Week Ending March 20, 2016

While the third week of March started off with some extreme heat, reaching a maximum of 91 degrees F on Wednesday (our warmest day of 2016 thus far), it finished with cooler temperatures as a late season Nor’easter impacted the mid-Atlantic & New England coasts. Temperatures this week dropped a bit to an average daily high of 69.7 degrees F (an 8.2 degree drop from last week’s average), and the average daytime lows also dropped slightly to 52.3 degrees F (down 0.4 degrees); for a second straight week, 0.56 inches of precipitation accumulated through the Monday through Sunday timeframe. Weather conditions early in the week remained favorable for the arrival of spring migrants as southerly winds gave them a nice boost to reach our area. On Monday (14 Mar), the first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers of the year were observed at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Peter Martin) and at Stumpy Lake Natural Area (Jonathon Snyder). Interestingly, this is the earliest known arrival date for this species in terms of eBird reports from past years. The Gold Book lists 30 Mar as their expected coastal plain arrival date, but with the warm winter, it seems they stayed further north than in year’s past, so they were able to arrive here much quicker than usual. I tend to consider their arrival to be the true start of springtime, since they’re the first passerine that returns to our area. On Wednesday (16 Mar), Tracy Tate picked up our first Black-bellied Plover of the year, and she also added the first Purple Martin on Thursday (17 Mar). A White-eyed Vireo was heard calling at Back Bay NWR by Karen & Tom Beatty on Friday (18 Mar), and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow was also added for the first of the spring season here (Tracy Tate at First Landing State Park). While the slow trickle of migrants has begun, rarities in the county were tougher to come by. The Lark Sparrow continues at Back Bay NWR in the same area just northwest of the East Dike gate, and it was observed from Monday (14 Mar, Kim Harrell) through as recently as Saturday (19 Mar, David Clark). With the drop in temperatures associated with the coastal Nor’easter and patchy rain on Sunday, there were no reports from Back Bay NWR to confirm if this individual stayed through the entire week or has decided to move on; it was first observed on 7 Feb by Sue Garvin. As always, the log of ‘Noteworthy Observations’ has been updated for this week, and can be found in the Distribution section of the site, or by clicking Here!

For this week, I was out of town from Friday-Sunday visiting some friends in Charlotte, NC so I did not get to see much in the way of birds. Though I did list some Wild Turkeys along the drive to get my first tick in Mecklenburg County, VA in eBird. On Wednesday, I brought my camera and binoculars to work with the hope of observing my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the season at Stumpy Lake given the reports from earlier in the week at that site. During a rather quick outing at the park, I did pick up at least two Gnatcatchers which were easy to find by their repeated ‘spee’ calls. Since the photographs I took of them were ID-worthy quality only, I have added an older shot of a Gnatcatcher above that was taken at Back Bay NWR in 2014 just so folks reading this get a better view of what one actually looks like. The leaves have started to pop out already, which is going to make things interesting in the next couple of weeks. Another hope of mine at Stumpy Lake was to track down a Yellow-throated Warbler, one of our other early songbird arrivals. I have yet to observe one in Virginia Beach, though they should be present here spring through fall, and I feel Stumpy Lake is a likely spot to find them. There is a good bit of swampy terrain with a very tall canopy above it, similar to the Great Dismal Swamp where they are quite commonly reported. I had one bird calling that I think could have been one, but I couldn’t get close enough to see the bird, and I didn’t want to call a county lifer by just the call, that I’m not that familiar with yet. So in the coming weeks, this might become a post-work destination during the weekdays. From now through the end of May is my favorite time to be outdoors, so in the coming weeks I should hopefully have some interesting photographs or observations to discuss. This week should be an exciting one, with some new birds filtering into the region once the southerly winds hit, and help guide their northward journeys towards their desired breeding grounds, whether here or further to the north.

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