I finally picked up a Northern Parula that I could spot, high atop the forest canopy for a brief time frame. Great Crested Flycatchers were abundant, as were Woodpeckers, but not the one I was after. Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers were both encountered here. Upon reaching the junction with the Osprey Trail, I continued back towards the parking area, seeing another Red-headed Woodpecker, and several Ospreys along the way, with a single Green Heron flyover. Once I arrived back at the vehicle, I had a Gray Catbird land in a nearby tree, offering some actually good shots of this typically hard to see in the open bird.

A Palamedes Swallowtail seen at First Landing State Park along the Long Creek Trail on Sunday morning!

I ended up leaving from here about 10:20 AM, and decided to walk a couple more miles over at Pleasure House Point since I hadn’t made it out there yet this week. Arriving at 10:35 AM, I parked over at the Dinwiddie Drive end of the park, walking in along the stormdrain pond. A pair of Mallards was visible here, and a few Boat-tailed Grackles were making a lot of noise nearby, along with some Northern Mockingbirds. As with my last weekend outing to the park, lots of folks were pulled up with their boats & kayaks out on the sandbars, so all the typical birds that would be there were nowhere to be found. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were noted in several spots, and one Green Green was photographed near the inner creek area. No shorebirds of any species were seen on this outing though, not even Greater Yellowlegs or Killdeer which are common year-round here. One interesting thing though was the Prickly Pear Cacti scattered along the trails are now in full bloom, with their yellow flowers making for a nice image against their green bodies. Songbirds throughout the park were tough to find too in the heat, with a couple Eastern Towhees, some Northern Cardinals, and Carolina Chickadees being seen, but a lack of much variety outside this. Chimney Swifts could be heard overhead, but in the summer, this is a common sound. It appears that with the end of May, unfortunately we’re hitting the slowdown season for birdwatching, where the new species have stopped showing up, and the breeding birds have all been seen already. However, it will not last too long, just a few weeks in fact. In mid-July, migration for the early birds will begin, and shorebirds will lead the way southward into the area once again. This should time out well with my upcoming trip to Indiana & Minnesota over 4th of July weekend when Ruth & I both are able to get some time off work. Throughout August, September, peaking in October and continuing into November, more and more birds will travel through my home region along the Atlantic Flyway. With 23 birds remaining for me to hit 200 species in Virginia Beach (as per my goal at the start of the year), I’m hoping to knock out a few of the residents I’m still missing (Hairy Woodpecker, Chipping Sparrow, Red-shouldered Hawk), but June could prove difficult. If I can add these three species and leave the other 20 for migration, my odds look fairly good. We’ll see what happens though. Tomorrow actually kicks off hurricane season as well, so weather really starts to play a role around here in what can be seen. So even with the birds on the downswing, it is still an exciting time to be in southeastern Virginia!

A Red-headed Woodpecker that was calling rather loudly from the forests at First Landing State Park!