Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Seasons greetings...Happy New Year and thanks to everyone who shared photos and information for the General Blog!

Cold December waterscape from Virginia's beautiful Eastern Shore.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

LeConte's Sparrow

Terrific photo of a rare LeConte's Sparrow, one of two found by Allen Bryan on the Hopewell Christmas Count, December 18th.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Selasphorus Hummingbird

This western hummingbird, likely a Rufous with all the back coloration, is one of two (!!) Selasphorus hummers now in the yard of John Young and Renee Hudgins, who took the picture, in Virginia Beach.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bald Eagle Banded at Kiptopeke

This handsome hatch-year Bald Eagle was captured and banded today at the Kiptopeke Hawk Banding Station, the 3rd ever for the station. Bander Bob Chapman was assisted in processing by Hawkwatcher Kyle Wright.

Brian Taber

Friday, November 11, 2011


The Observatory recently created a Facebook page to enhance information sharing...we welcome comments about our programs.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Final Results for Prothonotary Warbler Boxes in Chesapeake, VA

Shirley Devan here again. Blog Owner Brian Taber invited me to post the final results of the Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake. We had a great season down there. Here are the final data.

Stephen Living, VaDGIF Wildlife Biologiest, or I, plus volunteers from CVWO, Williamsburg Bird Club, and Historic Rivers Chapter of VA Master Naturalists, visited Northwest River Park 22 times between April 13 and July 5 – sometimes twice a week – to ensure that as many nestlings and adults as possible were counted and banded. Here are the final numbers:

  • 136 PROW nestlings banded
  • 17 new PROW females captured and banded
  • 3 new PROW males captured and banded
  • 55 boxes showed evidence of PROW nest activity (from "sprig of moss" to 2 broods)
  • 6 boxes had 2 broods that were banded
  • 9 female PROW females banded at Northwest River in 2009 and 2010 were “recaptured” in 2011. Five were banded as adults in 2009; one was banded as a nestling in 2009; three were banded as adults in 2010.
In the original 39 boxes at Northwest River Park since 2008, 38 boxes showed evidence of PROW nesting activity – ranging from “sprig of moss” to two broods.

Many thanks to the organizations who provided start-up supplies, labor, and financial support for this 2011 effort:

  • Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory
  • VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Virginia Society of Ornithology
  • Richmond Audubon Society
  • Williamsburg Bird Club and individual Bird Club members
  • Members of Historic Rivers Chapter, VA Master Naturalist
The 62 new boxes installed in 2011 showed moderate to no activity, depending on location. Ten of the 23 boxes close to the original 39 hosted PROW nest activity. The farther the boxes were from the original 39, the less activity. Some of the boxes will be candidates for repositioning in 2012, but many will probably remain in position for a second year to give the warblers a chance to find and nest in them.

We’re looking forward to mid-April 2012 when the first Prothonotary Warblers arrive!! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Golden Eagle at Kiptopeke

This hatch-year Golden Eagle today at the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch was the 2nd for the season.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Leucistic Red-tailed

This striking partially leucistic Red-tailed Hawk, soaring with a Turkey Vulture, was photographed by Evan Spears in Buckingham County on October 24, 2011.

Brian Taber

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gulf Fritillary

Gorgeous, and rare in VA, this Gulf Fritillary was at the butterfly garden at Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge yesterday.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trying to Look Like a Stick

This Yellow-billed Cuckoo stayed completely frozen, trying to be unseen, for 10 minutes, just off the trail at Kiptopeke on Oct 9th.

Brian Taber

Sunday, October 2, 2011

ANOTHER Unusual Gull

This bird has been at Craney Island, Portsmouth, since spring...studied by a bird survey team in this closed area...not evident in these portraits, is the fact that it is smaller than a Herring is whitish, which might suggest Kumlien's Iceland Gull, though it has a very large head and bill, which does not fit that gull...notice that the wingtips and tail in the lowest image from June 23, 2011 are very ragged...and the bird is filthy, from bill to feet, from foraging in dark dredge spoil, but the wings are coming in with some new, rather buffy feathers in the next image up, August 20, 2011 and the bill and feet are cleaned up...and the top two images are from today, October 13, 2011...finally got a flight image, though not crisp, it does show the upperwing pattern....possibly a hybrid Kumlien's and Herring?

Brian Taber

Unusual Gull

In September 2010, a red-billed, red-legged gull was reported from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel, thought to be an aberrant Laughing Gull and on September 4, 2011, a similar gull, though orange-billed, was seen at the boat ramp at Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge...then...the same bird or another, was at the bridge-tunnel on September 23, 2011...then...the same or another was reported in late September from fields on the lower Eastern Shore. The top picture here is from the bridge-tunnel this year and the bottom picture is from the Refuge....notice the wingtip difference...and the mantle color can look quite different depending on the light...the bird, or birds, appeared to have a mantle color similar to nearby Laughing Gulls.

Brian Taber

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Swainson's Hawk at Kiptopeke

This Swainson's Hawk, a rare visitor from the western U.S. and rarely photographed in Virginia, flew past the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch late yesterday afternoon and was photographed half an hour later at Eastern Shore of VA National Wildlife Refuge, which is just south of Kiptopeke. Apparently, the bird didn't like the look of the 17-mile wide mouth of the Chesaspeake Bay, as it was heading back north.

The crisp black tail band indicates an adult or maybe sub-adult bird. The tail doesn't look so white in some other photos and normally shows grayish banding. The brownish coloration on the belly and pale underwing coverts would seem to indicate an "intermediate" morph. Swainson's are unusual among hawks in having a sub-adult plumage. They also show a wide variety of color types, including reddish, dark, light and intermediate.

Brian Taber

Sunday, September 11, 2011

That's a BIG Catfish

This Double-crested Cormorant at the Jamestown Ferry two days ago had quite a time with this big catfish....but got it down!

Brian Taber

Friday, August 12, 2011

White M Hairstreak

This White M Hairstreak, very rare in Virginia and exquisitely beautiful, was at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden today. The Observatory is a Garden partner and helps maintain the butterfly garden section.

Brian Taber

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Phalarope

Very rare in Virginia, especially in summer, this adult Red Phalarope, molting into basic plumage, was at Craney Island, Portsmouth today. We watched as a low-flying helicopter flushed it somewhere into the nearby James River.

Brian Taber

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ridiculous Legs!

This Black-necked Stilt was at Craney Island, Portsmouth today.

Brian Taber

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Purple Martin Youngsters

These young Purple Martins were trying out their new wings at Craney Island, Portsmouth today.

Brian Taber

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prothonotary Warbler Update

Guest Blogger Shirley Devan back with an update on the nest boxes at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, VA.

Prothonotary Warblers (PROW) typically have two clutches each season. The PROWs at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake are now well into their second clutches and females are still laying eggs as of June 14. Fifty-seven eggs are being incubated as of June 14. Nest boxes that have not been occupied all season now have their first nests.

Since the end of April, Stephen Living and I have banded 59 PROW nestlings, and 18 adults – 3 males and 15 females. A male PROW and newly banded nestling (complete with fecal sac) shown in above photos.

We have “recaptured” 12 individual birds, meaning that they already had bands on them when we captured them. Several have been captured more than once this spring. All are females and were banded in 2009 or 2010 at Northwest River.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rare Shorebirds

This week, a Red Knot was a bit tardy at Grandview Beach in Hampton and Black-necked Stilts were found nesting at Craney Island, Portsmouth, which is closed to the public.
Brian Taber

Thursday, June 2, 2011

College Creek Hawkwatch Season Ends

Thanks to other volunteers Tom Armour, Fred Blystone, Bill Williams and Dean Shostak, we were able to set a new season total of 1811, surpassing the previous high of 1666 set in 2007. The hawkwatch operated from February 9th through May 24th. Our 177 hours were the most in our 15 years and our 85 days were also the most, surpassing the 82 in 2007. We had our best February, 2nd best March, 5th best April and 6th best May. The early season boosted our totals, despite much wind, rain and and cool temperatures and the second half of the season mostly saw very small flights, despite seemingly fine weather for migrating. Our biggest day was the 3rd best ever for the site, 146 on April 3rd.

We recorded 14 species and set new season highs for Turkey Vultures and Ospreys. Northern Harrier was 2nd highest. The single Broad-winged Hawk was the lowest, except for 1998 when none were seen and coverage was less than half of this year.


Black Vulture 65

Turkey Vulture 1189

Osprey 289

Mississippi Kite 1

Bald Eagle 82

Northern Harrier 41

Sharp-shinned Hawk 49

Cooper's Hawk 10

Red-shouldered Hawk 9

Broad-winged Hawk 1

Red-tailed Hawk 38

American Kestrel 29

Merlin 5

Peregrine 1

Rarities at the site included Glaucous Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Least Bittern, Sandhill Crane on 2 occasions and White-winged Dove.

We see many variations on immature Bald Eagles, including the quite unusual and striking one pictured above.

It's always a pleasure watching birds cross the James River at this site during late winter and spring. If anyone wants further details, please contact me.

Brian Taber

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sandhill Cranes and White-winged Dove at College Creek

Two rarities appeared at the hawkwatch recently....on April 26th, we watched 2 Sandhill Cranes as they circled over Hog island and landed there and today, a White-winged Dove flew past, for one of very few spring records in Virginia.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

New Season Record at College Creek Hawkwatch

Today, Tom Armour, Bill Williams, Fred Blystone and I were on hand as the previous season high total of 1666 (set in 2007) was surpassed. We have been ahead of pace all season, though the last 3 weeks of April saw a very slow migration at the site.
Brian Taber

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prothonotary Warblers at Northwest River

Guest Blogger Shirley Devan back with an update on the nest boxes at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake. April 25 Brian Taber [President of CVWO and boat driver in above photo], Jan Lockwood [Williamsburg Bird Club member wearing the WBC hat], and I checked 58 nest boxes by motorized canoe – 39 boxes that have been in place for three years and 19 new boxes installed in mid-March.

Carolina Chickadees are early breeders and we found 9 CACH nests, most with eggs and two boxes with nestlings. April 25 was the birthday for one clutch of 5 and the other box had 4 nestlings 4 days old.

Twenty-four of the older boxes showed evidence of Prothonotary Warbler nest building – everything from 1” of moss to a complete nest with three eggs! Another nest had one egg. The eggs are creamy white with dark brown speckles. The nests are a combination of moss and cypress twigs, usually 2-3 inches of each with the cypress twigs on the top layer. We observed one PROW female approach a box with nesting material and another flew out of a box as we approached. Incidentally we observed a good size watersnake curled up on a limb nearby!

New boxes installed in mid-March are not seeing much activity – except from wasps. We did hear PROW singing near these boxes, but not in the quantity we observed in the area of the established boxes where we heard or saw a PROW near almost every box. We’ll see what happens to these new boxes as the nesting season progresses.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Prothonotary Warbler box update at Northwest River Pk

Guest blogger: Shirley Devan, reporting from the Prothonotary Warbler nest box trail at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake, VA.

The Prothonotary Warbler boxes at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake are open and ready for birds to move in. And a few have taken us up on the offer.

April 13 and 14, Steve Living and I along with three volunteers, Les Lawrence, Janet Lockwood, and Geoff Giles, checked over 80 boxes by motorized canoe and discovered 9 Carolina Chickadee nests (no nestlings yet), one Prothonotary Warbler nest, and quite a few wasp nests. Male Prothonotary Warblers are definitely back in Virginia – seen and heard everywhere along the box trail.

This citizen science project is supervised by Dr. Bob Reilly, Master Bander and VP of CVWO and Professor in the Center for Environmental Studies at VCU, with assistance from Steve Living, Wildlife Biologist with VA DGIF and Shirley Devan, Williamsburg Bird Club and Historic Rivers Chapter, VA Master Naturalist.

Above is a photo of the Prothonotary Warbler nest found April 14, constructed with cypress twigs. Also, a photo of Steve Living driving the boat and "happy" Les Lawrence installing “false fronts” on the boxes to help us capture male Prothonotary Warblers later in the season as they feed the nestlings.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Big Day at College Creek Hawkwatch

Today, Fred Blystone, Bill Williams, Shirley Devan and I were on hand for the 3rd best day in the 15 years of the hawkwatch. We saw 146 birds of 10 species and set a new daily high for Northern Harriers at 10. The photo is one of today's closer birds, an immature Bald Eagle. We also saw 2 Purple Martins, a few Barn Swallows, 2 Dunlin, 6 Lesser Yellowlegs and 2 very high Common Loons. The wind was light west and southwest...strong sun and temperatures 50-60 F. Tomorrow is expected to be an unseasonably warm 80+ degrees with strong winds and severe storms at the end of the day. Despite very poor migration conditions during the last 10 days in March...cold temperatures, strong north winds, rain and snow flurries...we are far ahead of the average season pace.


Black Vulture 20

Turkey Vulture 71

Osprey 35

Bald Eagle 2

Northern Harrier 10 (new daily high)

Sharp-shinned Hawk 3

Red-shouldered Hawk 1

Red-tailed Hawk 1

American Kestrel 2

Merlin 1

Brian Taber

Sunday, March 20, 2011

1,000th Bird at College Creek

Today we reached the 1,000th bird of the season and it's the earliest date, by 10 days, than for any of our 14 previous seasons. The event usually occurs in early to mid-April. The bird was, not surprisingly for the early season, a Turkey Vulture. The past 4 day totals of 63, 120, 108 and 51 are very impressive for the site.

Brian Taber

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prothonotary Boxes at Northwest River

Thanks to Shirley Devan (her photos), of the Williamsburg Bird Club and the Historic Rivers Chapter of VA Master Naturalist and Stephen Living and Erik Brittle of the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and CVWO Vice-president and Master Bander Bob Reilly, 60 more Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes were installed at Northwest River Park in Chesapeake on March 11th. There are now 100 boxes there and the site is part of the important and growing network of Prothonotary researchers, studying this species of special concern.
Brian Taber

Monday, February 28, 2011

Glaucous Gull at College Creek Hawkwatch

This imm. Glaucous Gull, a new species for the hawkwatch, flew past this morning.

Brian Taber

College Creek Hawkwatch Feb Summary

Due to some unusually good weather for February and excellent coverage, we were able to shatter the previous high total for February, which was 204 in 1998. This February, with 19 days coverage, we recorded 344. As usual, Turkey Vultures made up the bulk of the early season flight, but our 8 species included 16 Black Vultures, 5 Ospreys, 12 Bald Eagles, 3 Northern Harriers, 1 Sharp-shinned Hawk, 1 Cooper's Hawk and 13 Red-tailed Hawks. A Peregrine, quite rare at this site, seen on February 24th, was headed south across the river and so not counted. Also on that day we saw 135 Tundra Swans. We have seen 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, the Glaucous Gull noted above, a few Tree Swallows and dozens of crows crossing the river, most of which did not vocalize.

The dark domes are the Surry Nuclear Power Plant, 2 miles across the James River to the south, the map shows the point of land at Hog Island Wildlife Management Area which the birds follow and the sign provides a bit of history.

Brian Taber

Thursday, February 10, 2011

College Creek Hawkwatch Begins

We got off to a chilly (28F) start for the 15th consecutive late winter/spring hawkwatch at College Creek on Feb 9th, but Tom Armour, Fred Blystone and I were rewarded with 11 Turkey Vultures crossing the river on a southeast wind. We started a day earlier than scheduled due to predicted snow on Feb 10th. The hawkwatch is located on the James River, 3 miles southeast of Williamsburg, on the Colonial Parkway and operates daily through May, weather permitting, from mid-morning to early afternoon, when birds use the warming air to make the water-crossing. We often see a wide variety of other migrants, including shorebirds, waterfowl and swallows. Data is posted on site and regular updates are made to the VA List Serve and this blog. Visitors are always welcome, feel free to e-mail me directly for more information.

Brian Taber