Week Ending August 2, 2015

Hot, summer weather continued this week, with almost all the days reaching 90 degrees. On Friday evening again, I walked the beach to False Cape State Park's northern boundary as I've done the past couple of Fridays now. The 90+ degree temperature was enough to make it a tougher than normal walk, but the abundance of birds made it well worthwhile. No Piping Plovers were seen for the first time in the three ‘Fall migration’ outings, but I did spot a pair of Killdeers, one of whom was on the beach & quite a surprise to see there! Semipalmated Plovers were observed in higher numbers this week than last, with 13 individuals counted. So far, no Black-bellied Plovers have showed up to the beach as of yet. Nearing the False Cape line I watched a group of large shorebirds lift off from the beach and fly south, most of the birds were clearly Willets, showing the bright white & black wing patterns even at a significant distance, but I just couldn't make out what the other birds were since they were headed away from me, not showing their bills. They were either Whimbrels (more likely), or Marbled Godwits (less likely but a possibility). Either species would have been an excellent add to this list of birds though if I could have just seen more of them. Sanderlings were again the dominant species along the beaches, which should continue through Fall. Their numbers were likely in excess of my rough estimate of 300 birds, and Willets were in similar numbers to last week at about 35 birds. A single Ruddy Turnstone also was noted about 50 feet across the border into False Cape State Park, and then the bird suddenly flew northward, which was a relief to me as I then didn't have to create a second eBird checklist for the sighting in False Cape, and then start a third for my trip north in Back Bay so the times all worked properly. Thank you Turnstone for making life a bit easier on me with just the 1 checklist being needed.  Terns (Royal, Common, Sandwich, Caspian, Least) in descending order of number seen,Gulls (Laughing, Lesser Black-backed, Ring-billed, Great Black-backed, Herring), and a single Black Skimmer were all observed. No Black Terns which again were my hope, though it is still early as most sightings here in past years according to eBird are mid to late August, but, keeping my fingers crossed each week. Osprey were out in huge numbers today and were never out of sight. Brown Pelicans were in typical numbers at about 15 or so. No waterfowl of any species seen which was a relief after the injured White-winged Scoter I saw a couple weeks ago, and the injured Common Eider seen back in June were both picked up by a local rehabber on Sunday after both were re-sighted up on the North Mile of the beach by refuge staff. Hopefully no more of these very beautiful out of range ducks are found injured this summer along the beach.

A very cooperative White-tailed Deer fawn seen at Back Bay NWR on Friday evening!

On Saturday, I got out to an early start, heading out before 7 AM, I ran out to Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area (Whitehurst Tract) to check for shorebirds, and for the first time in the last couple of weekends I regret to mention that I was a bit disappointed. Of course, I was only disappointed since the last couple of weeks the variety & counts have been pretty firm, but they appeared to take a step backward this weekend, which could probably be chalked up to many reasons. While working my way around the southern group of impoundments counter-clockwise (hugging west edge towards south, then east, then north along the east boundary) in order to keep the sunlight positioned properly for my arrival to the northernmost impoundment that has held the shorebirds recently. To my astonishment though, I noted only four Spotted Sandpipers out on the impoundment. I could hear a Killdeer calling elsewhere, and did eventually run into a few of them further north, but not seeing any here were last week at least a dozen were, was quite a surprise. In fact, the previous visit to the impoundment yielded Least, Solitary, & Spotted Sandpipers, and the dozen or so Killdeer. So for the first time in my several weeks of checking this spot out, the numbers had dropped considerably when they should be increasing. My goal for the walk (as it has been the last couple of weeks) was to spot my first Pectoral Sandpipers of the year, but unfortunately that goal was unmet again this weekend. Perhaps in a week or two they'll start showing up at this site, which seems a perfect habitat, and one that I saw a couple (though at the time was unable to properly ID and have since done so via photographs). I am sure there are plenty of spots throughout Virginia where Pectorals are common, especially during their migration when essentially 'anything goes', however, I haven't yet found any members of the species here that I can count for my 'County Big Year' which still sits at 182 species, with my goal from the start of the year being to identify 200 species by sight. Even if I don't manage to find them here in Virginia Beach this year, the attempt at seeing as many birds as I can here in my home city/county equivalent has definitely challenged me to learn as much as I can about each species and I feel that through the outings & the writings I've tried to share afterwards have surely helped to increase my knowledge of the birds that are found in this region.

Showing its reddish bill & feet, and grayish chest & belly, this is a Common Tern, seen in flight at Back Bay NWR!

But, I'd still like to spot some Pectorals, given that I did see them here last mid-August when seeking out the Ruff that Bob Ake initially spotted. Another Ruff would also be a great bird to see for the first time, but I’m not holding my breath for that one since they’re quite rare up and down the East Coast in the Fall time. I purchased “The Shorebird Guide” this past week, and it has been a fun one to study, and is definitely helping this time of year with those birds being the first migrants to show up in our area. In addition to that book, last week I had purchased “The Warbler Guide”, and “The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior” which goes well beyond just the simpler field identification skills, and focuses more on teaching birders things like migration patterns, what birds eat and why, what habitats species typically use and why, and how to properly be able to tell the age of birds based on feather wear and changed in molt. Incredibly interesting stuff, and I already feel a lot smarter in just a week or so of using it as a reference. I’d recommend it to anyone looking to learn more about birds than just the ability to identify species in the field. Also of importance, I did not hear the Bobwhites during this outing that I've heard while out the last couple of weeks. Perhaps they aren't happy with someone stopping in each week to check them out, and are instead used to this area being a dead zone for birders until mid-August as the eBird reports suggest. With checking the park each week through these hot, summer months, I realize why most folks tend to avoid this area in summertime since the activity of most birds, and the variety of species tends to die down after most were already observed during the springtime.

Still showing some breeding colors, this Ruddy Turnstone is starting its molting period and will lose some of its brightness soon.

I know that not everyone birds according to a list of sorts, or a # of species goal for the year, but the descending amount of activity, and the increase in ticks/chiggers at the park must have something to do with other birders' lack of observations posted for the park during the heat of summer, or so I speculate. And I must say, they are right to do so, as the ticks can get quite bad in this area throughout the hot, humid summers. Fortunately, I've only pulled a few of the blood-suckers out of me this year, relying heavily on high % Deet to keep them off me, but still finding a few individuals unaffected by my efforts to thwart them. A risk that is taken in the name of observing birds though, and therefore, a worthwhile one. After the hour at at PAWMA, I headed back towards home, but quickly changed the itinerary, realizing it might be an opportune time to target a bird I still haven't seen here in my home county, the Hairy Woodpecker. This attempt unfortunately, as with the attempt at Black Terns and Pectoral Sandpipers, also proved futile, as very little bird activity was observed within the roughly 2-mile figure-8 loop through the forests. Upon exiting the forest though, and walking back towards my vehicle, I met up with another birder, Una Davenhill, and was delighted to see several species while chatting, including at least 3 Eastern Wood-Pewees, which while they are plenty common birds, they are a species I've only seen once so far within the Virginia Beach boundaries this year so I consider them quite a catch. We also noted some Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Pine Warblers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Chipping Sparrows, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a Great Egret while standing still in the forested area between the hiking & golf course parking areas. I had plans to swing by Pleasure House Point afterwards, but it was already in the 90s by 10:30 AM, and I was ready to just head home to lay down. I will try to check out PAWMA again next week just to give an idea of what species are seen there since it appears to be an area not many eBirders arrive at during August, unless there is a Ruff present!

A pair of Willets in flight against the beautiful backdrop of the surging coastal wave break!

On Sunday, Ruth & I headed up to the town of Irvington up on the Northern Neck (in Lancaster County), where the owner of her company was hosting a 2-day picnic for the full-time staff and their guests. She was even kind enough to put everyone up in the nearby Tides Inn, which was a really neat hotel, and happened to be less than a mile away from her own property. Situated right on a cove of the Rappahannock River, the hotel offered free usage of bicycles, kayaks, paddleboards, sailboats, motor boats, etc. Ruth tried the paddle board for a bit & I did a little kayaking in a two-seater since it was the only one available. Not long into it, she decided to hop in with me in the kayak since the paddleboard was a bit unnerving, so we pulled back up onto the dock to get her loaded up. Unfortunately, the lady that launched us back into the water from the dock pushed us so the back end went angled into the water, rather than on top of it, and we quickly started to fill with water from the back side until the kayak sank with us still sitting in it. We had to swim back to shore, only 50 feet away, but pushing the swamped kayak back and getting it up-righted was a bit of a challenge. After spending a good chunk of my life paddling in canoes in northern Minnesota, I can see that my first kayak experience was a bit tougher than I expected. Even the feel of paddling in one is just a lot different than canoes, using different muscles since you sit so much lower towards the water. After our swamping of the kayak, we just spent the afternoon at the pool rather than swimming in the river. Just walking around the grounds of the hotel, I could hear Pine Warblers calling, lots of Ospreys out over the cove, and we saw a few Cottontail rabbits as well. We spent the evening over at her boss’ property, situated on a point of the cove and featuring some pretty amazing views of the water. Despite our unanticipated swim earlier in the day, I was really glad we got the chance to spent time up at the hotel, definitely a spot I’d like to go back too sometime. Now that is is August, the shorebird migration should really start to kick into high gear, so hopefully this coming week is a good one, featuring some interesting sights. It’d be nice to get back on pace for my 200 species after not picking up any now the last couple of weeks. 

Showing up this week in better numbers, the Semipalmated Plovers have really begun to arrive at Back Bay NWR!