Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fall Raptorthon

On November 30th, the Observatory participated again in the "Raptorthon" for the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) as we did last spring at College Creek Hawkwatch... an event to help raise awareness and funds for hawk conservation. We report our data to the HMANA website at and their Raptor Population Index project uses such data for their excellent reports, such as "The State of North America's Birds of Prey," in 2008. HMANA coordinates the largest network of raptor migration monitoring sites in the world. To learn more, visit the website. Tax-deductible donations may be made directly to them or through CVWO for your support of the Raptorthon.

That's Kiptopeke Hawkwatcher Zak Poulton in the Raptorthon 70 degree temperatures and strong south winds, we found 11 birds in 8 hours (2 Northern Harriers, 5 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 2 Cooper's Hawks and 2 Red-tailed Hawks) to end our season.

Brian Taber

Sunday, November 21, 2010

750,000th Bird Update

Well..this milestone will just have to happen next's clear that with migration winding down, the 750,000th bird at Kiptopeke Hawkwatch will not come by this month...we'll post more information about it starting August 2011...thanks to all those who sent in predictions for the contest!
Brian Taber

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Merlin Meal

Fantastic photo by Steve Thornhill, taken recently at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch, of a Merlin enjoying a favorite meal...dragonfly!

Brian Taber

Friday, November 12, 2010

Black-chinned Hummingbird

The purple gorget is evident in this adult male Black-chinned Hummingbird, found and photographed by Mark Mullins in Pulaski County, Virginia, where it stayed Nov 8-11. The species typically occurs west of the Great Plains.

Brian Taber

Saturday, November 6, 2010

750,000th Bird Update

The Kiptopeke Hawkwatch has seen a recent slowdown, even though Northern Goshawks and Golden Eagles have appeared.....and the total as of Nov 3rd is 21, get to 750,000 we have to reach 26, should be close, so send in your predictions (see related piece just below)!
Brian Taber

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Feeders at Kiptopeke

With the recent cooler weather, the bird feeders at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch have suddenly become very busy, with many American Goldfinches, Purple Finches, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins (above) joining the more usual species.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Selasphorus Hummingbird

This hummer, rare in the east and identifiable only to the genus Selasphorus, was at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch platform feeder on Oct by Zak Poulton.

Brian Taber

Monday, November 1, 2010

Northern Goshawk at Kiptopeke!

Terrific photo by Steve Thornhill, of the immature Northern Goshawk that flew right over the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch on Oct 30th.
Brian Taber

Friday, October 22, 2010

750,000 Birds!

The Kiptopeke Hawkwatch is closing in on a remarkable milestone...750,000 birds! See the button on the left side of our Home Page to enter our contest!

Regular updates to our season totals will be posted here. The total as of Oct 20 is 20,037 and we need to get to 26,833!

Brian Taber

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More Bird Habitat at Kiptopeke

On October 8th, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to officially open the newly-acquired "Taylor Pond" area at Kiptopeke State Park. It was made possible through the efforts of those pictured and also singer/songwriter/environmentalist James Taylor, who donated proceeds of a concert held in Virginia Beach. Pictured, from the left are: Fred Hazelwood, District 1 State Parks Manager; Sam Sweeney, Kiptopeke Park Manager; Steve Parker, The Nature Conservancy; Willie Randall, Northampton County Board of Supervisors; Jack Humphries, Eastern Shore Master Gardeners; Laura McKay, VA Department of Environmental Quality, Coastal Zone Management; David Johnson, Director, VA Department of Conservation and Recreation and Daniel Jordan, Assistant Park Manager at Kiptopeke. Trees and other native plants were installed in recent weeks, which, in addition to the freshwater pond, will provide crucial stopover resources for migrant birds at this globally important natural area.
Brian Taber

Monday, October 4, 2010

Northern Wheatear

Paul Nasca digiscoped this very rare Northern Wheatear at the Chincoteague causeway...he and the Fredericksburg VA Birding Club found it Oct 2nd.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monarch Migration on the Eastern Shore

These are some of the estimated 10,000+ Monarchs at a rare roost site at the tip of Virginia's Eastern Shore on Sept 20th. They were found and photographed by CVWO Monarch Researcher Kaitlyn Parkins.

Brian Taber

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Late Day Merlins

At the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch, in September, flights usually last all day, with Merlins typically the only hawks flying late in the day...these were there yesterday, still moving at sunset.

Brian Taber

Thursday, September 16, 2010


After living in Virginia for 40 years, this is the first coyote I've seen at Craney Island, Portsmouth....yet another threat to the colonial nesting birds there.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

White-cheeked Pintail

Distant picture, but still showing the famous cheeks...and even a bit of the red bill base...of the White-cheeked Pintail, found at Chincoteague right after Hurricane Earl blustered up the east coast, Sept 2nd. Could it have been storm-blown?

Brian Taber

Monday, August 23, 2010

Buff-breasted Sandpiper and Caspian Terns at Hog Island

Today, the juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Adam D'Onofrio found yesterday was still at Hog Island Wildlife Management Area in Surry County, along with a staggering assemblage of 811 Caspian Terns, an apparent State high count.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Piping Plover

This Piping Plover was on the Chesapeake Bay shoreline at Grandview Beach, Hampton today.....with Semi-palmated Plover in 2nd image.

Brian Taber

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fall Programs

The Observatory's late summer and fall migration programs will be up and running soon at Kiptopeke State Park on the the Eastern Shore. Calvin Brennan, our hawkwatcher last year, is returning as head songbird bander and Zak Poulton, who manned the Seaside Hawkwatch last year will be our Kiptopeke Hawkwatcher. Bob Chapman is also returning to band hawks. The songbird station is scheduled to begin by August 18th and the hawk programs begin Sept 1st.

Katlyn Parkins is our Monarch butterfly migration person, who will begin tagging and counting Sept 15th.

These programs operate daily, weather permitting and you can follow the Kiptopeke Blog for regular updates about the migration.

Brian Taber

Monday, July 19, 2010


This displeased Barred Owl was being harassed by American Crows the other day, in my yard here in Williamsburg.

Brian Taber

Friday, July 2, 2010


I know this is a Virginia blog...but I wanted to share a few images of my June Scotland trip...and the Northern Fulmar and Common Eider are familiar to Virginia birders....Lapwing is recorded on the east coast....the Whinchat is a Turdidae "cousin" of wheatears...and the Red in heavy making a comeback thanks to conservationist's efforts...and a Loch Ness that something in the water?

Brian Taber

Saturday, June 12, 2010

College Creek Hawkwatch Season Ends

The 14th consecutive late winter/spring hawkwatch at College Creek ended on May 30th. It began on February 12th and coverage was 68 days (6th highest) and 130.75 hours (4th highest). The total was 1550, the 3rd highest.

Bald Eagles set a new season record of 150, thanks to 2 remarkable days in May (see Blog posts below) and the Osprey total of 266 was also a new season record.

Turkey Vultures at 917 were the 4th best, Black Vultures at 41 were only 8th best as were Northern Harriers, at 30. A rather low Sharp-shinned Hawk total of 45, combined with a high Cooper's Hawk total of 22, to make the ratio of Cooper's to Sharp-shinneds a startling 48%....that compares to 12% and 20% for 2009 and 2008 respectively.

There were 2 Mississippi Kites on May 16th, a species that was widely reported in Virginia this spring. Only 2 years have seen fewer than our 3 Broad-winged Hawks, though they are rare at this water-crossing site and are never seen in flocks here. Red-shouldered Hawks are sporadic and were about average at 5, Red-tailed Hawks at 45 were the 4th best, though far below the record 68.

American Kestrels at 20 were fewer than last year's 33, though better than the previous 4 years. There were 2 Merlins, always rare at the site and no Peregrines, though a Peregrine seen at Hog Island on May 2nd likely flew across the river and past College Creek.

The 1,000th bird of the season was recorded on April 5th, the 2nd earliest date for that event, however, the second half of the season slowed considerably with only 522 birds or 37% of the season total seen after the midpoint, April 7th.

Six American White Pelicans were seen on 2 April dates for a great non-raptor highlight and there were many excellent swallow flights and even some good flights of butterflies crossing the river when winds were strong from the southwest.

The complete data is on the website. For more details about the hawkwatch, please contact me directly. Thanks again to the other regular volunteers Tom Armour, Bill Williams and Fred Blystone.

Brian Taber

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nighthawk Nest

This female Common Nighthawk was on a nest at Craney Island, Portsmouth, last month.
Brian Taber

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Red-necked Phalaropes

This pair of Red-necked Phalaropes was at Craney Island, Portsmouth, today.

Brian Taber

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Another Big Bald Eagle Day at College Creek

Just 3 days after our daily record Bald Eagle day (34), Tom and Jeanne Armour and I were treated to another exciting blitz today at College Creek Hawkwatch...25 more, mostly in just about 15 minutes! Flight conditions and visibility were great...steady southeast winds and lots of medium-height clouds. Backlighting makes ageing the birds difficult, but there were a number of dark-bellied juveniles.

Twelve Turkey Vultures and our 4th Red-shouldered Hawk were the only other migrants.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New Bald Eagle Daily Record at College Creek

As the weather was clearing from 2 days of heavy rain, a spectacular Bald Eagle flight took place at College Creek hawkwatch this morning, mostly from 11 a.m to 12 p.m. (EDT) The 34 Bald Eagles (3 were adults) far surpassed the previous daily high of 21 at College Creek, set on May 7, 2009. I'll have to do some research to see if any Virginia hawkwatch has recorded more in a day.

The only other migrants recorded were 5 Turkey Vultures and 2 Ospreys. There were about 20 Bald Eagles still over Hog Island when I left.
Brian Taber

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mississippi Kites at College Creek

After numerous reports of Mississippi Kites around Virginia this spring, 2 finally flew past College Creek Hawkwatch this morning, providing the only highlight during a slow migration period over the past 3 weeks.

Due to backlighting, I couldn't determine the ages.

Brian Taber

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Red Knot

This handsome Red Knot was at Grandview Beach in Hampton yesterday.

Brian Taber

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Hudsonian Godwit at Hog Island

During today's Williamsburg Bird Club Spring Count, we found this stunning Hudsonian Godwit at Hog Island WMA, Surry County, for only the 4th local record, the only one in alternate plumage and one of very few State spring records, for a species that normally migrates through the Great Plains.

Brian Taber

Thursday, April 29, 2010

High Flying Loons

In April, we regularly see small groups of Common Loons flying very high over College Creek Hawkwatch, typically heading northeast. This bird was hundreds of feet up, but with a 10x camera, the detail is still pretty good...the white collar of breeding plumage is even slightly visible. This was 2 days ago when 17 flew by.

Brian Taber

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Common Raven!

Yesterday, I saw a Common Raven soaring over a shopping center with Turkey Vultures, then it "dive-bombed" a Turkey Vulture, here in James City County, near Williamsburg. Other birds soaring nearby, also apparently enjoying thermal updrafts from the buildings and parking lot, were an Osprey, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Cooper's Hawk and a Broad-winged Hawk. The only other local area records for Common Raven are 1996 and 1949, both in York County. Common Ravens have been reported recently near Richmond and in Halifax County, southwest of here, near the North Carolina border.

Brian Taber

Saturday, April 17, 2010

White Pelicans at College Creek Hawkwatch

Six American White Pelicans were seen circling over Hog Island, from the hawkwatch, at about 1 p.m. today, April 17th...those dark dots are them...1 1/2 to 2 miles away! Also...a little better picture of the one at Craney Island, Portsmouth, week before last.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peregrines in Love

This was taken last week by Observatory Treasurer and Raptor Team co-leader, Robert Klages, at the Armada Hoffler building at Town Center, Virginia Beach.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Today, April 7, 2010, College Creek Hawkwatch participated in the "Spring Raptorthon," an event sponsored by the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA), to raise funds and also awareness, of the need for raptor conservation. We send our hawkwatch data daily to the HMANA electronic database at HMANA also publishes periodic reports on the status of raptors across the continent, using such data. It is a great organization.

The Observatory is sending a donation to HMANA for the Raptorthon and we are also asking those of you who are concerned about raptor conservation to send a donation on behalf of our efforts today. If you would like to help, please send a check, in any amount, made payable to HMANA, to me at 103 Exeter Court, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185, by April 20, 2010.

Thanks for your support of our raptors!

As for our day today...temperatures were near record highs, in the 90s F. and the skies were very hazy across the river... but we managed 5 species...6 Turkey Vultures, 2 Ospreys, 2 Bald Eagles, a Northern Harrier and an American Kestrel. The extreme heat is expected to break tomorrow night and we expect the good hawk flights to resume with a new weather system!

Pictured are Bill Williams and Shirley Devan, wearing Observatory gear!
Brian Taber

Monday, April 5, 2010

1,000th Bird at College Creek

Our 2nd Merlin of the College Creek Hawkwatch season just missed being the 1,000th bird of the season, which was...not surprisingly...a Turkey Vulture. Bill Williams had just left and so missed the champagne celebration! The sky was very hazy and the flight was modest...12 Turkey Vultures, 4 Ospreys, 2 Northern Harriers, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, an American Kestrel and a Merlin.

We always track the date of the 1,000th bird to see how the migration season is progressing. That date for 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006 and 2005 was April 13th, May 13th (latest), April 2nd (earliest), April 11th and April 19th we are ahead of the usual pace.

Brian Taber

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tagged Vulture and Pine Elfin

There were two unusual observations at College Creek Hawkwatch today. This tagged Black Vulture was nearby, along the river, feasting on a snapping turtle...we'll try to find out more about it...and...a seldom-seen, very small, very early season butterfly, an Eastern Pine Elfin, appeared right at our feet.

And, though quite distant, a bird that was likely a Boat-tailed Grackle, crossed the river headed north. Last May, we recorded our first of that species and wondered if they are pioneering in our area.

Brian Taber

Thursday, April 1, 2010

No Foolin!

April Fool's Day turned out to be an excellent flight day...the 3rd best daily total in our 14 seasons....139. Light southeast winds and temperatures over 70 F pushed 30 Ospreys, 6 Black Vultures, 2 Bald Eagles, 5 Northern Harriers, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 American Kestrels, a Cooper's Hawk and 89 Turkey Vultures across the river and mostly right overhead! The flight lasted about 3 hours.

We also saw our first Caspian Tern of the season and heard our first Yellow-throated Warbler today. Hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants and Tree Swallows were also moving north.

I don't know which old ship this is....but it was headed upriver past us toward Jamestown.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

College Creek Hawkwatch March Total

In typical March fashion, the flights and weather were wildly up-and-down. After an excellent start to the month, the last 7 days saw only 80 birds tallied...64 of those today, on March 31st! The March total of 643 compares to March totals of 690, 495 and 730 for 2009, 2008 and 2007 respectively.

The season total of 786 is a little ahead of the usual pace.

Today, we saw 2 Northern Harriers, 2 American Kestrels and 8 Ospreys, in addition to the 52 Turkey Vultures that struggled across the river in the strong northwest wind. The wind is forecast to be much less tomorrow, with temperatures near 80 F. so a strong flight is predicted.

We also saw our first Purple Martin cross the river today.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wasp Nests and GPS

Gary Driscole and I canoed and hiked Dragon Run today, in King and Queen County, cleaning wasp nests from Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes, adding a box and re-locating some others. Gary also set the GPS points for all 11 boxes. Last season, 6 of the 10 boxes hosted Prothonotaries.

The project is a joint effort of the Observatory, Friends of Dragon Run and the Historic Rivers Chapter of Master Naturalists. For more information about the pristine river, there is a Friends of Dragon Run link on the links section of this website.

Brian Taber

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Red-shouldereds and Rough-wingeds at College Creek Hawkwatch

Fred Blystone and Alice and Sig Kopinitz (photo) were on hand today at the College Creek Hawkwatch for our first Red-shouldered Hawks of the season....two immature birds only one minute apart....low and right overhead! The species breeds around here, but we usually also see a few crossing the river in migration each season at the hawkwatch...totals for the past 6 years are only 1, 3, 6, 6, 2 and 5, so it's always exciting.

The weather was warm and the flight was decent...45 birds of 7 species.

We also saw our first Northern Rough-winged Swallows today.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cooper's Hawks at College Creek Hawkwatch

Yesterday, March 9th, we recorded our first Cooper's Hawks of the season, with 2 birds...and today we broke our daily record for Cooper's with 8 more. The record had been 7. Another Cooper's was sitting in a tree near the hawkwatch when I arrived and so not counted, since it wasn't seen crossing the river. They are clearly on the move in this area. As a comparison, our entire season totals for Cooper's over 13 previous seasons has ranged from 2-41, though the second highest was only 25. Totals for 2008 and 2009 were 9 and 13 respectively.

Today's flight was very exciting, with 60 of the 71 birds coming in less than one hour, as the sun broke through heavy overcast. It clouded up again and the flight ended as abruptly as it started.

Today's totals: 52 Turkey Vultures, 2 Ospreys, 3 Bald Eagles, 1 Northern Harrier, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 8 Cooper's Hawks and a Red-tailed Hawk.

Seven species is good diversity for the early season.

Thanks to Shirley Devan today for her help in finding birds!

Last evening, waterfowl migration was heavy, too, with 1,000+ Canada Geese and 100+ Tundra Swans over my yard here in Williamsburg at dusk.

Also, at the hawkwatch today was an early Royal Tern.

Brian Taber

Monday, March 8, 2010

Good Day at College Creek Hawkwatch

There are few 100+ bird days at the hawkwatch, so today's 95 was very good, especially for the early season: 4 Black Vultures, 78 Turkey Vultures, 1 Osprey, 1 Bald Eagle, 4 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 7 Red-tailed Hawks...the daily Red-tailed record is 9.

Recent bright sun and moderate winds have produced excellent conditions for migration. Over the past several days, we have seen Tundra Swans, Northern Pintails, Bonaparte's Gulls, Forster's Terns, Tree Swallows, Greater Yellowlegs, Fish Crows, lots of blackbird and gull flocks....and our first butterfly today, a Sleepy Orange.

The March total is 210 with only 5 days of coverage...the season total is 353.

Brian Taber

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Glaucous Gull

This gorgeous 2nd winter Glaucous Gull was on the Elizabeth River in Portsmouth today, at a location not open to the public.

Brian Taber

Monday, March 1, 2010

College Creek Hawkwatch Underway

The 14th consecutive season of the hawkwatch began on February 12th. This is the only regular late winter/spring hawkwatch in Virginia. It's located on the Colonial Parkway, on the James River, 3 miles southeast of Williamsburg. Birds are counted as they cross the river. The February total of 138 on 9 days of coverage is pretty typical for the early season.....125 Turkey Vultures, 3 Black Vultures, 3 Bald Eagles, 6 Red-tailed Hawks and an early American Kestrel. Bald Eagles are seen daily, though usually fishing and are not counted unless they display migratory behavior. The weather has included high winds and snow. March will see better weather, many more birds and greater species diversity.

We usually find our first Osprey in the last 10 days of February, but didn't this year.

Results will be posted on the site and regular updates will appear on this Blog and on the VA List Serve.

Vistors are welcome. Please contact me for more information about the site.

Brian Taber