Monday, September 18, 2017

Howdy from this fall's Educator and Hawkwatch Intern!!

Howdy, y'all! This is Olivia Amash writing to you as this fall's Educator and Hawkwatch Intern for CVWO.

Pine Warbler
A little bit about me; I've just graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelors in Wildlife Biology. During my time there I discovered my love for conservation work, I am so excited to join CVWO for the 41st annual hawkwatching program and I have a lot to learn.

We had an unusual visitor to the platform yesterday, a Wood Stork! This is a new species record for the hawkwatch program.
Wood Stork; photo by Anna Stunkel

Here's a great photo of a Red-tailed Hawk from a few days ago. Notice the dark belly band and dark patagial marking on the leading edge of the wing. 
Red-tailed Hawk; photo by Steve Thornhill

It is the 4th Annual International Hawk Migration Week!! Many North American raptor migration sites record peak numbers during this week. 


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Swallow-tailed Kite

Today, a beautiful Swallow-tailed Kite flew over the platform and spent hours hunting for insects and flying around gracefully. In the past 40 years only two other individuals have been seen at the hawkwatch. It is certainly possible that the bird will be in the area again tomorrow. I encourage you all to stop by the platform to check! 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Swallows n' Seabirds

The raptor migration is off to a slow but steady start, with mostly Ospreys moving through over the past week. We have been rewarded with some beautiful, low views of a few birds, like this Bald Eagle (top) and Merlin (bottom).

Photos by Steve Thornhill

We have also been very busy watching non-raptors moving through. Some of these sightings have involved unusually high numbers, such as the 30 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers recorded on September 1 and 19 Red-headed Woodpeckers on September 4. Hundreds of Barn Swallows and Purple Martins have been zipping their way through on most days. White Ibises and Glossy Ibises have been flying past in small flocks, including one single mixed flock of both species. 

White Ibis; photo by Steve Thornhill
Today, a Parasitic Jaeger passed very close over the beach, and a Black Tern flew over the platform. The trees behind the platform were buzzing with passerine activity this morning, including a variety of warbler and vireo species. Tonight's cold front ought to bring in some more interesting migrants, and hopefully an increase in raptor numbers, tomorrow morning. We hope you can join us to enjoy the migration soon!


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Migrants are on the Move

Another hawkwatching season has begun here at Kiptopeke, and we are off to a great start! Ospreys have composed most of the raptor flight so far, which is typical during the early part of the season. An Osprey (which we think is probably a single individual, based on plumage characteristics) has been hanging around on the nearby telephone pole, snacking on fish and drying its wings in the sun. Yesterday, a Peregrine Falcon zoomed very low and close overhead.

Osprey with fish; photo by Steve Thornhill
Today, a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler landed on the platform ramp and foraged for awhile, hopping around and flycatching. Other non-raptor highlights have included 30 Blue-gray Gnatcatchers yesterday, ~337 Eastern Kingbirds today, and hundreds of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows.

Yellow-throated Warbler; photo by Steve Thornhill
My name is Anna Stunkel, and I am returning to the hawkwatch as the counter for a second season this year. I am so excited to be here to experience the migration at Kiptopeke again. Please stop by the platform sometime; the season runs from September 1- November 30 and visitors are always welcome. I am happy to answer your questions and to share the joy of hawkwatching.

Photo by Steve Thornhill


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Silvery Checkerspot

This Silvery Checkerspot, rare on Virginia's coastal plain, was at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden on July 12...a first local record.
Brian Taber

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


This very rare stray from Florida, with only 1 previous Virginia record, was recently found near Williamsburg, at a small, wooded pond. It was only seen for a day.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

This Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a rare visitor from the west, was in Northampton County, on the Eastern Shore today, with more than 30 Eastern Kingbirds on wires over a big field.
Brian Taber

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Swallow-tailed Kite at College Creek Hawkwatch

This rare Swallow-tailed Kite, seen today by Bill Williams and me, was the first for the 21 years of the College Creek Hawkwatch, on the James River, near Williamsburg. Even in the distant photo, the unique shape of this elegant raptor can be clearly seen.
Brian Taber

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monarch Conference

A Monarch Conference was held on Earth Day, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, to educate people about the current plight of Monarchs, which are rapidly declining due to pesticides, habitat loss and more. The species makes a remarkable migratory journey between Canada and Mexico each year. Dr. Lincoln Brower, who has studied Monarchs for decades, presented a lecture, among other activities. The Observatory has counted and tagged Monarchs on the Eastern Shore for 20 years, contributing to our knowledge of their movements. There is more information on the Observatory's website under "What We Do and Why."
Brian Taber

Friday, March 31, 2017

Poor Photo but Great Bird!

This Prairie Falcon, a rare bird from the west and the first for Virginia, was found in Alexandria, along the Potomac River, on March 25th...this photo was March 26.
Brian Taber

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Glaucous Gull on the Bridge-tunnel

This rare Glaucous Gull was photographed by Andy Hawkings on Feb 18, when both the Hampton Roads Bird Club and Williamsburg Bird Club were on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel. Two dozen Harbor Seals were also seen, along with Razorbills, a King Eider, Common Eiders and more.
Brian Taber

Monday, January 16, 2017

Clay-colored Sparrow in James City County

This Clay-colored Sparrow was at my feeder this afternoon. When this rarity does appear in Virginia, it is usually in early to late fall and not often at feeders.
Brian Taber

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lucy's Warbler

A cavity-nesting breeder of far western desert mesquite areas, amazingly this Lucy's Warbler, Virginia's first record, was found on Dec 31 by Ned Brinkley on Virginia's Eastern Shore! It has stayed a few days so far to the delight of many birders. Rob Bielawski's pics show the diagnostic chestnut cap and the matching chestnut rump and hint of buffy below on an otherwise tiny, gray bird.
Brian Taber

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thanks to Baywatch and Monarch Staff

Thanks for a great season to Baywatch Waterbird Surveyer Charlie Plimpton, who monitored birds moving in lower Chesapeake Bay from our site just north of Kiptopeke, from Oct 1 to Nov 30; and thanks to Monarch biologist Clay Buffkin, who counted and tagged migrating Monarchs on the lower Eastern Shore and who gave talks to visitors about his work, from Sep 15 to Nov 1. Waterbirds face a variety of challenges, from pollution to global climate change and more information is needed to insure their conservation. Monarchs are undergoing a dramatic population decline and the Obsevatory is contributing to knowledge about Monarchs to help preserve this species. We wish Charlie and Clay the best on their next travels!
Brian Taber

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Kiptopeke Hawkwatch

Many thanks to Hawkwatcher Anna Stunkel for a great season! Her skill, sharp eyesight and enthusiasm made the season quite a success. Our Educator/Hawkwatch Intern, Caroline Sankey, was equally enthusiastic...teaching visitors and helping Anna find hawks. And thanks to both for their excellent Blog posts. Anna posted the first-ever Short-eared Owl to the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch database! We wish them well on their next journeys! Also, thanks to the many dedicated volunteers who helped out with finding and photographing birds. The Hawkwatch data is all listed at, operated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Brian Taber

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Le Conte's Sparrow and Season's End

On the morning of 11/25, a Le Conte's Sparrow was seen very close to the hawkwatch platform. It was skulking about low in the pokeberry patch, and I got a brief but good look at this intricately patterned sparrow. There were not any further sightings, but it is possible that this bird could be hanging around or even wintering in the area. I encourage you all to take a look at this very interesting paper by Ned Brinkley and George Armistead, which discusses Le Conte's Sparrow occurrence in Virginia in detail:

Le Conte's Sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii) in Virginia: A Review of Records, with Notes on Habitat Usage, Identification, and Interspecific Associations

I did not manage to shoot any photos, but here are some nice pictures of the species that friends have shared with me:

By Charlie Plimpton; note the very small size which is typical of this species

By Bryan White
By Bryan White
A group of 14 American White Pelicans flew past the platform at approximately 2:00 pm on 11/28. This was probably the same flock that had been seen by several birders in Virginia Beach just an hour or so earlier.

The piebald deer (or is it an escaped cow?) has made a few appearances in the last week, both near the platform and jumping out in front of me on the bike path.

Well folks, it has been an incredible fall here at Kiptopeke. Some highlights of the season have included:

  • 405 Ospreys on 9/25
  • 1460 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 354 Cooper's Hawks, 410 American Kestrels, and 2706 raptors on 10/6
  • 291 Merlins on 9/22
  • 113 Peregrine Falcons on 10/2
  • 1 Mississippi Kite on each of the following days:  9/12, 9/14, and 9/15
  • 1 Swainson's Hawk on 11/5
  • 1 Short-eared Owl on 11/4
  • 6 Golden Eagles this season

I have treasured the wisdom, sharp eyes, good times, stories, and laughter shared by the many volunteers and visitors this season. The busy days have been a spectacle to behold. And on quieter days, I've enjoyed the solace and magic of this place.

Red-tails and other species don't know that the official season is over, and some raptors should still be making their way south past the platform. Drop by and take a look- you never know what you might see.

In the spirit of Caroline's blog posts, here is a poem by one of my favorite poets:


This morning
the hawk
rose up
out of the meadow’s browse
and swung over the lake —
it settled
on the small black dome
of a dead pine,
alert as an admiral,
its profile
distinguished with sideburns
the color of smoke,
and I said: remember
this is not something
of the red fire, this is
heaven’s fistful
of death and destruction,
and the hawk hooked
one exquisite foot
onto a last twig
to look deeper
into the yellow reeds
along the edges of the water
and I said: remember
the tree, the cave,
the white lily of resurrection,
and that’s when it simply lifted
its golden feet and floated
into the wind, belly-first,
and then it cruised along the lake —
all the time its eyes fastened
harder than love on some
unimportant rustling in the
yellow reeds — and then it
seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it
turned into a white blade, which fell.

Mary Oliver

pp. 34-35 in New and Selected Poems: Volume One (Beacon Press: Boston, 1992)

Happy birding to all, and I hope to see you next fall.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Windy Weather

Raptor movement has been just trickling along for the past few days, but there are always interesting things to see from the platform. For example, we have been having some great views of Northern Harriers. Some of these birds have been hunting low over the pokeberry field, and there has been a recent increase in adult harrier numbers. Some of them may be stopping to spend the winter here on the Eastern Shore.

Adult female Northern Harrier by Steve Thornhill

Blackbird flocks have been fairly active during the mornings. These flocks contain Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds, with the occasional Rusty Blackbird (below) mixed in.

 There have been some big fluctuations in the weather over the past few days. Saturday was quite warm and calm, with temperatures reaching the mid-seventies. Insects such as wasps, stinkbugs, and wheel bugs were very active on the platform.

Wheel Bug by Steve Thornhill
However, we have had strong west winds for the past two days. This has probably been keeping the raptors hunkered down, considering our low counts. Tundra Swans braved the blustery conditions and were flying high today, with a count of 346 individuals. Northwest winds are expected to be ~15 mph tomorrow and 5-10 mph on Wednesday, and this calming should hopefully bring more raptors our way.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Turkey Vultures and Rarity Roundup

On days with northeast winds, we have been seeing quite a bit of Turkey Vulture movement. These birds often start streaming over the platform early in the morning.

Although we do not keep an official daily count of this species, it can be interesting to note vulture numbers. On 11/12, 890 of them were counted moving southwards. However, migrating Turkey and Black Vultures have a tendency to meander back and forth at our site, so some of the birds that passed by may have been counted multiple times.

a curious Turkey Vulture checking out the hawkwatchers; by Steve Thornhill
I think that vultures are some of the most underappreciated birds out there. They perform an important duty by cleaning up dead carcasses, and have an incredible sense of smell. They are also beautifully skilled fliers, and Turkey Vultures can travel for hours without flapping once. 

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk by Steve Thornhill
A few days ago, Charlie and I (along with quite a few other birders) had the opportunity to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Franktown. It was originally spotted by Roberta Kellam. This beautiful bird was sitting on a wire right out in the open, and put on a show flycatching by the roadside.

This Saturday, a group of birders got together for the annual Rarity Roundup here on the Eastern Shore. They had a chance to see some fun birds as well, including a Black-legged Kittiwake, Western Kingbird, and Golden Eagle. Ellison spotted a Cattle Egret from the hawkwatch platform. November continues to be a fun month for bird species diversity. We hope to see some Northern Goshawks and Cave Swallows soon!



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An assortment of raptors

Although the season is slowing down, we have been seeing a good diversity of species. So far, we've had five southbound Golden Eagles. One juvenile golden flew very low and close over us, allowing great views. Take a look at these incredible captures by Steve Thornhill.

We also had an immature Swainson's Hawk pass overhead recently. This species has a western distribution, but a few show up on the east coast annually. Our hawkwatch often records 1-2 Swainson's Hawks each fall. Like Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson's are long-distance migrants which fly all the way to South America.

Swainson's Hawk sketch by Anna

Red-tailed Hawk migration has also been picking up lately, with a peak count of 58 individuals on 11/7. As the season continues, we expect to have some more good days of red-tail movement.

Adult Red-tailed Hawk by Steve Thornhill

On the non-raptor front, we are also seeing nice diversity. Recently, Northern Gannet numbers have been picking up over the bay. American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds have been coming through in full force, along with a variety of sparrows stopping over in the pokeberry patch. A few days ago, a Short-eared Owl flew over.

It has been awhile since we've seen a Red-headed Woodpecker from the platform, but these guys are still in the area and preparing for winter. Brian Taber got this nice shot of an adult storing acorns in Williamsburg yesterday.

Charlie had an amazing sighting today at the baywatch- he watched a juvenile Northern Goshawk attack and kill a Great Black-backed Gull!

Following the stress of the election, I hope that you all can find some solace in watching birds and wildlife. We hope to see you at the platform soon.

Carolina Wren singing by Steve Thornhill


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October: From Birds on the Bay to Birds in Bronze

We wrapped up October with a count of 12,897 for the month and 
an overall total of 21,541 so far for the season. 
On the increase this past week has been the Red-tailed Hawk, with 28 yesterday on Halloween. 
(Buteo jamaicensis)

Steve Thornhill

A brave(?) Sharpie checking out a Red-tail.

Here we have a rare sighting of a Turkey Vulture actually on the Hawk Tower.

We also had our 2nd Golden Eagle of the season yesterday.

Steve Thornhill

This past week we enjoyed seeing Common Loons, this one off the pier fishing for a meal at Kiptopeke State Park.

Steve Thornhill

"Sparring Sparrows"

A White-crowned Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow vying for lunch. 
S. Thornhill

"Over the Bay"

C. Sankey

The stark beauty of tree
shadows stretch down the slope
of the hill, while the silver bones 
of an old barn gape against 
the pale-blue winter sky

The high bare fingers of the
sycamore's gnarly branches
sift the wind as the season crawls
down gently from the north

Seven hawks circle above 
the open field as that same
wind pushes them on south 
beneath icy clouds

I watch their dance and rest
and don't tire of their weaving 
through the cold air, and for a 

moment I become the eighth, and tilt 
one wing up and one wing down to
twist into a slow, arcing dive toward 
the grass upon the frozen earth below

Some of the most amazing raptors that Anna and I saw yesterday on our afternoon excursion were of the bronze variety. I must encourage anyone visiting the Eastern Shore of VIrginia to stop in to Turner Sculpture in Onley, VA. The sculptures are truly incredible. 

Turner Sculpture 

The past 6 weeks at Kiptopeke with this crew have been simply amazing. 
I feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity, a huge Thank You to Brian Taber for allowing me to be this seaon's Educator, and my heartfelt Thanks to Anna Stunkel for her insight, wisdom, and patience in teaching me identification skills. 
Looking forward to seeing everyone next year! 

Happy Birding!
- Caroline