Week Ending June 7, 2015

The week began just as it was expected, with a nice Monday, but turning quickly to clouds and rain. On Tuesday, we experienced a massive deluge here in Virginia Beach, receiving about 5 inches of rainfall over the course of just a an hour and a half. This rainfall was welcomed by me though, since when it rains like this, I get to go out into the field at work and see how one of my project areas is holding up. Since I work primarily in stormwater control, these downpours give me the opportunity to actually see how the systems I’ve designed are functioning. It is the only real world test for all the theoretical calculations I go through in the design process. So on Tuesday, I drove through the streets of the Lakewood and Shadowlawn neighborhoods near the Oceanfront, taking many photographs while being paid to do so (it felt quite nice). The only trouble was trying to not get my car flooded out while navigating the labyrinth of flooded streets. Fortunately, areas that have been constructed fared very well during the storm, and those that haven’t been finished yet, suffered greatly. 16th Street in particular was a big lake near Cooke Elementary School, and roads were shut down by police to prevent people from flooding out their vehicles, a common practice out here. I’ll include all this information and photographs in a special article on this site soon, but since most folks that visit this site would prefer to read about wildlife, I’ll get back on that track…even though the weather falls within my ‘nature’ center moniker. Well the rains continued Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and clouds remained firm on Friday. I did bring all my gear into the office Friday, and as such, I took off at 3 PM like usual. However, the sun never did come out from behind the overcast skies, and it made for a difficult evening of photography. I headed down to Back Bay NWR hoping to see something new for my yearly list here in Virginia Beach, but sadly came up empty handed in that regard. Arriving at the park about 3:40 PM, many birds were visible on the power lines leading into the park (though no Scissor-tailed Flycatcher like had been seen by someone a few weeks ago). Some of these sightings included Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, American Robin and Eastern Towhee.

White-tailed Deer peaks out of the thick foliage of the D-Pool at Back Bay NWR!

I decided to park nearest to the Loop Road thinking that I’d bypass the Bay Trail due to the way the skies looked, and it already being lacking light due to the foliage even on sunny days. As I got all sprayed up with deet to keep the deerflies at bay, a light mist was falling from the sky. I figured I’d still give it a shot, since I’d driven the 40 minutes down to the park, and with Ruth working at Harborfest in Norfolk all weekend, I might as well use the time to get some exercise. So I headed out down the Seaside Trail to the beach, hoping maybe all the wind and rain would push some birds in close. Last Saturday, two birders spotted a Sooty Shearwater near the beach about 3 miles south of here in False Cape State Park, a bird that isn’t commonly seen from shore. Reading up on it, apparently late May and early June are about the only times they ever move in close to shore, while in migration. So I thought perhaps I had an outside chance of seeing one of these. Well, when I’d reached the beach, it was kind of obvious this wasn’t likely to happen. The winds were really battering the waves into the shoreline, with foam flying all over, and not a bird to be seen in the sky. No birds were on the beach itself either, no Sanderlings even, which are usually the most loyal of the shorebirds here in summer. I did find out afterwards that some folks had spotted a Red Knot further down the beach, however, I headed up over the dunes on the Dune Trail back to the Loop Road to get out of the strong winds and to protect my camera from the mist and flying sand. Walking the Loop Road I spotted yet another Yellow-breasted Chat, making that my 7th seen in the last month after finally adding it to my life list on May 9th. It astounds me now that I’d never seen one before, given how they are showing up everywhere I go this spring & summer. Near the south side of the Loop Road, a White-tailed Deer peeked out from the safety of the D-Pool island, sticking just its head and chest out through the thick foliage, staring intently at me. As I entered the West Dike Trail near here, and continued onward, it was evident that even the Red-winged Blackbirds didn’t care much for the weather. However, Purple Martins were seen cruising above the marshes in large numbers, apparently the dominant species of the day. Perhaps since they feed on insects like mosquitoes, which were out in higher numbers than I’d encountered on previous outings to the park.

An Eastern Kingbird feasts on what appears to be a Needham's Skimmer (dragonfly)!

When I reached the C-Storage Pool (where I’d seen the Black-necked Stilts last Friday on my after-work hike), it was also obvious that no shorebirds were going to be present here for a while. I should have thought about it, but with all the heavy rain we’d gotten through the week, the storage pond water surface elevation was much higher than it had been the prior week. Due to this, there was no mudflats visible, with everything becoming submerged due to the higher water. This in turn will cause all the shorebirds that feed on the mudflats to seek food elsewhere until the water levels again drop low enough for the mudflats to be visible. Of course, this is a natural cycle that occurs all the time with shorebirds shifting their populations to different areas at different times of year. It is just another thing that adds to the excitement of birding for me, everything is connected in some way. Especially rainfall. I continued on south, passing the B-Storage Pool and noting that no American Coot or Greater Yellowlegs were present here for the first time in several weeks. Perhaps the coot finally moved further northward with the rest of its species, as this one was already staying beyond when they typically depart the region. Through the maritime forest I saw some Great Crested Flycatchers and Prothonotary Warblers, which have become fairly standard species in this habitat this spring. Walking to the border road with False Cape, I was hoping to pick up a Chipping Sparrow since this is where I got mine last year, but, no go this time so I headed back north, through the woods and up the west dike yet again. With the overcast skies, and it getting slightly darker all the time, it really made it tough to capture any photographs of quality, but I did add some Eastern Kingbirds and Gray Catbirds to the tally before reaching the parking area. All in all I at least got 7 more miles of walking in, and a few photographs that came out well enough for use on this site. It was supposed to clear off greatly over the weekend, so at least I had that to look forward too!

A Northern Cardinal poses on a branch at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR on Saturday morning!

On Saturday morning when I woke up, the skies were a very dark gray over Virginia Beach. Though, the weather had called for clearing in the morning, it just didn't look too likely. So, instead of hitting the same parks I've exhausted myself on the past few weeks, I decided to take a stab at heading up to the Eastern Shore to try out some of the parks south of Cape Charles. I figured if it did rain, or if the sky never cleared off, at least I wouldn't ever be too far from the vehicle since most of the hikes I do up in that area are shorter than the hikes I do around Virginia Beach. So at about 7:15 AM I headed out down the road towards the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, arriving at the first island at 7:40 AM. I spent a considerable amount of time birding this island during January and February, ever Friday after work as a matter of fact. Throughout those couple months, the islands were a great place to view waterfowl out on the waters of the bay. During June though, it is truly a different world. With temperatures just below 70 degrees F, but about 99% humidity, it felt quite warm outside. All of our wintering waterfowl have headed north at this point, except for the Mallards, Canada Geese and Wood Ducks that summer here in southeast Virginia. So when I got out of the car, and immediately spotted a group of 3 Black Scoters on the water, I was a bit surprised! Additionally, there was a fourth bird, a male, sitting on the rocks on the east side of the island. Outside of these birds though, everything was as expected at the islands. Dominated by Rock Pigeons right now, there wasn't a whole lot else on the island itself. A few Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls were seen flying around off the shoreline, but no shorebirds were present today. A couple of Double-crested Cormorants rounded out the sightings and I headed out northward along the bridge. 

One of many Eastern Cottontails seen on Saturday morning, this one looks to be a youngster!

After crossing the bridge, the skies were actually beginning to clear a bit over the Eastern Shore like I had hoped. Though it was my intent, I couldn't believe it was actually working out. I pulled off into the visitor center of Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR at the base of the Seaside Road and parked here. On the way in, a White-tailed Deer was standing on the side of the road, but quickly jumped off into the thick brush to safety. From the visitor center lot, the Butterfly Trails travels a half mile or so southeast with a short spur heading to the rest area next to the toll gates to the CBBT. I started walking the trail, finding a number of Common Grackles being quite loud in the high trees on the west side. At the spot where you can see through to the fence, and the rest area, there was a single White Ibis walking around in the grass, which I found a bit puzzling. American Robins, and Northern Cardinals were encountered quickly, with one cardinal giving some great looks just as the dark clouds overhead started to break upon, revealing the beautiful blue behind. Walking the short spur trail towards the rest area, several Eastern Cottontails were visible, some of which looked to be youngsters given their small stature. They appeared to be feeding heavily on the abundant clover lining the trail. Indigo Buntings, and Common Yellowthroats were heard along this short trail but not seen yet. Continuing on southeastward along the Butterfly Trail, I did start to see quite a number of butterflies. Several different species that I'm not yet familiar with, though am starting to learn their ID process as well. A good portion of the north side of the trail has now been clear cut which is giving the deer a fantastic habitat to inhabit. One individual was seen in close range, showing two antler stubs in velvet, and 3 additional deer were seen a few minutes later out in the brush, bringing the total to 5. Reaching the other end of the trail, where a small parking area is, I continued down the gravel roadway towards the observation area out over the marshes. One bird passed by me that may have been a cuckoo, but I couldn't get a solid enough look. At the overlook, a few Snowy Egrets were seen very far out, and a few Laughing Gulls were out in the air, and on the ground as well. I turned and headed back towards the car, noting quite a few more butterflies on the way back, but not a ton of birds. I did hear some Prairie Warblers calling from a distance, and picked out an Indigo Bunting at the top of a tree though. Also, an Orchard Oriole was seen, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was zooming around a honeysuckle thicket, but it never allowed a photograph. Arriving back at the car I headed out from the parking lot, down the Seaside Road, photographing a Prairie Warbler in the process. I opted to go check out the kayak launch area of the refuge just to see if anything might be flying over the marshes or the small pond there. One more White-tailed Deer was seen along the roadway, and arriving at the pond, one Mallard & a Great Egret were seen. An Eastern Kingbird also flew in from the marshes, landing in a tree adjacent to a singing Prairie Warbler. 

Another White-tailed Deer, this time a young buck showing the start of its antler growth up at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR!

Driving northward on the Seaside Road, I headed onward towards Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve, which is tucked away down Bull's Drive, and isn't marked at all until you arrive at the grassy parking area. Along Bull's Drive, I saw a sparrow hopping around on the side of the road, and as I closed in, it hopped into the grass field next to the roadway. I shot a couple poor photographs from the car, thinking they wouldn't be good enough to ID the bird off, and continued on. Nearing the parking area, I could hear very high pitched, almost insect sounding calls coming out of the fields. I parked, and stared intently at the fields. After a few minutes of staring, a bird flushed from the field, flying fast and low, while another flew in towards it. I got the binoculars on it and realized they were both Horned Larks, a species I just added to my life list on April 5th down in Virginia Beach. I snapped a couple photographs from a long way off once the birds finally landed, but their camouflage is just stellar in this habitat, so they didn't turn out. Satisfied with what I saw, I started hiking the trails of the park instead of standing in the parking area. There is one main trail through the park, that basically splits between the songbird habitat of a former farm field, and the forest to the east, with a portion walking along a man made levee along the coastal marshes. I walked this trail clockwise, heading northward from the parking area first, and arriving back at the car from the east. Walking through the dense songbird habitat, I could hear birds all around. Seeing them however, was a bit of a problem since the thick brush is about 8-10 feet tall, meaning you can really only see the edges. 

A beautiful Eastern Tailed-Blue sitting on a piece of clover, showing just how small, yet colorful this butterflies are!

One Yellow-breasted Chat was seen through a crack in the thicket, and both a Field Sparrow and Prairie Warbler were sighted on a power line that runs along the boundary of the park, fortunately high enough up to be seen. Indigo Buntings were heard all along the walk, and Turkey Vultures were seen soaring overhead. Once the trail reaches the northern boundary of the park, it heads eastward towards the coastline. Along this stretch, a short mammal crossed the trail far out ahead, and I believe it was a fawn deer, but I'm not positive. As I neared the forest at the east end of the songbird habitat, I could already here several species of birds calling included Eastern Wood-Pewee, Pine Warbler, and even an Ovenbird! The stretch here through the forest is a quick piece, and as I exited again out onto the marsh's levee system, I heard a Ruby-throated Hummingbird zoom past, and also turned my head just in time to see a Green Heron that must have been spooked by my movement. It quickly went up into the trees where I'm sure it landed on a branch and was peeking at me but I couldn't re-spot the bird. Along the levee system, Red-winged Blackbirds and Laughing Gulls dominated, with a few Indigo Buntings seen and a single Orchard Oriole male perched atop a tree. Birds weren't the only animals out and about on the day, with a number of reptiles being seen also including a Black Ratsnake, a Black Racer, and a Mud Turtle. Also, the insects were surely out with lots of dragonfly and butterfly species present, and quite a few Deerflies and Mosquitoes as well. Later I'd find a few ticks on me, and I'd have to guess this is where they came from as the levee is all grass, though it was trimmed down recently. Many Laughing Gulls were observed standing on the ground in the marshes and I'm curious if a number of them nest here like they do along the causeway leading to Chincoteague further up the eastern shore. Coming around the southeastern corner of the trail system, there was 4 Snowy Egrets out on the marshes with a group of 4 White Ibis, further adding to the species count. From here, the trail travels back through the forest again before spilled out onto the songbird habitat once more. In the forest this time, while stopping to photograph a butterfly, I heard what I presume to have been a White-tailed Deer run off through the woods behind me, and heard it 'hissing' from a distance. Nearby, I noticed some movement along the ground just off the trail, and was delighted to find through my binoculars that there was a pair of Northern Bobwhite walking through the underbrush! I have only seen Bobwhites one time in my life, on April 21, 2012 at Back Bay NWR. They were so quick to disappear that I wasn't able to photograph them, and thus have kept them off of my life list since I couldn't prove that I'd seen them. 

Laughing Gull flying past at Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve on Saturday!

Well, today, 3 years later, I finally snapped my first photograph of one! The pair were quick to disappear into the forest, but I snapped 3 quick photographs that at least show and distinguish the species. My only concern here was that perhaps these were domesticated Bobwhites, given that a landowner adjacent to the park has a set of at least 6 Indiana Peafowl (peacocks). I could constantly hear the peacocks calling, quite an unnerving sound to hear when you're out in the woods, and definitely one that feels very out of place here in Virginia. From what I've researched though, these Bobwhite were most assuredly wild, and the fact that they were far removed from that property, and both flushed into the air helps prove that they were indeed wild. While passing from there back towards the car, a few more species showed up to tack on to the list such as Northern Mockingbird and Northern Flicker. When I arrived back at the car, I could again here the sounds from the field that I'd heard earlier. I was thinking that they might not have been the larks calling, and that they sounded like a Grasshopper Sparrow, a species I'd never seen, but had listened to on the computer while trying to learn more bird songs. I couldn't see any though, so I hopped in the car and started to head down the road, when I heard one in very close. I stopped and got out of the car, and there it was, moving very slowly through the vegetation in the field. It then flushed and landed in close to the road, where I was able to photograph it. A second one also flushed, landing near the first one, and I spent the next 15 minutes or so trying to get an ID worthy shot of the birds, though having viewed them in binoculars and confirmed that they were indeed Grasshopper Sparrows, another life bird! It had been quite a while since I added a pair of lifers to my list, so this was a big moment! After jumping up and down a bit, I hopped in the car and headed down the Seaside Road.

After a while of scanning this field, I finally spotted this Horned Lark that was camouflaged perfectly outside of Magothy Bay Natural Area Preserve!

Next up on the itinerary was a stop off at Kiptopeke State Park! After paying the $5 entry fee and heading to the gravel parking area near the playground, I headed down to the trails. Before I could even reach the trailhead, a pair of swallows could be seen perched up in a tree near the jungle gym. I walked over to them, getting very close without frightening them, and snapped a bunch of shots. Showing a very brown chest and white stomach, these swallows were Northern Rough-winged Swallows, another life bird for me and the 3rd of the day! Now, I can't even remember the last time I added 3 birds to my life list, so this was an utterly amazing day of birding! After taking ample photographs of the pair, I headed down the Raptor Trail, which goes south, then bends to the east towards Route 13, the primary road running up and down the Eastern Shore. Along the trail, I got looks at some Brown-headed Cowbirds and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher as well as some vultures flying overhead. Where the trail meets up with the Taylor Pond, I hopped into the covered observation booth, peeking out onto the water. There was a group of gulls out on the pond, mostly Laughing Gulls but with Herring & Great Black-backed Gulls mixed in as well. No wading birds or waterfowl were seen on or around the pond though so I continued on, taking the Songbird Trail around clockwise, heading first through the large grassland meadow. Here, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Orchard Orioles were encountered as well as some Indigo Buntings. A Carolina Wren was also heard here singing from the tree line on the north. The Songbird Trail follows very closely to Route 13 as it travels south, though it runs through a very thick stand of young pine trees, and sounds from the road are pretty well buffered. Within the thick trees, not many birds were seen, but one Northern Flicker did fly down the trail on two occasions as I approached, and I found a Wild Turkey feather on the trail, though I can’t speak to where it actually came from or if someone had placed it there. Wild Turkeys are quite common along the Eastern Shore though, given the vast agricultural areas so it’s plenty possible that it was actually just shed here. Where the Chickadee Trail cuts away from the Songbird Trail at the second junction I took it towards the Mockingbird Trail, then headed down that way to the Bay Overlook.

A new one for my life list! This is a Grasshopper Sparrow, sighted on the same field as the Horned Lark above!

With the sun shining, the view over the Chesapeake Bay was a gorgeous one today. Beautiful blue/green waters, with forest running all along the ledges here made it a perfect spot to be at. Unfortunately I didn’t have my shorter lens that excels at landscape shots, as this wouldn’t made for some pretty shots. Many gulls, Brown Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants were visible out on the waters of the bay, and soaring overhead. Since my last visit to the park, the state park service has apparently completed construction on a new trail that runs from this overlook back towards the parking area, hitting the Baywoods Trail first. Ruth & I actually walked a portion of this before it was a full fledged trail on accident a couple years back, thinking at the time it would make a good trail. Apparently our thoughts were heard by someone! This new trail winds through the forest a hundred or so feet parallel to the ledges that overlook the Chesapeake, making for several great views over the water. Through this stretch I caught sight of a few Great Crested Flycatchers and while rejoining back up with the older trails at the Baywoods Trail, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo briefly showed itself in the trees above. Eastern Wood-Pewees could be heard singing in several places as well, a very distinctive sound that helps ID these birds that look very similar to a couple other flycatcher species. From the Baywoods Trail I headed back up to the parking area, wore out from the day of walking around the Eastern Shore. I hopped in the car and headed back towards Virginia Beach, making a quick stop off at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR in the hopes of doing a bit more walking, but decided to return to the car after realizing I was walking right behind a family that was likely scaring everything away. I paid the $15 toll (yikes) and crossed the bridge back towards Virginia Beach, stopping briefly at South Thimble Island, but finding it overrun with pier fishermen, I didn’t even get out to look for birds. I’d never seen so many folks out walking around on the island, and many boats were close to shore as well, all a firm reminder of why my favorite time to visit this site is in the coldest parts of winter, when people are nowhere to be seen, and the northern birds move south to this point to escape the brutal winter weather further north.

Life bird #3 on the day, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow seen at Kiptopeke State Park on Saturday morning!

While coming back into Virginia Beach, I made a stop along Marlin Bay Drive at Pleasure House Point, just for a quick out-and-back on the trails to see if any birds were around. I ran into Leanne, a coworker of mine who lives just down the street. Ironically it’s the first time we’ve run into each other, even though I’m up there all the time and she lives nearby. After talking for about a half hour I headed out on the entry trail towards the shoreline of Pleasure House Creek, turning eastward first. Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were abundant as per the usual this time of year, and Red-winged Blackbirds were again the dominant species of the park. Not much was around though, and with the weather being so nice out, several boats were pulled up on the sandbars in the main portion of the Lynnhaven, keeping all the birds further out. Six-lined Racerunner lizards were seen scampering around the sand all over the place, their numbers seem to have increased a great deal this year over previous years. Least Terns were sighted, and a few songbirds like Brown Thrashers, Song Sparrows and Boat-tailed Grackles were also, but really nothing out of the ordinary. So after hiking across and back, I headed home for a very late lunch/dinner down at Harborfest with Ruth who had to be working the festival at Town Point Park in Norfolk all weekend long. Fortunately, Cogan’s Pizza was one of the vendors along Waterside Drive, and we were able to get a full pepperoni pizza to take back to her office to feast on, although, for about twice the price as they are just down the road at their actual restaurant. Still worth it though!

Very colorful Thistle blooms at Kiptopeke State Park!

On Sunday morning, skies were partly cloudy when I got up a little before 7 AM, though complete clearing was expected in the mid-morning hours. So, I headed out again, trying to decide where exactly to go. I’d walked about 7 miles each of the last two days, so my legs were a bit sore, but it’s tough to pass up a beautiful day, especially on the weekend when I know I’ll be sitting in an office all day soon enough. My initial thought was to try Stumpy Lake Natural Area for the Hairy Woodpeckers and Chipping Sparrows I can’t seem to tack on to my yearly list. However, given the intense amount of rain we received during the week, I didn’t want to end up on impassable muddy trails like this park tends to feature. Having walked Back Bay on Friday evening, and with Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area becoming more of a haven for ticks and chiggers than birds this time of year, I opted to head over to First Landing State Park, which is apparently my go to spot when I can’t make up my mind of where else to go. Being a forested park, this one also allows for Hairy Woodpeckers, so it wasn’t a bad choice either. So I arrived at 64th Street about 7:30 AM and headed into the park along the entry road, breaking left at the boardwalk of the Cape Henry Trail just inside the park. The last couple of outings I’ve seen or heard Prothonotary Warblers at this spot, but none were calling today unfortunately. I always love seeing their beautiful yellow plumage in summertime. Along the Cape Henry Trail, I could hear a couple Red-headed Woodpeckers calling from the dead tree areas between the lake and the roadway, and I encountered a Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched high up on a branch, almost indistinguishable from the branch except for its long bill sticking out. When I arrived at the lake (Lake Susan Constant), I took the secondary trail up to the roadway, headed west on the road, and took off down the start of the Long Creek Trail. Often times, this stretch of the walk is a quiet one, and this outing was no different. It wasn’t until I turned off on the Osprey Trail, and made it up to where the Osprey nests are that the birds made their presence aware to me. Several Ospreys could be heard screeching, alerting every animal around that I was closing in on their location. Red-headed Woodpeckers, at least three of them, were seen in the dead trees east of the first tidal creek, and Northern Parulas began calling in this same spot. These beautiful warblers are very active singers, but are very difficult to actually see since they prefer sitting high atop the canopy.

Song Sparrows are the dominant sparrows now at Pleasure House Point Natural Area for the summer season!

This time of year, the leaves make them a tough bird to isolate unfortunately. So the first few I heard, I didn’t even attempt to locate, realizing that their calls were coming from just too far off the trail to be of any hint as to their location. Nearing Broad Bay, I had a Green Heron fly over quickly, affording me an out-of-focus, backlit image that I could at least ID the bird off if I needed too. At the first tidal creek bridge, I spotted a Northern Watersnake moving along the vegetated edge towards the bay, but staying up in the protected waters. No Raccoons were sighted this time for the first outing in the last few where I’ve been seeing at least one everytime. I walked the Osprey Trail to the junction with the Long Creek Trail, and then headed back eastward towards the oceanfront, walking around the slope of White Hill and into the areas heavily covered in Spanish moss. I was told afterward that the Northern Parulas like to build nests with the mossy materials, and this is perhaps the main reason they are found here in the park, a connection I hadn’t made prior. Along the Long Creek Trail segment, I finally heard a parula singing close enough that it warranted searching the treetops for the culprit. After a few minutes of searching, it finally hopped into view along the top of the tree, then to my astonishment, flew down lower in the canopy where I actually was able to photograph it. Still though, not low enough as to where the photograph would show its entire side, but a photograph where I’m obviously still looking up at the bird. More than good enough for identification purposes after the fact though. Along the remainder of the Long Creek Trail, it was pretty quiet, all the way back to the entry road and the Cape Henry Trail. Here, a pair of Great Crested Flycatcher was seen moving through the tree tops, and a Northern Cardinal male entertained my attempts to photograph it for a few minutes also. When I’d arrived back to the vehicle, the temperature had risen up into the 70s, with blue skies as far as I could see. So, I headed up to Pleasure House Point to try to add another couple of miles on to the 5 I had just walked at First Landing.

One of several Mourning Doves spotted at First Landing State Park on Sunday morning!

After Saturday’s walk at Pleasure House Point failed to turn up many birds, I didn’t really have high hopes for another outing, but it’s always worth a shot. June is just such a down time for the birds here, you never know what you’re going to find. Fortunately, I’m not just a bird photographer though, and at least the park boasts reptiles & plenty of insects as well. Since it was still morning, and the sun was shining in from the east, I parked down at Dinwiddie Drive near the stormwater retention pond, walking into the park southwards towards the primary point. Northern Mockingbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles were encountered immediately, calling from atop the Live Oak groves along the boat canal. At the point, there were a few birds visible out on the sandbars, but unfortunately with the all sunny skies, and the sun streaming downward, twinkling off the water, I couldn’t actually pick out what birds I was seeing. They were most likely Laughing and Great Black-backed or Herring Gulls though given what typically is out here. I’d figured I would have a better chance on my return trip across the park, when the sun should be angling from the other direction if I took long enough. Song Sparrows were again sighted on the salt meadow outside the Brock Center. Mourning Doves were also sighted here, first one singly, then several others flushing as I tried to sneak up on the first; a bit of a slap to the face that I’d missed the others sitting in plain sight while focusing on the lead bird. Continuing on westward, a bunch of folks were out on the small, sandy beach fishing and, taking up the trail with all their stuff. People are not always the most considerate animals at this park, typical of most city parks though I guess, which is why I prefer the national wildlife refuges above all others, since its more about the wildlife than it is the sporting activities for humans. After passing by these folks, I noticed a pair of Killdeer walking around on the mudflats of the inner creek. These are the first I’ve seen at the park this year so far, though they are fairly common birds in the region, inhabiting mostly farmfields year-rounds in southern Virginia Beach. No other shorebirds were seen during the outing though so I was excited to be finding these here within camera range.

One of the toughest warblers to spot up in the canopy in Virginia Beach, this is a Northern Parula, seen at First Landing State Park among several others that were heard calling!

Royal Terns & Least Terns were both seen in the air as I rounded the main cove of Pleasure House Creek. Seeing more people approaching from the west, I decided to cut inland a bit onto the forest trails in this area, spotted a pair of Brown Thrashers and a male Cardinal in the process, before rejoining up with the shoreline trail.  Heading west past the deer carcass pond, I accidentally spooked a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron that was standing atop the outlet pipe to the ditch, waiting to snatch up fiddler crabs (their primary food source) as they travelled out with the tide; one very clever bird! Walking to the west end of the park, then turning back east along the forest trails, my next sighting was that of a female Eastern Towhee. The prickly pear cacti in the park are now shedding their beautiful blooms, so I’m glad to have seen them last week in what must have been full bloom. Also, the yucca plants in the park are flowering, both plants make this seem like a desert here in Virginia Beach, it is quite interesting. Heading back eastward across the park I ran into a group of 4 birders, led by Dana Spontak who is a local birder. He was one of the pair along with Clark Olsen that had sighted a Sooty Shearwater last Saturday at False Cape State Park along the beach. We chatted briefly as we all headed eastward, seeing some Least Terns and a few American Goldfinches in the process before I headed out front, trying not to get in his group’s way. The rest of the way back I walked pretty quick, on tired legs as I neared 7 more miles to tack on to my weekend, about the 10th week out of the last 11 that I’ve surpassed 20 miles while birding (the weekend of my bachelor party I didn’t hit my normal mark since I was with a group of non-birders/non-hikers, though we did get out on one good walk up in the mountains). I arrived back to the main point, unfortunately to find that boaters had taken up their spot on the sandbars, driving the birds that were there earlier out into the reaches of the bay beyond photograph or binocular range. So, I headed back to the car and back home for the weekend. Another beautiful one here in Virginia Beach though, but one of the first weekends I was unable to tack on any species to my county list this year so far. Hopefully next week will get me back on track, but the summer residents that I’m missing from the list are going to be lucky, random sightings rather than ones I can really plan for and execute efficiently. Hopefully by month’s end, I’ll have my Hairy Woodpecker, Chipping Sparrow, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Mississippi Kite…or any combination thereof!

Probably the most common of the tern species in our area this time of the year, this is a Royal Tern, seen at Pleasure House Point Natural Area on Sunday!