We stood in front of the parking area of Staunton View, scanning the mudflats for Plovers and Sandpipers. We had three scopes, so we could view different parts of the river. A clumsy domestic Muscovy Duck walked around beyond the parking area. A White-eyed Vireo sang. Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets were wading in the rivers. We spotted some white terns we were at first unable to ID, but later identified them as Common Terns. Baxter spotted twelve Black Terns flying around the mudflats. A Ring-billed Gull was seen on the mudflat, along with some Semipalmated Sandpipers. I saw my first Cow Killer wasp in the dirt. The name is a disclaimer, these can’t really kill cows with their stings. We moved on to another nearby viewing spot, where we saw a Least Sandpiper and a cute little Semipalmated Plover. A surprise Dickcissel flew over. We detected it at first by it’s flight call, and Baxter saw it fly down into the forest across for the parking area. We walked to another viewing point, through the forest, seeing a Yellow Warbler. There was not much at this spot, so we decided to move on to another spot. An American White Pelican had been seen here a few days earlier, so we were sad to see it had left. On our way back to the car we met two local birders in the area, Paul Glass and Adam D’Onofrio. We didn’t have internet, so we couldn’t see what spots were nearby. We piled into the two cars and continued down the road until we got internet connection. We had the windows rolled down so we could hear birdsongs, and Tucker heard a Brown-headed Nuthatch. We stopped for a few minutes and heard a Pine Warbler, and a couple of Eastern Wood-Pewees. We had a bit of internet, and were trying to decide where we could go. We could head back in the direction of home and bird on the way, or we could stop at James River State Park for a while, which is also on the way home. We decided to go to James River, and were driving there when the second car we had taken stopped on the side of the road. Robert rolled down the window to talk to us. Paul Glass had just seen the American White Pelican at Staunton View. The Pelican is a rarity inland, so it was worth heading back for. When we arrived there, Paul Glass showed us where the pelican was and we all got to see it through the scopes. We left eventually, satisfied with the pelican, and ended up going to two different gas stations and Dairy Queen. From DQ we headed to Buckingham county, a county I’d never birded in. We birded James River State Park and saw Eastern Bluebirds, Common Yellowthroats, Indigo Buntings, a Wood Duck, an Eastern Phoebe and more. Tucker even saw a Least Flycatcher, which is rare for the location. After that, we drove back to Albemarle and then left for home. We were tired from the day’s trip, but were also satisfied with the day’s birds.
By Ira Lianez
11 young birders showed up for the Hog Island Wildlife Management Area field trip. We had planned to search for shorebirds but the water was high. We saw Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons in the water. We got out of our cars and walked down the road. We saw Pine Warblers, Eastern Kingbirds, Caspian Terns, an Osprey, a Blue Grosbeak and even a Veery. We went to the top of the observation tower, where a Least Bittern had been seen a few days before. We missed the bittern, but saw a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. We walked down a trail to several ponds where we saw Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, tons of Caspian Terns and Great Egrets. We even saw Least and Spotted Sandpipers on a mudflat.
After heading back to the main road, we decided to head to Piney Grove Preserve, the only place in the state to see Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. On our way, we saw two Mississippi Kites. We missed the woodpeckers, but saw an early Red-breasted Nuthatch. This was the earliest fall record in the costal plains region! We were excited about this bird because the sighting could mean it's an irruptive year for the species, and if that were true we would see a lot more of these later in the year.
Photo by Baxter Beamer
Our last stop was Dutch Gap, another spot where we could see a Least Bittern. However, when we scanned the marsh, we didn't see much. We walked to Henricus Park, and scanned the James River. We saw Laughing Gulls, Killdeer and a Great Egret. We walked down a path near the boat ramp and did a better scanning, and noticed two Spotted Sandpipers. We were looking at our sandpiper pictures, when Paul noticed a second species in one of his pictures. This one was darker than the Spotted, so Ezra ran to the car to get the scope, and we started scanning. We ID'ed it as Semipalmated/Western Sandpiper. Semipalmated is pretty common, but Western is only on the coast in winter, and is rare in migration. They both look very similiar, and we couldn't see the distinguishing features from all the way across the river. We eventually had to leave, and were never able to confirm the species. When we got back to Pantops, we had dinner at a nearby Chipotle restaurant. Although this trip wasn't terribly great for shorebirds, we still had a fun day of birding and were able to get some cool species, including a few shorebirds.
By Ira Lianez
We parked at Dutch Gap Conservation Area across the street from an observation platform overlooking the marsh. Northern Shovelers, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, and American Coots were abundant. A couple Blue-winged Teals were a very nice bird for the winter time. I found a furtive Brown Thrasher in some nearby brush, but the bird vanished shortly after the others arrived to see it.
Ducks constantly flew in and out of the dense, brush-covered wetlands. We found some Northern Pintails, American Black Ducks, Mallard X American Black Ducks, and a Hooded Merganser. We reached the end of the wetlands and walked out onto a newly built boardwalk through cattails. I imagined how much easier it would be to see Least Bitterns here now; I still needed them for my life list.
After walking the boardwalk, we continued past Henricus Park and arrived at the overlook of the James River. It was quiet, aside from a few distant Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. After waiting for a few minutes, we heard the sounds of chaotic honking in the distance: geese. We made out long, faint lines over the tree-line across the river. The several thousand Canada Geese approached, slowly becoming louder and louder. We scanned for rarities, finding two Snow Geese mixed in: a very nice bird for the area. Not everyone saw the bird, but the flock fortunately reappeared a few minutes later, and everyone got their eyes on it the second time.
We walked down to the retention pond, finding some Bufflehead and Canvasback.
Our next stop was City Point in Hopewell, where we were hoping to see Orange-crowned Warblers. We arrived and found essentially nothing other than some Bald Eagles.
We set off for our final planned birding location of the day: the Gullmart. As we approached the renown gull Mecca, I noticed two large corvids with nicely-wedged tails: ravens. They were a nice rarity for the location. I had broken my previous record for easternmost raven in Virginia only hours after setting it.
We arrived at the Colonial Heights Ponds and began to scan. We worked our way around the pond to get a better vantage point of the thousands of Ring-billed Gulls and hundreds of Herring Gulls, finding a good number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the process. As we were completing the scan, a stunning Iceland Gull was spotted on the hillside overlooking the pond. A lifer for several, we enjoyed the white-winged beauty before the flock flushed.
We returned to a parking lot laden with gulls.
By Max Nootbaar
We stood at the intersection of Briery Branch Road and 85, near the summit of Reddish Knob, watching and listening to the red crossbills feeding all around us. Crossbill flocks roved about the mountaintop, chattering and singing constantly. Some birds dangled from the cones of table mountain and pitch pines, using their long, sturdy, crossed bills to pry the seeds out from deep within the cones. Other crossbill flocks gathered in the dirt road not more than five feet in front of us, squabbling and moving constantly as they ingested little bits of gravel to aid in their digestion.
On December 30th Logan Anderson led a winter field trip to northern Virginia. Despite the bitter cold, we had a good turn out of 7 young birders. The trip started at Dyke Marsh, where we scanned the Potomac River and walked a few trails, finding fourteen species of waterfowl, including 3 long-tailed ducks and over forty common mergansers. Another highlight was an orange-crowned warbler. We proceeded to the Laurel Hill Equestrian Area, where we successfully chased a continuing clay-colored sparrow. We re-found a male Eurasian wigeon amidst a flock of five-hundred ducks at Pohick Bay Regional Park. We ended the day by standing on top of the parking garage at Dulles Airport, looking for snowy and short-eared owls. We soon found the snowy perched on top of an airport terminal, and as it got darker the short-eared owls began to fly about on the runways as well.
Here are links to two young birder blog posts from the trip:
The Blue Ridge Young Birders met at the Great Valu in Crozet at 7:30 am, and carpooled to Albemarle County Community Park. The Park is situated in the Old Trail neighboorhood, but is fairly underbirded compared to the nearby Old Trail Golf Course area.
We parked and walked down the hill into the park, hearing Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows singing. Shortly, we walked into a sizeable sparrow flock, dominated by Song Sparrows and Field Sparrows. We also found a good number of White-crowned Sparrows singing, and were able to get fleeting views of the striking plumage of adult birds. Several minutes were spent checking every sparrow, until a Lincoln’s was found foraging a few feet away, right below our noses. The bird offered great views, and was a long awaited Albemarle County Lifer for Baxter.
We continued on towards the marsh, where we hoped to find Marsh Wrens. We arrived, and after pishing and playback, none responded. The trail led into thick grasses and brambles, and many Swamp Sparrows were calling, occasionally seen as they flew into cover.
We came into a clearing, and walked the edge towards a second marsh, where the ones who were smart enough to bring boots walked in. The sneaker-wearers watched from dry ground, waiting for Marsh Wrens to show themselves. With no luck, we continued down the edge, stopping briefly to enjoy the fruit of a persimmon tree.
The White-crowned Sparrows were even more abundant at the end of the trail, and many of the juveniles were brave enough to watch us from the tops of the brambles. We saw a rather light-lored and orange-billed White-crowned Sparrow, possibly the rare western gambelli subspecies?
After finishing up at the park, we drove to the main Old Trail to find that it was pretty quiet. The sparrows were few and far between, so we turned around to head back. As we walked the trail, we spotted a dragonfly hovering low over some grasses, and watched it perch, hanging from the blade of grass. A Shadow Darner, a fairly common species that always found flying and rarely lands. A special treat for the dragonfly enthusiasts in the group!
We checked the pond, looking once again for Marsh Wrens, but only found a tame little Pied-billed Grebe. As we returned to the car, we noticed a flock of late Tree Swallows. We got in the car, drove to the nearest gas station, and treated ourselves to honey buns, skittles, and other snacks.
We then drove 20 minutes north to Innisfree Village, where a Loggerhead Shrike had recently been seen. We had instructions from other birders who had gone to see this rarity, and learned that it had also been seen earlier in the morning, so our chances of seeing it looked promising. We arrived at the spot and admired the gorgeous scenery: rolling pastures dotted with cedars and oaks, with boggy areas nestled in between the hills, all right up against the mountains.
After about ten minutes of searching, the bird was found sitting on top of an oak in field. We all enjoyed the bird and viewed it through the scope. We also noticed several insects skewered onto the barbwire fence we stood along—evidence of the shrike’s presence.
We watched the bird chase a Blue Jay around, later a Yellow-rumped Warbler. It finally came a bit closer and perched on a nearby cedar. How can a bird be so cute yet so menacing at the same time?
We followed the bird around for another hour, enjoying the views, sometimes waiting for him to return from hunting. We departed, satisfied with a good morning of birding.
By Max Nootbaar
by Charlotte Clements
Awesome trip! Although we came later in the day than we probably should have, we had a great time. We had a try at slower-paced birdwatching- instead of just adding to our life list, we took time to observe bird behavior, flight and calls. Just after we first arrived we heard a kingfisher, but all we found was a veery in a tangle of roots next to the water. We had hoped for some waterfowl, but somehow they sensed that there were birders in the area, and we saw not one duck. As the day went on, we observed carolina wrens, white-throated sparrows, and even
least expected them, and we watched them search for food. They seemed to be after some sort of berry. Though we didn’t see any birds after the butter-butt pair, we tried our hand at entomology, luring yellowjackets with apple cider and catching them in pistachio shells- hint- do not do this at home. I am probably one of the few people to have ever been bitten, and not stung, by a wasp.
We also observed buckeye butterflies coming through the area.
As we drove up the long, winding road to the Rockfish Gap hawk watch, the barely risen sun revealed a striking scene in the valley below us. We looked down on a solid layer of dark, heavy clouds. The gap of clear air that we were driving through quickly gave way to more clouds above us, obscuring the taller mountain peaks. A light drizzle filled the cool air as we reached the parking lot of the Inn at Afton, where the hawk watch is located, and where we planned to meet for the day's field trip. My plan today was to bird the Rockfish Valley Trail, a local hotspot in Nelson County, and than head back up into the mountains and bird the road known as State Route 610, or the Swannanoa road.
When I got out of the car, I heard the flight call of several warblers. Dylan, who just recently started birding with the club, quickly joined my brother and me. He pointed to a dilapidated, old road sign above our heads, and said he had seen birds in it. The sign had once read "The Inn at Afton," but the front had long since fallen off, revealing the sign's bright interior lights, shining like a beacon to migrating birds. When I raised my binoculars, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. More than 20 wood warblers sat on and near the sign's lights. Occasionally, another would drop out of the sky and join them, explaining the chips I had heard earlier. Just than, the rest of the trip's participants pulled up and joined us, making seven young birders total. We found blackpoll, bay-breasted, black-throated blue, Tennessee, chestnut-sided, yellow-rumped, and black-throated green warblers, northern parulas, and common yellowthroats. We even found a Nashville warbler in the sign.
We were excited by what this abundance could mean for the rest of our day. If so many warblers were in such a small area, in such strange conditions, maybe today would be a fallout. Fallout is a condition where due to sudden, severe weather, large numbers of birds migrating at night are forced down in a small area. Fallouts are highly sought-after events for birders, as they can result in rare species and unusual numbers of birds.
As the sun rose, the light revealed a more gruesome scene. Little bodies of black-throated blue warblers and common yellowthroats littered the parking lot, a sad reminder of the many dangers birds face on migration. These birds were probably attracted to the bright light of the sign and the Inn, and met their death by flying headfirst into these obstructions.
The thick cloud-cover had not thinned out much as we pulled into the parking lot at the Rockfish Valley Trail, a good sign for songbird activity. We walked under Route 151 towards the Glenthorne Loop trail, which is usually more productive for sparrows. When we arrived at the field I had seen two marsh wrens at the day before, I was disappointed to see that most of the sparrows were gone, and the marsh wrens were no longer present. Even so, we quickly found some swamp sparrows, and two gorgeous white-crowned sparrows. I walked ahead of the main group, and was relieved to have a Lincoln's sparrow, one of my favorite sparrows, hop out on a branch in front of me. Its gray face, buffy malar and crisp black streaking is so beautiful. I called to the rest of the group, and was very frustrated when it flew off before any of them could get on it. Luckily, we soon found a few more in with a sparrow flock on the Spruce Creek side, and we all had fantastic views. As we were wrapping up at the Rockfish Valley Trail, I spotted a small, dark falcon flying quickly overhead. It turned out to be a merlin, which was the first one seen in Nelson County that year, according to eBird. The merlin circled once, giving us a fabulous view, before it shot off down the ridge.
As we drove back toward Swannanoa road and the hawk watch, we felt like we were racing against time. The clouds were finally beginning to give way, and blue holes were appearing everywhere. It was also slowly getting warmer. When we got out of the car at the end of the Swannanoa road, it seemed our fears had been confirmed. The beautiful Fall foliage was silent. A turkey vulture soared lazily overhead. However, a closer inspection revealed ours fears that the birds would no longer be active were unfounded. Warblers slowly foraged nearly every tree, and many were surprisingly close to the road. We quickly found blackpoll, black-throated green, Tennessee, and Cape-may warblers, as well as unseasonably large numbers of black-throated blue warblers. As we walked farther down the road, we saw more and more birds. Late wood thrushes feasted alongside more seasonally common Swainson's thrushes in thick tangles of summer grape vines, laden with purple fruit. We found a late black-and-white warbler and an American redstart. Scarlet tanagers swooped over the road, and black-throated blue warblers chipped over our heads. We eventually also found magnolia, palm, pine, and yellow-rumped warblers.
Our final destination for the day was a golf course in the Old Trail neighborhood of Crozet, where someone had seen a clay-colored sparrow the day before. We had directions to the clump of pokeweed he had been in, and we soon found it. As we arrived, Baxter saw the bird hop down into the dense brush. We waited several anxious minutes for it to return, but we needn't have worried. It soon returned and sat preening itself on a poke stem while we watched. The clay-colored sparrow was an Albemarle lifer for everybody, and a lifer for Max and Drew.
When I totaled up our day list that evening, I found we had seen 72 species. We had experienced a late Fall migration fallout, and we enjoyed ourselves very much. What an incredible day of local birding!
By Ezra Staengl
Young Birder's Blog
BRYBC members take turns sharing field trip reports, musings about their bird encounters, meeting highlights and club history.