Monday, November 21, 2016

Windy Weather

Raptor movement has been just trickling along for the past few days, but there are always interesting things to see from the platform. For example, we have been having some great views of Northern Harriers. Some of these birds have been hunting low over the pokeberry field, and there has been a recent increase in adult harrier numbers. Some of them may be stopping to spend the winter here on the Eastern Shore.

Adult female Northern Harrier by Steve Thornhill

Blackbird flocks have been fairly active during the mornings. These flocks contain Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds, with the occasional Rusty Blackbird (below) mixed in.

 There have been some big fluctuations in the weather over the past few days. Saturday was quite warm and calm, with temperatures reaching the mid-seventies. Insects such as wasps, stinkbugs, and wheel bugs were very active on the platform.

Wheel Bug by Steve Thornhill
However, we have had strong west winds for the past two days. This has probably been keeping the raptors hunkered down, considering our low counts. Tundra Swans braved the blustery conditions and were flying high today, with a count of 346 individuals. Northwest winds are expected to be ~15 mph tomorrow and 5-10 mph on Wednesday, and this calming should hopefully bring more raptors our way.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Turkey Vultures and Rarity Roundup

On days with northeast winds, we have been seeing quite a bit of Turkey Vulture movement. These birds often start streaming over the platform early in the morning.

Although we do not keep an official daily count of this species, it can be interesting to note vulture numbers. On 11/12, 890 of them were counted moving southwards. However, migrating Turkey and Black Vultures have a tendency to meander back and forth at our site, so some of the birds that passed by may have been counted multiple times.

a curious Turkey Vulture checking out the hawkwatchers; by Steve Thornhill
I think that vultures are some of the most underappreciated birds out there. They perform an important duty by cleaning up dead carcasses, and have an incredible sense of smell. They are also beautifully skilled fliers, and Turkey Vultures can travel for hours without flapping once. 

juvenile Red-tailed Hawk by Steve Thornhill
A few days ago, Charlie and I (along with quite a few other birders) had the opportunity to see a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in Franktown. It was originally spotted by Roberta Kellam. This beautiful bird was sitting on a wire right out in the open, and put on a show flycatching by the roadside.

This Saturday, a group of birders got together for the annual Rarity Roundup here on the Eastern Shore. They had a chance to see some fun birds as well, including a Black-legged Kittiwake, Western Kingbird, and Golden Eagle. Ellison spotted a Cattle Egret from the hawkwatch platform. November continues to be a fun month for bird species diversity. We hope to see some Northern Goshawks and Cave Swallows soon!



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

An assortment of raptors

Although the season is slowing down, we have been seeing a good diversity of species. So far, we've had five southbound Golden Eagles. One juvenile golden flew very low and close over us, allowing great views. Take a look at these incredible captures by Steve Thornhill.

We also had an immature Swainson's Hawk pass overhead recently. This species has a western distribution, but a few show up on the east coast annually. Our hawkwatch often records 1-2 Swainson's Hawks each fall. Like Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson's are long-distance migrants which fly all the way to South America.

Swainson's Hawk sketch by Anna

Red-tailed Hawk migration has also been picking up lately, with a peak count of 58 individuals on 11/7. As the season continues, we expect to have some more good days of red-tail movement.

Adult Red-tailed Hawk by Steve Thornhill

On the non-raptor front, we are also seeing nice diversity. Recently, Northern Gannet numbers have been picking up over the bay. American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds have been coming through in full force, along with a variety of sparrows stopping over in the pokeberry patch. A few days ago, a Short-eared Owl flew over.

It has been awhile since we've seen a Red-headed Woodpecker from the platform, but these guys are still in the area and preparing for winter. Brian Taber got this nice shot of an adult storing acorns in Williamsburg yesterday.

Charlie had an amazing sighting today at the baywatch- he watched a juvenile Northern Goshawk attack and kill a Great Black-backed Gull!

Following the stress of the election, I hope that you all can find some solace in watching birds and wildlife. We hope to see you at the platform soon.

Carolina Wren singing by Steve Thornhill


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October: From Birds on the Bay to Birds in Bronze

We wrapped up October with a count of 12,897 for the month and 
an overall total of 21,541 so far for the season. 
On the increase this past week has been the Red-tailed Hawk, with 28 yesterday on Halloween. 
(Buteo jamaicensis)

Steve Thornhill

A brave(?) Sharpie checking out a Red-tail.

Here we have a rare sighting of a Turkey Vulture actually on the Hawk Tower.

We also had our 2nd Golden Eagle of the season yesterday.

Steve Thornhill

This past week we enjoyed seeing Common Loons, this one off the pier fishing for a meal at Kiptopeke State Park.

Steve Thornhill

"Sparring Sparrows"

A White-crowned Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow vying for lunch. 
S. Thornhill

"Over the Bay"

C. Sankey

The stark beauty of tree
shadows stretch down the slope
of the hill, while the silver bones 
of an old barn gape against 
the pale-blue winter sky

The high bare fingers of the
sycamore's gnarly branches
sift the wind as the season crawls
down gently from the north

Seven hawks circle above 
the open field as that same
wind pushes them on south 
beneath icy clouds

I watch their dance and rest
and don't tire of their weaving 
through the cold air, and for a 

moment I become the eighth, and tilt 
one wing up and one wing down to
twist into a slow, arcing dive toward 
the grass upon the frozen earth below

Some of the most amazing raptors that Anna and I saw yesterday on our afternoon excursion were of the bronze variety. I must encourage anyone visiting the Eastern Shore of VIrginia to stop in to Turner Sculpture in Onley, VA. The sculptures are truly incredible. 

Turner Sculpture 

The past 6 weeks at Kiptopeke with this crew have been simply amazing. 
I feel extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity, a huge Thank You to Brian Taber for allowing me to be this seaon's Educator, and my heartfelt Thanks to Anna Stunkel for her insight, wisdom, and patience in teaching me identification skills. 
Looking forward to seeing everyone next year! 

Happy Birding!
- Caroline