Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chesapeake Baywatch Week 4 in Review (22 Oct – 28 Oct 2013)

[The Chesapeake Baywatch is conducted daily from Civil Dawn until midday from an elevated bluff located north of Kiptopeke State Park. All species moving both into and out of the Bay are identified, counted, and recorded.]

Common Loons have started to play a key role in the migration this week, with good numbers both migrating past and sitting around on the water. In the early morning, occasionally one of the small foraging groups will break off a yodel or two – always a wonderful sound. A few Red-throated Loons have been detected migrating past already, but that species still has a few weeks before their peak.

All three scoter species put in appearances during the week, but the numbers have been massively dominated by Surf, followed by Black, and then finally with a few White-wings thrown in. One of the interesting parts of a seawatching season is the timing differences between Surf and Black Scoter movements. Typically, one species dominates and then the other. The ratio often flip-flops a few times throughout the migration.

Dabbling duck numbers have been relatively small but with good diversity. Northern Pintail continue to be seen both peppering scoter flocks and in larger homogenous flocks, as do American Wigeon. Green-winged Teal, as is expected, are becoming the most common dabbler over the Bay.

An American Coot flew past with a small group of scoters on 22 Oct. The presence of the species on the Eastern Shore is certainly not shocking, but what was surprising was that this species migration past during the day, a very infrequent sight.

Another highlight of the period was the first Brant of the season on 24 October.

Migration continues to increase in the Bay, and this should keep up for the next month!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Rough-legged Hawk

Today, October 29, a juvenile light-morph Rough-legged Hawk passed by the Kiptopeke hawkwatch platform between 900 and 1000 EST. The Rough-leg appeared over the horizon with a Turkey Vulture then flew over the platform and proceeded south. It was spotted about 30 minutes later in a kettle with Turkey Vultures by Sunset Beach Resort. Other noteworthy birds for the day was a juvenile Golden Eagle flying below a kettle of Turkey Vultures and 10 Northern Harriers.

A photograph of the  juvenile light-morph Rough-legged Hawk which flew over the Kiptopeke hawkwatch platform October 29, 2013. Photo taken by Rea Manderino.

A beautiful picture of a male Harrier, also known as a "Gray Ghost". Photo taken by Steven Thornhill October 26 from the Kiptopeke hawkwatch platform. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Golden Eagles

The first three juvenile Golden Eagles for the 2013 fall season were counted this past Friday, October 25. The first two were spotted flying below a Turkey Vulture kettle, while a third one was spotted flying with a Bald Eagle. The eagles flew north and south several times on the east side of the peninsula for one to two hours after they were first identified. Golden Eagles along with other northern species can be seen from the hawkwatch for the next few months.

Golden Eagle (second row, left) in a kettle of Turkey Vultures. Turkey Vultures will try to fly in front and above Golden Eagles to avoid possible predation. Photo taken by Steve Kolbe from the Kiptopeke hawkwatch platform.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chesapeake Baywatch Week 3 in Review (15 Oct – 21 Oct 2013)

[The Chesapeake Baywatch is conducted daily from Civil Dawn until midday from an elevated bluff located north of Kiptopeke State Park. All species moving both into and out of the Bay are identified, counted, and recorded.]

Migration in the Bay was again generally unspectacular during the period with small numbers of the expected species but no large flights. Northern Gannets and Common Loons were seen almost daily, but only in small numbers. Black and Surf Scoter numbers have been low but seem to be increasing slightly. Small dabbling duck flights have been occurring on some days with Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal accounting for most of the birds.

Certainly the week’s best bird (and no doubt a season highlight!) was an immature Black-legged Kittiwake on 15 Oct. The bird was rather close and gave a beautiful view in the scope as it moved north into the Bay.

Black-legged Kittiwake. "Close" is a relative term when seawatching, and obtaining a photograph of a migrating bird over the Bay is most often impossible. In the scope, this bird was quite stunning. Even in this photo the very dark "M" pattern on the upperwing, the black hind-collar, and the black tail tip are evident. Photo by Steve Kolbe.

Other highlights included the first White-winged Scoter of the season on 15 Oct and an immature Parasitic Jaeger heading north into the Bay on the same day. The first Bonaparte’s Gull of the season was detected on the 18th. A female Common Eider was sitting out in front of the bluff at first light on 17 Oct and eventually drifted down to the Concrete Ships off Kiptopeke State Park. It continues to be seen, often very close to the boat launch, at the time of this post.

Female Common Eider. Note sloping forehead and large bill.

Giant Swallowtail Butterly

CVWO's Monarch Biologist, Rea Manderino, found several Giant Swallowtail Butterflies between September 16-30 of this year. The Giant Swallowtail is a rare visitor to the Eastern Shore of Virginia, only being spotted once last year.  The Giant Swallowtail mainly feeds on citrus, but also feeds on Hercule's Club (Aralia spinosa) which is found on Fisherman's Island.  Five of the seven sightings were on Fisherman's Island, while two took place at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. There were are least four different individuals identified, which suggests that this species of butterfly is becoming less rare in the area.

A Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Fisherman's Island. Photo taken by Rea Manderino

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Discussing the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Western Kingbird!

As most of you are probably aware, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was found by Zak Poulton on the morning of 11 October. As luck would have it, this was also the first day of the Birding and Wildlife Festival held each fall on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. As a result, many folks were able to see and enjoy this wonderful and rare bird. The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was quite fond of a dead tree located just south of the intersection of Seaside (Rt. 600) and Cedar Grove Drive. It was last seen on 14 October.

I was able to obtain some photographs of the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that show enough detail to age the bird despite the cloudy and rainy conditions over the weekend. Our flycatcher has a molt limit on its wing. The greater and median coverts and tertials are darker and fresher looking and they contrast with the rest of the older and more worn wing feathers. Additionally, Pyle (1997) illustrates the different shapes of the outer (p10) primary depending on a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher’s age. A hatch-year bird’s p10 is not notched, but an older, say after-hatch-year individual, would have a rather impressive notch on the outer primary. As you can see in the photo below, p10 is not notched in our flycatcher. Both of these reasons point to this bird being a hatch-year.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher gleaning prey from spiderweb. Note the un-notched outer primary and darker greater and median coverts and tertials. Photograph by Steve Kolbe.
Determining the sex of this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher is a bit more challenging. Of course, some in-hand measurements would probably sort it out quickly, but since that was not possible, we have to resort to a bit of conjecture. Females have shorter tails than males of a corresponding age and also tend to have less pink in the flanks and underwing coverts. Check out the photo below and decide for yourself. But I’d be willing to bet that our visitor from the south was a hatch-year male.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher gleaning prey from spiderweb. Note the (moderate?) amount of pink on the flanks and underwing coverts. Photograph by Steve Kolbe.
Today, 17 October, a party led by Bob Ake discovered a Western Kingbird just around the corner from the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher spot. This bird was seen throughout the midafternoon along the easternmost portion of Cedar Grove Drive.
Western Kingbird. Note the long wings, yellow belly, pale gray head and breast, and black tail with white edges. Photograph by Steve Kolbe.
This location is on fire right now. What will show up next?

1186 raptor day

This past Tuesday, October 15, was an astonishing day on the Kiptopeke hawk platform. Mixed flocks of Accipiters filled the sky, with a daily total of 774 Sharp-shinned Hawks and 204 Cooper's Hawks. The grand total for the day was 1186 raptors, making it the first day this year with over 1000 birds!  Another big push of raptors is predicted after the cold front moves through this weekend.

A Sharp-shinned Hawk compared to a Cooper's Hawk. Note the squared tail and smaller head projection on the Sharp-Shinned Hawk, compared to the larger head projection and rounded tail of the Cooper's Hawk.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chesapeake Baywatch Week 2 in Review (8 Oct – 14 Oct 2013)

[The Chesapeake Baywatch is conducted daily from Civil Dawn until midday from an elevated bluff located north of Kiptopeke State Park. All species moving both into and out of the Bay are identified, counted, and recorded.] 

A cold front swept through the region 7 Oct and ushered in fairly strong NE winds and slightly cooler temperatures. A “mini-Nor’easter” continued for the remainder of the second week of the month with mostly cloudy skies and scattered precipitation.

Migration in the Bay was generally unspectacular during the period with just a smattering of highlights and no large movements of birds. A few Great Cormorants are already loafing about the concrete ships and the pound net poles including at least one immature and one adult. Small numbers of Northern Gannets have been seen moving south out of the Bay. One Red-throated Loon was spotted migrating south on 12 October, and Common Loon numbers have been steadily increasing.  Of the two “dark-winged” scoters, more Surf than Black Scoters were counted during the period. At this point, the bulk of the season is still very much ahead of us.

The unchallenged highlights of the second week of the Baywatch have been the migrating jaegers. A jaeger was detected on 10 Oct, two moved past on 11 Oct, two more the following day, and finally one migrated by on 13 October. All jaegers seen during the second week flew south, and surprisingly none have engaged any other species, preferring to move out of the Bay using straight-line powered flight. A few of the jaegers had to be left as “jaeger species” due to distance, but all that have come close enough to identify have been adult Parasitic Jaegers. 

Caspian Tern foraging over the Chesapeake Bay. Note the large red bill, dark underside to the primaries, and dark forehead to separate this species from Royal Tern.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Big Sit

The "Big Sit" is an annual competition between bird watchers to find and identify the highest number of species from within a 17 foot diameter circle. Every year, CVWO participates in this competition with their circle located on the hawk watch platform at Kiptopeke State Park. This year, the strong winds and foggy weather conditions did not make the competition easy, but from the hawk watch we were able to identify 57 species. Our species list was as follows:

1. Wood Duck
2. Mallard
3. American Black Duck
4. Common Loon
5. Brown Pelican
6. Double-crested Cormorant
7. Great Blue Heron
8. Turkey Vulture
9. Black Vulture
10. Osprey
11. Bald Eagle
12. Northern Harrier
13. Sharp-shinned Hawk
14. Cooper's Hawk
15. Broad-winged Hawk
16. Red-tailed Hawk
17. American Kestrel
18. Merlin
19. Peregrine Falcon
20. Killdeer
21. Rock Pigeon
22. Mourning Dove
23. Laughing Gull
24. Ring-billed Gull
25. Herring Gull
26. Great Black-backed Gull
27. Caspian Tern
28. Royal Tern
29. Forster's Tern
30. Great Horned Owl
31. Belted Kingfisher
32. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
33. Northern Flicker
34. Blue Jay
35. American Crow
36. Tree Swallow
37. Carolina Chickadee
38. Tufted Titmouse
39. Carolina Wren
40. Gray Catbird
41. Northern Mockingbird
42. Brown Thrasher
43. European Starling
44. Yellow-rumped Warbler
45. Palm Warbler
46. Common Yellowthroat
47. American Redstart
48. Eastern Bluebird
49. American Robin
50. Indigo Bunting
51. Song Sparrow
52. White-throated Sparrow
53. Northern Cardinal
54. Red-winged Blackbird
55. Common Grackle
56. Brown-headed Cowbird
57. Wilson's Snipe


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival

The 21st annual Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival is happening this weekend October 11-13. CVWO will be doing presentations again this year. To find out more information or to sign up for the festival go to . Hope to see you all there!

Magnolia Warbler by Sarah Cashwell, Winner of the 2013 Festival Art Contest

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Kiptopeke Challenge

The 19th annual Kiptopeke Challenge took place on September 21st. Bird watchers teamed up and competed to find and identify the highest number of bird species in the area. The "Maryland Biodiversity Screaming Hellgramites" won the 24-hour challenge with 116 species. The team consisted of Jim Brighton, Mikey Lutmerding, and Ron Gutberlet.

The winning team "Maryland Biodiversity Screaming Hellgramites"