Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Prothonotary Warblers Nesting Successfully in Virginia’s Coastal Plain

[Shirley Devan here as guest blogger to let you know what's going on at several sites where CVWO volunteers are monitoring Prothonotary Warblers.]

Male Prothonotary Warbler on railing at Powhatan
Creek Trail in Williamsburg, VA. Photo by Judy Jones.
First clutches of Prothonotary Warblers are just about complete at the six sites where CVWO volunteers monitor nest boxes across the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Many of them are “in your backyard” or a park near you. Here’s a brief summary of nesting activity mid-season at four sites:

In Chesapeake, VA on the Northwest River (near Northwest River Park), volunteers monitor 87 nest boxes where Prothonotary Warblers (PROW) have nested in man-made boxes since 2009. Eighty-three of the 87 boxes have hosted some sort of PROW activity so far – from “a sprig of moss” (installed by the male to attract a female) to fledged nestlings. And over 105 nestlings have successfully fledged as of May 21. June and July will find the warblers busy with second clutches.

Prothonotary Warbler nest with 6 eggs
at Northwest River. Photo by Shirley Devan
Prothonotary Warbler nestlings only about 2 days old. Photo by Shirley Devan
Well-fed Prothonotary Warbler nestlings. Photo by Judy Jones

In Williamsburg, VA, three locations host a total of 24 boxes.
  1. Chickahominy Riverfront Park has 12 nest boxes most of which are on Gordon Creek. Many can be seen from the shore line and camp sites. These boxes were installed in 2017. In this third year, the Prothonotary Warblers have occupied 8 boxes so far and Carolina Chickadees nested in 3 boxes. As of May 20, there are 23 eggs and nestlings in boxes at this park.
  2. At Powhatan Creek Trail, seven PROW boxes have been in place since 2015. This year was just like previous years – Carolina Chickadees nested in 6 boxes before the PROWs returned from their winter home in Central America. As of May 20, the chickadees are finished with their first and only clutch, boxes have been cleaned out, and PROWs have taken occupancy in 3 boxes with 8 eggs.
  3. A new trail of 5 PROW nest boxes has been created along the Nature Trail at Fords Colony, a residential community. This trail is sponsored by the WINGS bird club at Fords Colony, and residents monitor the trail weekly. As with most new trails, it takes a year or so for the PROWs to find the boxes. Volunteers hear the PROWs singing each time they check the boxes and one box has the beginnings of a nest. So far, only Carolina Chickadees have taken up residence.
Almost ready to fledge! Nestling responds to nearby adults
who promise tantalizing food. Photo by Judy Jones.
Just-fledged nestling SWIMS the short distance to a cypress
knee where parents are waiting. Photo by Judy Jones.
Prothonotary Warblers are devoted parents. While the female incubates the eggs, the male brings her food. Both adults feed the nestlings during the 10 days they are in the nest. If something happens to one of the adults, the other adult has a very difficult time providing enough food for the nestlings to be ready to fledge in 10 days. Volunteers have observed nestlings fledge from the nest box and witnessed the amazing care and diligence of the adults as they fly directly to each fledgling and escort the little one to safety in the woods.

PROWs like cavities – natural and man-made – near swamps, rivers, and bottomland forests. PROW is the only warbler east of the Mississippi River that nests in cavities. Hence it is an easy bird to study because biologists can closely study and monitor adults and nestlings.

You can read much more about Prothonotary Warblers and see many photos and hear their "sweet sweet sweet" song at Cornell Lab of Ornithology's web site, All About Birds.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Season's End

The last two weeks of the hawkwatch season were filled with interesting sightings. Although raptor activity was slow during the last week, a good amount of movement occurred during the week before Thanksgiving. On 11/17, there was a nice flight of 65 red-tails and 117 raptors in total. On this same day, a red-shoulder perched on the t-pole, allowing for fantastic views and photo opportunities.


Red-shouldered Hawk photos by Steve Thornhill
 A Golden Eagle was seen on 11/23, marking the fifth sighting of this species for the season.

The first Snow Geese of the season were seen on 11/22, when a flock of ten birds passed. This small trickle was followed by a storm of about 800 Snow Geese the following day. Chilly temperatures may have helped to bring on this spectacular goose flight.

Snow Geese by Anna Stunkel
Good flights of Common Loons occurred in the latter half of November, with daily loon numbers sometimes reaching into the thirties and forties.  Tundra Swans continued to pass by in small flocks. Five American White Pelicans went by on 11/17, and two were seen on 11/29.

There was a grand finale on the last day of the season, which was very special. A massive passerine flight occurred that morning, with numbers including 3,270 American Robins, 1,330 Red-winged Blackbirds, 710 American Goldfinches, 263 Cedar Waxwings, 120 Dark-eyed Juncos, and 60 Chipping Sparrows. Thank you to Brian Taber for helping me keep track of the flight!

Again, it was an excellent season here at Kiptopeke. Highlights of the fall (along with those mentioned above) included:
  • 327 Ospreys on 9/16, 319 Ospreys on 9/23, and 3,538 Ospreys in total (the highest total for this species since 1997)
  • 241 Broad-winged Hawks on 9/20, and 1,357 broad-wings in total
  • 515 American Kestrels on 9/20
  • 200 Merlins on 9/27
  • 1 Mississippi Kite on 10/10
  • 1 Swainson's Hawk on 10/18
  • 72 Red-tailed Hawks on 11/4 
  • 22 Red-shouldered Hawks on 11/8 
  • 1,375 Peregrine Falcons, which is the third highest season total recorded at this site; there were four days in a row of between 89 and 121 peregrines seen per day in early October
  • 617 Bald Eagles in total, which is a new season record (shattering the previous 2009 record of 462)
  • Five Golden Eagles this season
  • 1 Wood Stork and 1 Lark Sparrow on 9/4
  • 1 Anhinga on 9/5 and 2 Anhingas on 9/6
  • Several nice Great Blue Heron flights, including 105 birds on 9/22, 90 birds on 10/5, and 141 birds on 10/16
  • American White Pelicans: 34 on 10/22, 5 on 10/24, 5 on 11/17, and 2 on 11/29 
  • 1 Sandhill Crane sighting on 11/10 and again on 11/11
  • 264 Tundra Swans on 11/13
  • Good numbers of Pine Siskins, American Goldfinches, and Purple Finches during November
Similarly to last year, the Sharp-shinned Hawk total was unusually low. Only 2,708 birds were recorded this season, which is well below average. This continuing trend suggests a possible population decline, considering the low reports also being recorded at other Eastern hawkwatch sites. Again, a lack of strong cold fronts during the peak of the season may have also contributed to the low total.

Thank you to the many regulars and newcomers who helped out this season. It was wonderful to have your help and good company. And thank you to the many visitors who stopped by to enjoy the wonder of migration.

I encourage you to stop by the platform and keep an eye out for interesting birds. Raptor migration is winding down, but you might see a few Red-tailed Hawks (and if you're lucky, a Northern Goshawk or Golden Eagle) passing by. You might also have a chance to observe migrating passerines (such as finches, blackbirds, and robins) and Snow Geese. 

Happy birding to all!


Thursday, November 15, 2018

Rarity Roundup and Finches Galore!

November has been off to a great start here at the Kiptopeke hawkwatch platform. At the beginning of the month, we enjoyed several days with good Red-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, and accipiter flights, including 436 raptors on November 4th and 395 raptors on November 8th. It has been interesting to notice several sightings of Ospreys carrying needlefish this season.

Osprey with needlefish by Anna Stunkel

The first Tundra Swans of the season were seen on November 3rd, and we have been enjoying large flights of them since that time. The busiest Tundra Swan flight so far occurred on November 13th, with 264 birds seen. Their beautiful calls are always a joy to hear.

Tundra Swan flock by Anna Stunkel

True to the 2018 Finch Forecast predictions, we have been fortunate to see large numbers of American Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, and some Purple Finches lately. Yesterday, the mixed sunflower seed and nyjer seed feeders were covered in goldfinches.

finch feeding frenzy at the feeders by Anna Stunkel
The annual Rarity Roundup was held on November 10th. During this event, teams of birders cover local areas on the Eastern Shore in search of uncommon and rare bird species. This year was a great success, with a nice turnout of participants. From the platform on that day, the first Sandhill Crane of the season was seen and heard calling. A juvenile Golden Eagle also passed, and was observed by several visitors. Thanks to all who joined in and visited the hawkwatch!

As November continues, we expect to see some more Golden Eagles and hopefully a Northern Goshawk or two. Although the raptor flight tends to slow down during this month, it is an excellent time to observe both raptor and non-raptor species diversity. We hope to see you on the platform soon!


Sunday, November 4, 2018

White Kestrel and Bald Eagle Record

I won't make you scroll down any further, here is the beautiful Leucistic American Kestrel that was observed in the area on November 1st and 2nd. It was a rare treat to see such a uniquely colored raptor and the CVWO staff was in awe of it and grateful for the opportunity to see it. The Eastern Shore is great for birds!

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)
Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Leucistic American Kestrel (Julia Magill)

Late October has been great for birding here at Kiptopeke. Pine Siskins, Goldfinches, and Red-breasted Nuthatches have been dripping from the feeders. The Eastern Shore Bird Club walked the Raptor trail to Taylor Pond here and observed 51 species including a Yellow-bill Cuckoo, Hermit Thrushes, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Northern Harriers, Bald Eagles, Wood Ducks and Ruddy Ducks.

Yellow-rumpled Warbler and American Goldfinch sharing a puddle (Julia Magill)

Adult Male Northern Harrier (Julia Magill)

Red-tailed Hawks had a great day on October 30th, and so did we for getting to see such a great number of them. Anna counted 30 in total. We celebrated Halloween by counting and identifying raptors flying south! Same as everyday, except that we were in costume as some of our favorite birds we get to see on the hawkwatch. Let us know on the Facebook post if you like Anna's costume!

Anna dressed up as a Turkey Vulture (Nancy Barnhart)

Me dressed up as an Osprey (Julia Magill)

We had a nice push of Bald Eagles this week, which has helped lead us to a new Kiptopeke record for Bald Eagles seen in a season! 462 was the previous record which was overtaken on November 1st. As of today we are up to 493 and counting. There was a time when known breeding pairs of Bald Eagles on the Eastern Shore was abysmally low. It has been amazing seeing so many beautiful Bald Eagles in such  great numbers this season.

Adult Bald Eagle (Steve Thornhill)

Immature Bald Eagle ( Julia Magill )

-Julia (just kidding about the Osprey costume)

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

White birds, Gold birds, Purple birds

October 20th was a rainy dreary day. While Anna is often happy to endure some rain to watch for birds, even she sometimes decides it's just too rainy for raptors. 6 Merlins, 1 Bald Eagle and 1 Northern Harrier snuck south before the rain began.

Birds zoomed by on October 21st due to strong winds that persisted throughout the day. Raptors often flew low enough for good looks if your binoculars moved fast enough and you weren't fighting the wind to keep your balance. There was an especially amazing flight of lightning fast Merlins that zipped past in the late afternoon. We were also treated to another Golden Eagle sighting, again far away to the east. We observed a Bald Eagle harassing an Osprey for their fish for the second time this season. The Bald Eagle was successful again. Different predation strategies colliding in mid-air!

Merlin with a bug (Julia Magill)

October 22nd was a great day for Red-tail Hawks. Anna's count of 39 was a new season record. There was some excitement when 16 American White Pelicans flew north rather far to the east. We were just getting over not having a better look when another group of 18 flew over much closer and almost directly above the platform!

American White Pelicans (Julia Magill)

4 very energetic Chimney Swifts gave us quite the show on Monday when they flew close to the platform repeatedly for hours. We'd never seen Chimney Swifts come right in front of the platform like that. They were fun to watch and a challenge to capture with our cameras.

Chimney Swifts (Julia Magill)

There was a nice morning flight of Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles on October 24th. We also had two good looks at close Peregrine Falcons later in the day. Anna has been hearing Purple Finches flying overhead for the past week and a half, and today we got to see them close up when a few landed in the nearby cherry tree. There have also been many Eastern Phoebes hanging around Kiptopeke and the surrounding areas. They're fun to watch as they flutter around catching bugs!

Female and male Purple Finches (Julia Magill)

Eastern Phoebe eating a bug (Julia Magill)

Today's subadult Golden Eagle flew nice and close. The first sighting ended with it flying north, then 15 minutes later it returned with some Turkey Vultures and continued south. It's a good idea to give a good look to every bird within a group of Turkey Vultures around this time. Red-shouldered Hawks are picking up, with 5 on the 22nd and 3 today. Another highlight of the day were the large flocks of Tree Swallows dancing over the bay.

Golden Eagle (Julia Magill)

Tree Swallows (Julia Magill)


Monday, October 22, 2018

Michael The Monarch Man

Hello, I’m Michael Ferrara, CVWO’s Monarch Biologist for this years fall migration.  I graduated from SUNY ESF in Syracuse, New York with a degree in Conservation Biology. Since then I have spent numerous seasons working with endangered shorebirds in the northeast and a few seasons working with the Southern Pine Beetle in New York. I decided to give Julia and Anna a break in order to give you an update on how the fall migration has been going. 

Me searching for Monarchs. Photo by Nancy Barnhart

It was a very slow start to the season, which was pretty discouraging but over the past week the migration has really picked up. To this point there have been 528 tagged Monarchs, with a peak of 87 Monarchs tagged on October 16th. I am hoping that the migration continues at that pace. Monarchs have been seen at the greatest densities around the platform, at Pickett’s Harbor and around the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge.  

Tagged Monarch in hand. Photo by Michael Ferrara
Foraging Monarch. Photo by Michael Ferrara

So far this season there have been a few uncommon observations. On his last visit, Brian Taber observed a Brazilian Skipper although he was unable to get a photo of it. There is only 1 previously recorded observation of a Brazilian Skipper in Virginia on record.  There have also been multiple Praying Mantis’ observed predating on Monarchs.

Praying Mantis feeding on a Monarch. Photo by Michael Ferrara

In the Kiptopeke Butterfly Garden we recently had Monarch caterpillars chowing down on the milkweed growing in the garden. Along with Monarch caterpillars; Common Buckeyes, Cloudless Sulphurs, Red-spotted Purples and Clouded Sulphurs have been some of the frequent visitors to the butterfly garden. Some of the other butterflies often seen around Kiptopeke include Question Marks, American and Painted Ladies, Cabbage Whites, Spicebush Swallowtails and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. 

Monarch Caterpillar on Milkweed. Photo by Michael Ferrara

Common Buckeye at the butterfly garden. Photo by Michael Ferrara
If you plan on catching the Monarch migration, it is not too late. Come visit us at the platform before the sun sets on the fall migration.

Sunset from the Platform. Photo by Michael Ferrara


Friday, October 19, 2018

Swainson's Hawk and Golden Eagle

It's been an exciting two days at the hawkwatch!

Yesterday, October 18th, Anna spotted a juvenile light morph Swainson's Hawk circling above with Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk. This West coast bird is a rare hawk for Virginia, and usually only comes this far east if they have gotten mixed in with other Buteos.

Swainson's Hawk (Julia Magill)

Swainson's Hawk with a Turkey Vulture (Julia Magill)

Swainson's Hawk (Julia Magill)
Red-tailed Hawk (Julia Magill)

Today's excitement was due to a Golden Eagle spotted by a visitor to the platform. It was rather far to the East but was close enough for binoculars, and multiple people were able to get a good look through the scope. Hopefully this sighting will be the first of many!