Week Ending December 13, 2015

Particularly wet weather to start the week ended up taking down most of the remaining fall colors, which seems about typical for the first or second week of December. The days continue to get shorter each week as well, though we’re nearing the worst of it, which takes place on the Winter Solstice on 22 Dec. The poor weather continued through about Wednesday and there wasn’t much in the way of checklists being submitted to eBird. On Friday (11 Dec) though, there was a wave of excitement in the form of the first Ash-throated Flycatcher to be seen in the region this year. Karen & Tom Beatty were the first to positively identify this bird, which is a western vagrant that will occasionally show up on the East Coast in November and December. Unique among the flycatchers that would be present now, given that Great Crested Flycatchers are all in southern Florida at the northernmost, this was an easier ID to make than most thought by seeing the bird. While this bird was seen during the ‘open roads’ at Mackay Island National Wildlife Refuge in Currituck County, NC, it is about as close to being in Virginia Beach as it could have been given that one must actually pass through Virginia Beach to reach Mackay, unless they take the ferry across Currituck Sound. The bird was sighted again by others on Saturday it appeared, so perhaps it is sticking around. I’m wondering if it arrived on the strong southerly winds that brought 70 degree temperatures into the region on Thursday, lasting all the way through the remainder of the weekend. As for the sightings inVirginia Beach actual, Royal Terns continue to pop up beyond their expected late date  with being reported on11 Dec by Morton Massey at First Landing State Park. Irregular winter visitors in the form of Pine Siskins (12 Dec / Rob Bielawski / First Landing State Park) and Purple Finches (13 Dec / Gabriel Mapel, Nicole Koeltzow / Pleasure House Point Natural Area) were observed during this week, and the finches were the first seen so far this season here. Fairly rare in winter here, a Blue-headed Vireo was spotted at a feeder mixed in with other birds (12 Dec / Timothy Barry). Noteworthy sparrows of two different types were seen this week, with a Lincoln’s Sparrow present at Pleasure House Point Natural Area on 13 Dec (Gabriel Mapel & Nicole Koeltzow), and Nelson’s Sparrows continuing to be found there by the duo as well as one on 12 Dec (Rob Bielawski). A surprise came nearby in the form of a juvenile Little Blue Heron seen associating with a Snowy Egret (Rob Bielawski, with David & Heather Beloff) on 12 Dec. Several Snowy Egrets were reported at the park, and I have to wonder if others also saw the Little Blue but didn’t scrutinize it for the proper identification. One other species made a first-of-season appearance, that being a Red-necked Grebe off South Thimble Island (CBBT #1) found by Gabriel Mapel & Nicole Koeltzow on 13 Dec. Wintering Baltimore Orioles stopped in at a pair of backyards on Sunday as well, with one showing up at Ron Furnish’s residence, and another to Tommy Maloney’s. Ron’s yard continued to produce unusual sightings with a very late pair of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the first sighted in Virginia Beach since Kristin Swanbeck’s last backyard visitor was report on 14 Nov.

A gorgeous Hooded Merganser drake sliding across the waters of White Hill Lake in First Landing State Park!

This blog is actually my 99th weekly entry, and after next week’s 100th entry goes live, I have unfortunately decided that I will be discontinuing the blog portion of the website indefinitely. For the last two years, I’ve dedicated a great deal of my time to re-living my outings through the blog posts here on the site. Throughout that time, I hope I’ve given any new birder a good series of steps to take to learn more, and a guide on how to move up to the next level of birding, just as I’ve done on my own throughout that time. Now, I’m ready to focus more on other areas of my site, and to focus more time actually outdoors with the birds to try to make myself more knowledgeable. The last two years of blogs has probably been more about myself, than the birds. I’d like the next year to be about the birds. Additionally,  a couple of months ago I was recruited as a volunteer to help with the area for eBird, and I’ll be spending more and more time doing work on their site to make data better for the Virginia Beach area, and other parts of the state as well. I’m also looking forward to building up areas of the site like the ‘Locations’ and ‘Guide’ sections of the website, and there just isn’t enough hours in the day for me to put effort into all these areas. I felt my blog did what I wanted to accomplish over the last two years, and I’ll always enjoy being able to review old posts to see how much I’ve learned along the way. I’ll also still write ‘Articles’ on a non-weekly basis, when events or sightings warrant it, as I’ve done with the Kiptopeke Challenge and pelagic birding trip. So I guess what I'm trying to say is, even with the blog going inactive, this site will continue to provide a huge amount of information, but on an easier to maintain schedule.

Unseasonably warm temperatures caused a great deal of fog throughout the region on Saturday morning!

This week was a tough one for me outdoors given the darkness situation after working hours, and the holidays swiftly approaching.  For this week, I made it out for a great day on Saturday, starting early around 7 AM at First Landing State Park’s 64th Street entrance and heading down the Cape Henry, Long Creek & Osprey Trails. While I was hoping I might come across a Blue-headed Vireo, I got a songbird surprise in a flock of about 25-30 Pine Siskins that were buzzing overhead in the treetops. These are actually the first I’ve identified on my own in Virginia, and the first I’ve ever photographed, though I’ve seen them many times as a kid during my time spent in northern Minnesota. Woodpeckers were abundant, with the 5 more common species being seen (Pileated, Downy, Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker & Northern Flicker); only the Hairy & Red-headed evaded me, though Hairy are a tough find anytime of year here, and the Red-headeds are tough in winter. Hooded Mergansers, Mallards, Canada Geese & Buffelheads were the waterfowl sightings, and I only had one raptor, though it was an adult Bald Eagle, a welcome sight any day. Throughout the 6 mile loop, it was nice to be there early since I barely ran across any other people on the trails. I don’t mind people, but a lot of time they’ll be with dogs that aren’t leashed, which can be a bit irritating and though it is illegal, never seems to get enforced. I’ve had dogs scare off plenty of birds while photographing them unfortunately. With the 70 degree heat coming in pretty early in the day, it made for a beautiful foggy view across White Hill Lake in the center of the park, something I haven’t seen in a while since we’ve had mainly cooler days lately. Only in Virginia does it seem that the weather hasn’t figured out that it is supposed to be winter. Of course, I’m hoping for colder weather since it brings down the more northern birds as their current home ranges get coated in snow and food becomes scarce, pushing them further south. If the weather keeps up as the last few days have been, it is unlikely we’ll see another Snowy Owl eruption year here. Of course, it is usually in late January or in February when our winter seems to hit its coldest conditions, and I’ve even seen 80 degrees on Christmas Day here, so who knows exactly what we have in store this time around.

Nelson's Sparrows are still present at Pleasure House Point Natural Area, or at least one of them is!

After First Landing, I made a quick trip over to Pleasure House Point Natural Area, parking on Dinwiddie Drive and heading south, then west across the park. The mudflats weren’t visible sicne the tide had just peaked, so the hope of shorebirds pretty much went out the window. A few gulls were in the air, but the first excitement was actually a wader. While photographing a Snowy Egret, I realized the bird was actually a juvenile Little Blue Heron, as mentioned in this blog’s opening paragraph. The bill on the Little Blue is a two-toned color, rather than the all black of the Snowy, and the legs are more a greenish yellow, than the typically black legged & yellow-footed appearance of the Snowy. Seeing the species side by side afforded a great comparison, which I got to explain to David & Heather Beloff who I met for the first time nearby as they also snapped photographs of the birds. Tree Swallows were also noted nearby, as were American Goldfinches. Surprisingly, Yellow-rumped Warblers were seen only in small numbers on the day, not like in the past weeks where they were essentially the only birds I could find. Ducks were seen in the form of Gadwalls, Northern Shovelers, and American Black Ducks along Pleasure House Creek, though just in small numbers still. Sparrows proved to be good photography candidates on the day, with several Savannahs & Songs present on the main point, and one pesky Nelson’s being seen as well. I hadn’t seen any reports of the Nelson’s in a couple weeks, so I was wondering if they were indeed still present, so it was nice to get the confirmation. Their time to shine seems to be October & November, if the last two seasons are any indicator at least. After the 8 miles of walking at the two parks, I headed home to lay down, swinging past Kings Grant Lakes on the way but not noting anything strange. As mentioned, next week’s blog will be blog #100, and will be my final weekly entry. Hopefully, whomever does read this blog will continue to check in on the site, as I'll constantly be updating other areas, and still adding articles as mentioned.

Though very similar to the Snowy Egret, this is a Little Blue Heron juvenile showing the two-tone bill and greenish yellow legs!