Friday, October 21, 2016

20k and Counting

We hit 20,000 raptors today in our count at Kiptopeke!
#20,000 was a Cooper's Hawk around lunch time today. 
The afternoon brought in a nice steady stream of birds, and with the storms moving in and winds expected at 25+mph out of the north tomorrow we are looking forward to a big day! 

Steve Thornhill Photo 


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Close Encounters

As we are approaching the end of October, the number of raptors we are viewing is declining. However, we've had a number of close visitors to the Hawk Tower! A juvenile Cooper's Hawk did some hunting from the T-post behind the tower. 

We have had some beautiful mornings here at Kiptopeke State Park. Last week brought us some foggy mornings. Even as the raptor count has slowed down, we are seeing large numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and other song birds. 

Visitors to the tower are still arriving! We've had a number of great groups in the past week, including these polite young men from Boy Scout Troop 911 in Suffolk.

Our visiting groups always enjoy seeing our Model Raptors then trying to identify the birds in flight. 
With help from our Hawk Counter, Anna, of course! 

Our total so far for this season is 19,691 raptors... we are creeping towards the 20,000 mark.
Still seeing primarily Sharpies this week... out of yesterday's 254 birds we had 150 Sharp-Shinned Hawks. Wednesday brought us our season's first Slate-colored Junco as well. 

One of our friends across the bay was lucky enough to have this visitor in his yard this past week:
Pretty amazing to see a Gray Kingbird in this neck of the woods!
Thanks Tim Barry for sharing. 

We love meeting new people and having our next generation of birders visit us...
Please come see us soon!
Happy Birding! 









Saturday, October 15, 2016

Golden Days

Thursday brought us our first Golden Eagle of the season, a juvenile, which certainly brought excitement to an otherwise slow week of hawk-watching. We are still seeing a number of immature Bald Eagles. Charlie Plimpton, our Bay-watcher, took this amazing shot last week:

Steve Thornhill got a great photo of this immature Bald Eagle with a meal on the go:

The Golden Eagles are quite similar to immature Balds.
"Best field marks are golden hackles, legs feathered to toes, head projection less than half tail length, and tri-colored bill and cere."
(A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors, Wheeler & Clark)

We are still enjoying seeing a steady stream of accipiters and a handful of Peregrines.
Steve Thornhill 

"The Place"

Turn back in time a thousand years or more;
An Indian stands upon this very shore.
The virgin forest that surrounds him sings 
With hidden whispers of a million wings.
No human foot before his trod this place;
The wonder of it's written on his face.
He speaks in awe, but no one hears his words,
"This place is Kiptopeke, the place of birds."

(Kiptopeke Chronicles, Walter Post Smith)

Walter Post Smith was a founding bander of the Kiptopeke Bird Banding Station and was its primary champion from the 1960s through the 1990s. 

We also viewed a lone Sandhill Crane last week, a fairly rare sight this time of year.

The Monarch numbers moving through are increasing, and have kept our Monarch tagger quite busy this week. 


Please join us at the Hawk Tower and enjoy the beautiful fall weather on the Eastern Shore.
Hope to see you soon! 






Saturday, October 8, 2016

Busy Days on the Chesapeake Bay

Kiptopeke Total Fall Count through October 7:

Peter Harris Photo

  "I think here is your emblem
To hang in the future sky;
Not the cross, not the hive,

But this; bright power, dark peace;
Fierce consciousness joined with final

Life with calm death; the falcon's
Realist eyes and act
Married to the massive

Mysticism of stone,
Which failure cannot cast down
Nor success make proud."

-Robinson Jeffers

We have been fortunate to have an extremely busy week with large numbers of raptors passing through, including 33 Northern Harriers on Thursday. Lots of visitors to the Tower for our presentations during the Eastern Shore Birding Festival as well.

Steve Thornhill Photo

"Harriers have slender bodies and wings. They fly buoyantly and often unsteadily, with a few easy wing strokes and a glide. The harrier's white rump patch shows well at long distances and is a good mark at hawk-watches. The V set of the wings on soaring and gliding birds is a good early mark as well. Except for the rump patch, male and female harriers have separate plumages. 
Adult males are blue-gray above and extensively white below, with contrasting black wing tips. Adult females are brown above and tawny below, with dark streaking. They weigh more than males by half, on average, and are several inches longer. Young birds are brown above, like females, but have rusty-colored breasts."
(All the Birds of Prey, Paul Lehman)

Juvenile Peregrine Falcon
Steve Thornhill Photo 

 Juvenile Peregrines can be distinguished by the browner plumage
 and streaked rather than barred underparts. Adults are dark gray to black above and heavily barred below. 

Other sightings from Kiptopeke and the Eastern Shore this week:

Red-eyed Vireos
Timothy Barry Photo

Great Blue Heron 
Edgar Kyle Photo

Eastern Hog Nose Snake 
Edgar Kyle Photo

Ray Pena with Lanner Falcon
Ray, from Flight of the Raptor, was visiting us during the Kiptopeke Birding Festival.

With the rain heading our way this weekend, the first of next week should be a great time to come see us at the Hawk Tower... we should see lots of birds next week! 
See you soon!

- Caroline 





Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Plethora of Peregrines...

Peregrine Falcons were the raptor of the day yesterday with a count of 72 on an otherwise extremely slow day. 
A rainy morning and slow SE wind day contributed to a low count of only 112 birds on Saturday, but the Peregrines kept us all on our toes nonetheless. 

One of the wonderful things about participating in a hawk count on Virginia's Eastern Shore is all of the amazing species we are able to view in addition to our raptors.
Here are a couple of our visitors from this past week:

Brown Pelican 

Pine Warbler
Photos courtesy of Steve Thornhill 

Hopefully with weather conditions improving and wind picking up we will see larger numbers of the Sharp-shinned Hawk this week. This common accipiter will fly at low altitudes on a windy day, and higher on light wind days. With their snappy, rapid wingbeats, these hawks are one of the easier ones to identify as they tend to flap more frequently than other birds of prey. 


"Of the three North American accipiters, Sharp-shinned is the earliest riser, sometimes beginning its  day's passage before sunrise. Cooper's Hawks and Northern Goshawks start their journey somewhat later - possibly to hunt first or, more likely, to wait for thermals to perk. During migration, an early-moving accipiter is most likely a Sharp-shinned. 
Juvenile birds precede adults. Fall migration for Sharp-shinneds begins during late August, peaks during the last week of September or the first days of October, and continues into early December. 
Juvenile accipiters constitute most of the birds recorded at East and West Coast hawk-watching sites, while adult birds account for more than half of the accipiters passing interior hawk-watch sites."  (Hawks in Flight, P.Dunne, D.Sibley, C. Sutton) 

Also on the increase this weekend was the number of visitors to the Hawk Tower. Great to have so many knowledgeable enthusiasts with us! 

Hope to see many more guests at Kiptopeke State Park this weekend for the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival. Lots of fun activities are planned and the Birding should be fantastic. See you on the Tower!






Sunday, September 25, 2016

All Eyes on the Sky...

Big day today at Kiptopeke

With numerous visitors assisting with the spotting, 
we had a new high count today with a total of 1108 raptors! The day started a bit slowly, but after lunch we had a steady stream of birds, including a count of 405 Osprey! 

Photo by Steve Thornhill

Brian and I had a lovely group for the Hawk Identification Workshop, and they were able to practice their new identification skills after lunch as we witnessed 13 Northern Harriers, 16 Peregrine Falcons, and 296 American Kestrels on their flights south. 

This fantastic shot by Steve is of an adult male Northern Harrier. 

The Peregrine Falcon is always an exciting sight at the Hawk Watch. These amazing birds are such an adaptable species, they can live in almost any habitat in the world. They can be found on every 
continent except for Antarctica, thriving in cold tundra as well as hot deserts. 
The Peregrines that nest on Arctic tundra and then migrate to South America for the winter may fly up to 15,500 miles in a year!

Thanks to conservation efforts, the Peregrine Falcon was removed from the 
U.S. Endangered Species List in 1999. 

"Perhaps because of their amazing flying and hunting skills, Peregrine Falcons have had cultural significance for humans throughout history. To this day, they are still one of the most popular birds in the sport of falconry, and in ancient times they were considered the birds of royalty. Today, Peregrine Falcons that are trained as falconry birds are sometimes flown by their trainers at airports to scare off ducks and other birds that could collide with a plane and cause accidents. These falcons are helping to keep our skies safe!"
(The Peregrine Fund.)

One of the fan favorites today, although not a raptor, was the Northern Flicker,
 of which we viewed 267 today!!

Thank you again Steve for these fabulous shots! 

We are having such an amazing season, and it's not even October yet! 
It looks to be another gorgeous day on the Eastern Shore tomorrow, 
so we are hoping for another exciting day before more rain comes to the coast. 
Look forward to seeing more of you in the near future, and in the meantime, 
keep your eyes on the sky! 







Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rainy Days on the Bay

Storms from the tropical system may have led to a back-up the past couple of days, 
but today the lanes were clear, and what a day Anna and I had... 990 birds total! 
Falcons were flying through steadily, with an American Kestrel count of 329!

 Although some Kestrels migrate all the way to Central America, 
many spend the winter in the southern United States. 

Thanks to Steve Thornhill, here we have a beautiful shot of one going over us at Kiptopeke. 

 We were fortunate to have a number of visitors at the tower today that
 helped us spot during the big rush this afternoon after the rain moved out.
Also on the journey south today were 291 Merlins. Lovely shot of one clocking us by Peter Harris. 

The weather looks to be nice again tomorrow as well as through the weekend...
 don't forget the Kiptopeke Challenge is this weekend! Hope to see you all there! 



Monday, September 19, 2016

A Fine Kettle

The sunsets here at Kiptopeke State Park are just as lovely as the sunrises...

Photo by Joe Beatty.

On Friday, the 16th, we were fortunate to view a kettle of 52 Broad-winged Hawks. Now although Anna and Brian can identify and often age these birds even as specks in the sky, I would be much happier if they would land on the tower so that I could do so. However, second best to that scenario is having a wonderful photographer, like our friend Peter Harris, send photos! 
Here we have a juvenile Broad-winged Hawk.
Note the thinly barred tail and streaking on the breast instead of the reddish barring. 
The majority of the Broad-wings that we have seen here so far have been juveniles making their first south-bound journey. 
This adult has thick, bold bars on the tail and reddish-brown barring on the chest versus streaking. Also note the more distinct trailing edge of the wing on the adult. 
I imagine the majority of readers of this blog already know these differences, but for aspiring identifiers like myself, this is extremely helpful! 
Very grateful to Peter Harris for the wonderful shots! 

Now I better get back to spotting for Anna... Happy Birding! 
We hope to see you soon! 



Sunday, September 18, 2016

Early Birds

A beautiful morning at the Hawk Tower at Kiptopeke! 
Anna is already on the lookout for this morning's migrators. 

We have had some wonderful visitors this week, including this lovely female Rose Breasted Grosbeak, who delighted viewers yesterday at the feeder. Tim Barry took this lovely shot.
I am excited to be this year's Hawk Watch Educator/ Intern, and thrilled to be surrounded by so many expert raptor identifiers... I will learn so much from this crew! Looking forward to meeting new, and old, visitors to the Hawk Tower... please come see Anna and me when you get a chance! 
Peter Harris took this amazing shot of a Bald Eagle, and Anna pointed out that this is a 4th year...
Just lovely!! 
Yesterday's count was 354...
So many amazing birds are passing through, I feel extremely lucky to be a part of the CVWO team for this year's season. Hope to see you soon at Kiptopeke! 



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rollicking Raptors!

The days are getting busier, with 476 raptors counted yesterday and 204 raptors today.  Kestrels and Ospreys continue to move through in large numbers, while Broad-winged Hawks and Merlins are also increasing. Yesterday, I was even treated to a beautiful view of a Mississippi Kite gliding over the platform.

A cold front is expected to pass through on Wednesday night, which should bring in many migrating birds of all shapes and sizes. If you are hoping to visit the hawkwatch platform or search for passerines along Kiptopeke's trails, Thursday and Friday should be good days in which to do so.


One of many Ospreys seen from the platform. Notice this bird's M-shaped wings, with white wing linings that contrast with dark flight feathers.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Cicadas at Kiptopeke

Did you know that there are a variety of different cicada species found on the Eastern Shore? Each species has a slightly different call, and a chorus of these insects can be heard from the platform each day. Occasionally we will also get visitors, such as the one pictured below. Cicadas begin life as nymphs which hatch out and stay underground, feeding on roots for years before they emerge and shed their exoskeletons. The shed skins can often be found attached to bark during the summer. Adult males produce that incredibly loud sound, which is intended to attract females, using ribbed membranes called tymbals located on the abdomen. A cicada's call can reach over 100 decibels!


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Raptor migration is picking up

Our hawkwatching days are starting to get busier, with just over 200 raptors counted today. In particular, we have had nice American Kestrel and Osprey movement. Both of these species have been migrating in bursts, with groups of 2-8 birds often flying together. We look forward to the really big days, which should begin in the next week or two. Stay tuned for updates, and we hope to see you at the platform.


Adult Bald Eagle. This bird shows unmistakable field marks up close, but from a distance it is easily identified by shape. The Bald Eagle holds its wings stiffly outwards in flight, in a flat, plank-like manner.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Post-storm Update and Songbirds in the Pokeberry Patch

Now that the tropical storm has passed, we can get back to hawkwatching! The raptor flight was slow today, with just 40 birds passing the platform this afternoon. However, there may be a slight delay in raptor movement following the bad weather. Hopefully the floodgates will open in the next few days.

Meanwhile, songbird activity has been busy in the pokeberry patch. Blue Grosbeaks (pictured below), Eastern Kingbirds, a Baltimore Oriole, and a Pine Warbler were among the visitors today. As migration picks up, this berry patch is likely to become a haven for many hungry migrants.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Hello from this year's fall hawkwatcher

Hello everyone! My name is Anna Stunkel, and I'm the hawkwatcher at Kiptopeke this fall season. I'm from Massachusetts and have spent seasons hawkwatching at sites in California, Idaho, and Maine. My love of bird research has also led me to work with songbirds, seabirds, and woodpeckers in various parts of the country, and I spend free time drawing and painting wildlife (here is my facebook page). I am very excited to witness the spectacle of raptor migration here at Kiptopeke, and to share the joy of watching these beautiful birds. Please stop by for a visit to the platform if you have a chance, and I would be happy to talk with you about the migration site and the forty-year-old hawkwatch program.

Also, take a look at this Red Fox who has been hanging around the platform!

Friday, August 12, 2016

August Fledglings

August is a great time to see fledglings in Virginia. The Barn Swallow and Bank Swallow below were in Portsmouth on August 10 and the Acadian Flycatcher in James City County August 6th had just been fed by a parent.

Brian Taber

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Atlas Work

Many VA birders have been very busy this spring and summer with the 5-year Atlas Project, just begun, to document VA's breeding birds. Funded by the VA Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries and coordinated through VA Society of Ornithology, it's a tremendous effort out in the field and then lots more work inputting data. Check out the VSO website and VA eBird site for more details.

Pictured is a Downy Woodpecker, but with a red cap, characteristic of a newly-hatched bird, proof of local breeding in James City County. Other behaviors used to document breeding are nest-building and feeding young.
Brian Taber

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Western Kingbird in James City County

This Western Kingbird was at the College Creek Hawkwatch site in James City County this  morning. There are few June records in Virginia for this western rarity.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Horned Grebe

Just as Horned Grebes are attaining their alternate, or breeding colors, changing from mostly gray and white in fall and winter...they return to Canada and Alaska...this bird was on the James River near Williamsburg last week. Some recent studies have suggested a population decline.
Brian Taber

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup

The two scaup species are very similar and luckily, these birds at Jamestown Ferry, in James City County, were swimming together to show the comparison. The Greater, on the right, shows a rounded, not peaked head, a bill that's wider near the tip and a larger bill nail at the end.
Brian Taber