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

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Horned Lark

This Horned Lark was searching for food in a snow-covered field near Jamestown, just after the recent snowfall and frigid temperatures. Brian Taber

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Orange Variant Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwings normally have yellow-tipped tails, though sometimes orange-tipped variants are seen. Books often say the difference is diet-related, though it would seem that these birds, which generally move in flocks, are all eating the same things, so it's interesting that differences occur. This bird was in my yard in James City County yesterday.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Unusual Cormorants

Below are three photos of different-sized cormorants: the top one shows a small cormorant on the left, with yellow-orange skin above and below the beak next to a "typical" Double-crested; note the small bird's very small beak and legs and feet; the middle photo shows the 3 sizes in the same posture; the bottom photo shows the large bird on the right with the heavy head, thick beak, thick, brown neck and body structure like a Great Cormorant, but with yellow-orange skin above and below the beak, as with Double-crested and with no white on throat or cheek, as typical for Great, though an apparent second winter Great. While there can certainly be some individual size and plumage variation, these examples seem, from my experience, to be well outside the norm. I have not yet researched hybridization examples...Neoptropic X Double-crested?... though the small bird is a good candidate for a hybrid and I welcome any comments. I saw them today at the Jamestown ferry dock.
Brian Taber

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cave Swallow Specimen

Cave Swallows from the southwestern U.S. have made an impressive invasion to the east coast since November. Very warm weather conditions surely helped sustain these wanderers.This one was found freshly dead in Portsmouth today by an Observatory bird research team. The delicate feather pattern on this handsome bird is hard to see well in flight, but is easily seen here.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ross's Goose

This rare Ross's Goose was at Hog Island Wildlife Management Area, in Surry County, during the Williamsburg Bird Club's Christmas Bird Count on Dec 20th. Even with a distant view, the small body, small, rounded, unstained head, short neck and small, triangular bill, with no "grin patch," are evident. Only the main road was open, not the side trails.

Brian Taber

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Baywatch Cetaceans

Pods of dolphins have been a daily sight at the baywatch. Ocassionally the dolphins will completely jump out of the water, as pictured below. The regular dolphin show had a whale guest star yesterday: a possible humpback whale. The whale surfaced twice as it headed south towards the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT). At least three individuals were seen foraging along the islands of the CBBT later that day.

Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin breaching. Photo taken November 28, 2015 from the CVWO baywatch by Katie Rittenhouse

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Gray Kingbird continued

The gray kingbird, a rarity from Florida and further south, remained on Magotha Road into Monday. Which provided the opportunity for more people to see this rare bird after a rainy Sunday.

Gray Kingbird on Magotha Road. Photo take November 21, 2015 by Ellison Orcutt.
Gray Kingbird on Magotha Road. Photo taken November 23, 2015 by Brian Taber.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Gray Kingbird

A gray kingbird was found yesterday on Magotha Road by Fenton Day and Ellison Orcutt. The bird was perched on the telephone wires catching small insects. As of this morning, the bird was still on Magotha Road.

Gray kingbird on Magotha Road. Photo taken by Zak Poulton on November 22, 2015.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 Monarch Butterfly Summary

The monarch butterfly biologist, Angela Zappalla, finished the 2015 season last week with a total of 345 butterflies tagged. One uncommon butterfly that Angela spotted was a long tailed skipper.The monarch biologist performs daily point count surveys at the Kiptopeke hawk watch platform. Angela's high count was around thirty butterflies in three hours during the peak of the migration.

Monarch butterflies and buckeye butterflies on golden rod during the migration peak. Taken by Katie Rittenhouse on October 8, 2015.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Franklin's Gulls

A strong storm in the Midwest and Great Lakes region this past Wednesday pushed large amounts of Franklin's Gulls to the eastern half of the continent. An article on Ebird ( describes the fallout and includes several links, such as a map of recent sightings. Franklin's Gulls have been identified along the Virginia coast on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT), Island 1 on the CBBT, the pier at Kiptopeke State Park, and at Rudee Inlet.

Franklin's Gull by Island 1 on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel; November 13,2015. Photo by Ned Brinkley
~Katie Rittenhouse

Monday, November 9, 2015

Ash-throated Flycatcher

An Ash-throated Flycatcher was identified by Eli Gross at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch yesterday. The flycatcher, a rare visitor from the west, spent ten minutes perching on objects around the platform before flying away.
Ash-throated Flycatcher found on November 8, 2015 at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch. Photo by Brian Taber

~Katie Rittenhouse

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Oregon Junco

A Dark-eyed Junco Oregon form was found at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch feeders on October 16, 2015. More recently, on November 5, 2015; an Evening Grosbeak flew over the hawkwatch while calling. Both birds are rare on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

An Oregon Junco at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch feeders on October 16, 2015. Photo by Ned Brinkley
~Katie Rittenhouse

Friday, November 6, 2015

Black Scoter

Most scoters detected on the baywatch are at least one mile out in the bay. Although, there are exceptions to this general flight line. One black scoter has been an exception for the past week. One individual has been seen foraging by the pound nets every morning. There were even two spotted only 50 ft from the beach the one day.
A close black scoter foraging by the pound nets. Photo by Katie Rittenhouse
~Katie Rittenhouse

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Tundra Swans at Baywatch

Migration activity has greatly increased at the baywatch. A seasonal high count of 327 Northern Gannets were detected on Sunday, migrating south towards the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Migration activity has also increased for waterfowl; now totaling 17 species. The three tundra swans pictured below were floating and vocalizing in front of the baywatch today.

One of three Tundra Swans at that baywatch this morning. Photo by Katie Rittenhouse

~Katie Rittenhouse

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Baywatch Report

Below is a quick rundown of what Katie the Baywatcher has been seeing.

"The Baywatch started on October 3rd, delayed by the hurricane that threatened to come up from the south. The weather pushed some Parasitic Jaegers into the bay and there was one detected on the first and second day of the count. Terns were abundant in the beginning of the count, and have been replaced by waterfowl. Black Scoters and Surf Scoters are the most abundant. Canada Geese, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Wood Ducks, American Wigeon, American Black Duck, and scaup have also been identified thus far. Common Loons are also becoming more prevalent."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Katie Rittenhouse, Baywatch Extraordinaire

In addition to the annual hawkwatch, Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory also funds an annual baywatch program to monitor the migration status of many different waterbirds. This year, Katie Rittenhouse is the hired watcher and she's been doing a marvelous job, sitting out there day after day keeping track of the birds she sees. Katie has also served as the hawkwatcher in previous years but decided to try something different this year.
Pictured above is Katie Rittenhouse, our baywatcher as she scans for waterbirds.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Mantis and the Monarch

Our monarch biologist, Angela Zappalla has been taking some very neat photos lately and I thought I would share on the blog.
Apparently the Monarch's less than tasty reputation didn't deter this mantis from having an afternoon snack.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Festival Weekend II

Above is our Monarch Biologist, demonstrating the tagging techiniques she performs every day.

Festival Weekend

By: Graham Scarbrough

CVWO got to help celebrate the Birding Festival this past weekend by giving various presentations which included one on raptor migration and another on Monarch Butterfly migration. Hawkwatch intern Graham Scarbrough, Hawkwatcher Eli Gross, and CVWO President Brian Taber tag-teamed the raptor presentation and Monarch Biologist Angela provided a tagging demonstration of a Monarch Butterfly. It was another successful festival and fun was had by all on up on the platform.
Pictured above is Hawkwatch Intern Graham Scarbrough as he talks about raptor migration.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Crisis Averted

By: Graham Scarbrough

As many people already know, hurricane Jaoquin had us coastal dwellers quite nervous as it arose in the south. Luckily, it changed course allowing us to breath a sigh of relief. For about four days however, we were socked in by rain and winds, causing the raptor flight to slow almost to a stop. This caused a sort of bottling effect and on the day that the skies cleared (10/5), we had quite a flight. Our total number was 4330, with Sharp-shinned Hawks taking the largest piece of the pie. Merlins also had a nice flight of over 300. We had one visitor that was particularly interesting: a tail-less Cooper's Hawk. We did get a good picture of it as it passed over the platform and I hope to get a copy to post soon. The following day (10/7) was not too shabby either with over 2000 birds total. The peregrines have not made a large push yet but we hope that will change soon.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Winged Wizard

By: Graham Scarbrough

One of the treats offered by hours upon hours spent on the observation platform is the occasional brief, intimate look into the lives of the wildlife that surrounds it. Of course, seeing 390 Merlins pass overhead in a single day is exhilarating; but for myself, it is the more personal experiences that hold a special place in my memory. I can try to describe what it was like seeing a Peregrine Falcon stoop across the sky and miss snatching a Merlin by a matter of inches as it back-flipped, allowing the larger falcon to pass just underneath. I can attempt to articulate how a Merlin displayed its athletic ability by plucking a Tree Swallow right out of the air, or how another Merlin possessed an almost puzzled look as sat on a nearby pole and picked at the aluminum band around its leg. But I know all of that would be useless. The only way to fully appreciate those experiences is to have been there and seen them with ones own eyes.
I love the modern camera as much as the next person but I must admit: I often find myself remembering the picture more readily than the memory itself. Some of my most cherished memories are only in my mind and I believe that is not a coincidence. What makes those memories so valuable to me is that they, and the feelings associated with them, remained uncaptured by video or a photograph. Whether they were moments of awe inspired by nature, or moments filled with a most profound sense of love, or friendship, they will always be in me. Not possessed by me, but filling me, and the few others fortunate enough to share in such a moment.

"All conservation of wildness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish." - Aldo Leopold

I did my best, but I don't think a million pictures could have done this bird justice. Merlin with band on its right leg. Photo courtesy Eli Gross.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The pictures you've all been waiting for...

A Zone-tailed Hawk made its way past the hawkwatch platform on September 23rd and we were fortunate enough to have a guest with an adequate camera to capture some great photos. The bird came right over the platform, floated nicely for a few seconds, and continued southward. The same bird was seen twice on the 24th from the platform. It came by again heading south, and a few hours later came back, this time approaching from the south before going into a very high soar and disappearing from view. Check out the photos below for a nice look. The photos were taken on the 23rd at the first sighting by platform visitor, Charlie Boykin. This is expected to be the first documented state record of a Zone-tailed Hawk in Virginia, so it's kind of a big deal.
Zone-tailed Hawk passing over the platform. Photo courtesy Charlie Boykin.

Zone-tailed Hawk checking out the hawkwatch platform. Photo courtesy Charlie Boykin.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Kiptopeke Hummers

We've enjoyed the company of several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds so far this season. They visit the feeders throughout the day and can often be seen chasing each other around the platform. Recent visitor, Jessica Ausura captured this great photo of three of them the a few days ago. Stay tuned for a photo taken by another visitor of the Zone-tailed Hawk that passed over the platform yesterday and twice today (9/24)!
Three Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, photo credit: Jessica Ausura.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Migration Week!

We kicked off International Hawk Migration Week with a great Merlin flight on Monday (9/21). We had a total of 389 Merlins for the day and over 700 total raptors. The majority of the flight was low and fast right over the treetops in the afternoon, which made for a very fun day for Eli and Graham up on the platform.
Thanks to Hawk Migration Association of America, where we send our hawkwatch data, we are celebrating Hawk Migration Week.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Cooper's Hawk

Recently we had a young Cooper's Hawk stop at a "T" pole near the platform. For those new to raptor identification we were able to identify this birds age based on its plumage and eye color as well. Notice the overall two tone color scheme of this bird. It is brown and white, with brown streaking on the breast. An adult bird is characterized by an orange breast with horizontal barring. The backside of an adult bird is also a more of a slate color than a brown as in the juvenile. Also notice the color of this birds eye. The iris is yellow whereas in an adult bird, the iris is typically orange or red. Although there is not much for scale in this photo, the Cooper's is bigger than its cousin the Sharp-shinned Hawk. This can also be an indicator when distinguishing between the two.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A spark of migration, perhaps?

The raptors are beginning to move in larger numbers out here on the Eastern Shore. Decent numbers of Broad-winged Hawks were spotted kettling on their journey south. However, kestrels took the day with a high of 59. We nearly broke 200 total birds on the 15th and it looks as though the conditions will improve as the week continues, assuming the forecast can be trusted. We have already surpassed our previous high of 193 birds. Today, at 2:30 p.m. we are sitting at 195. On a separate, but related note, Eli spotted a pair of Mississippi Kites soaring past the platform heading south on the 13th. Hopefully the counts will just keep getting bigger and better!

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Fishy Visitor

An Osprey recently appeared at the platform and he packed a lunch! Eli and Graham were fortunate enough to photograph it before it decided to take its lunch to-go. The photo was taken with a camera phone through a spotting scope. So far this season, Ospreys, Bald Eagles, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Broad-winged Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlins, Peregrine Falcons, and even a pair of Mississippi Kites have all passed the platform. The passerine movement has been decent as well. No huge numbers of raptors have been reported yet but we hope for that to change within the next few weeks!
Pictured above is one of our avian visitors, the Osprey.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Meet CVWO's New Fall Staff, Part II

Meet Graham Scarbrough. Graham got the raptor bug from trapping and banding hawks and falcons with his dear old dad back in Missouri. He will be our Hawkwatch Intern/Educator for the months of September and October. He can be found on the platform or in the woods nearby, taking "neature" walks with various groups, talking about all the neat things that nature has to offer. If you get the chance, come meet him at the hawkwatch site and he'll be happy to talk about bird migration, the geographical significance of the area, and how CVWO and Kiptopeke State Park work together to make it the best migration hotspot it can be, for the birds and the people!
Pictured above is Graham Scarbrough, our Hawkwatch Intern/Educator

Meet CVWO's New Fall Staff!

Meet Eli Gross. Eli is our Hawkwatcher this year and he travelled all the way from San Francisco, CA to be here, witnessing one of the greatest concentrations of migrating raptors in the country. Eli has volunteered his time at various hawk watches over the past several years and his identification skills are very valued here, as many of the birds are just small silhouettes as they pass over the platform. He arrived at the beginning of September and will be here nearly every day until the end of November. If you get the chance, come out and see him at the platform!
This is Eli Gross, our hawkwatching fiend!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Young Red-shouldered Hawk

This is one of two very noisy young Red-shouldered Hawks, hatched a few weeks ago, constantly begging for food from its parents, in my yard here in James City County. Their nest was in the yard next door and was begun in February. The youngsters will soon be on their own.
Brian Taber

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Seven year old female Prothonotary Warbler returns to Northwest River Park

by Guest Blogger Shirley Devan

Monitoring Prothonotary Warblers at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake is well underway with a high occupancy rate in the 100 boxes spread around this bald cypress-lined river.

Since mid-April, volunteer licensed bander Shirley Devan has captured 16 female Prothonotary Warblers – 9 recaputured females banded in prior years or earlier this year and 7 newly banded birds.

May 5 excitement came at box 4 where we recaptured “Chelsea," a seven year old female Prothonotary Warbler. This female was originally banded as a second year bird June 14, 2009 at box 5 by either Renee Hudgins or John Young. Most likely she hatched at Northwest River Park in 2008. She is 7 years old this year – remarkable longevity for a neotropical migrant.

May 19 we banded Chelsea’s four nestlings and their photo is shown here.

These warblers have two clutches per season and the first clutch is hatching now in mid May

Monday, May 4, 2015

May Membership Drive

Each May, at the height of bird migration, Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory conducts it's annual membership drive, so if you want to become a member to support wildlife programs...and receive regular reports...please visit the website membership button for more details.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Happy Earth Day!

This tiny, but exquisite Harvester butterfly, that just visited my yard in James City County, has the only carnivorous caterpillar in North America...they eat aphids....what a wonderful example of the diversity of life on our planet! Brian Taber

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

1,000th Bird at College Creek Hawkwatch

We track the passing of our 1,000th bird for the season at College Creek Hawkwatch, to see how our season is progressing, compared to our other seasons. Yesterday, we reached that mark at about the average time despite a cold winter and cold early spring...and not surprisingly, it was a Turkey Vulture, as they are at their peak movement now. We will begin seeing more Bald Eagles, Ospreys and hawks soon.
Brian Taber

Friday, February 27, 2015

"Oregon" Junco in James City County

This "Oregon" Junco, a western sub-species of Dark-eyed Junco, is rare in this area and was near College Creek on the Colonial Parkway in James City County late this afternoon. The convex lower border to the dark hood and extensive pinkish-brown flanks and sides of the breast show even in this poor image in low light through the car windshield. The back is quite brownish. Another western sub-species, "Pink-sided," is very similar, but has a much lighter-colored hood and a distinct black mark between the eye and bill. Interestingly, the foreground bird also appears to have a dark hood with a convex lower edge...too bad there aren't more resembles another form, "Cassiars" or as the Sibley guide lists it, "Canadian Rocky Mountain" form...males have grayish sides and the hood. The background bird appears to be a classic "Slate-colored" with no hood and a straight margin of gray across the breast and flanks, contrasting with the whitish undersides. So...could there be 3 forms of Dark-eyed Junco shown? The larger photo, though poor quality, when enlarged, appears to show as many as 7 in this flock with hooded/brown-backed/buff-sided characteristics! For more info on this remarkable group of birds, see
Brian Taber

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Smith's Longspur

This Smith's Longspur, at Shenandoah Regional Airport in Augusta County, photographed here by Shirley Devan on Feb 25, represents a remarkable first record for Virginia. The bird was found 3 days ago and many birders have travelled to see it. A high arctic breeder, the species normally winters in the southern great plains.