Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thanks to Baywatch and Monarch Staff

Thanks for a great season to Baywatch Waterbird Surveyer Charlie Plimpton, who monitored birds moving in lower Chesapeake Bay from our site just north of Kiptopeke, from Oct 1 to Nov 30; and thanks to Monarch biologist Clay Buffkin, who counted and tagged migrating Monarchs on the lower Eastern Shore and who gave talks to visitors about his work, from Sep 15 to Nov 1. Waterbirds face a variety of challenges, from pollution to global climate change and more information is needed to insure their conservation. Monarchs are undergoing a dramatic population decline and the Obsevatory is contributing to knowledge about Monarchs to help preserve this species. We wish Charlie and Clay the best on their next travels!
Brian Taber

Thursday, December 8, 2016

2016 Kiptopeke Hawkwatch

Many thanks to Hawkwatcher Anna Stunkel for a great season! Her skill, sharp eyesight and enthusiasm made the season quite a success. Our Educator/Hawkwatch Intern, Caroline Sankey, was equally enthusiastic...teaching visitors and helping Anna find hawks. And thanks to both for their excellent Blog posts. Anna posted the first-ever Short-eared Owl to the Kiptopeke Hawkwatch database! We wish them well on their next journeys! Also, thanks to the many dedicated volunteers who helped out with finding and photographing birds. The Hawkwatch data is all listed at, operated by the Hawk Migration Association of North America.
Brian Taber

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Le Conte's Sparrow and Season's End

On the morning of 11/25, a Le Conte's Sparrow was seen very close to the hawkwatch platform. It was skulking about low in the pokeberry patch, and I got a brief but good look at this intricately patterned sparrow. There were not any further sightings, but it is possible that this bird could be hanging around or even wintering in the area. I encourage you all to take a look at this very interesting paper by Ned Brinkley and George Armistead, which discusses Le Conte's Sparrow occurrence in Virginia in detail:

Le Conte's Sparrows (Ammodramus leconteii) in Virginia: A Review of Records, with Notes on Habitat Usage, Identification, and Interspecific Associations

I did not manage to shoot any photos, but here are some nice pictures of the species that friends have shared with me:

By Charlie Plimpton; note the very small size which is typical of this species

By Bryan White
By Bryan White
A group of 14 American White Pelicans flew past the platform at approximately 2:00 pm on 11/28. This was probably the same flock that had been seen by several birders in Virginia Beach just an hour or so earlier.

The piebald deer (or is it an escaped cow?) has made a few appearances in the last week, both near the platform and jumping out in front of me on the bike path.

Well folks, it has been an incredible fall here at Kiptopeke. Some highlights of the season have included:

  • 405 Ospreys on 9/25
  • 1460 Sharp-shinned Hawks, 354 Cooper's Hawks, 410 American Kestrels, and 2706 raptors on 10/6
  • 291 Merlins on 9/22
  • 113 Peregrine Falcons on 10/2
  • 1 Mississippi Kite on each of the following days:  9/12, 9/14, and 9/15
  • 1 Swainson's Hawk on 11/5
  • 1 Short-eared Owl on 11/4
  • 6 Golden Eagles this season

I have treasured the wisdom, sharp eyes, good times, stories, and laughter shared by the many volunteers and visitors this season. The busy days have been a spectacle to behold. And on quieter days, I've enjoyed the solace and magic of this place.

Red-tails and other species don't know that the official season is over, and some raptors should still be making their way south past the platform. Drop by and take a look- you never know what you might see.

In the spirit of Caroline's blog posts, here is a poem by one of my favorite poets:


This morning
the hawk
rose up
out of the meadow’s browse
and swung over the lake —
it settled
on the small black dome
of a dead pine,
alert as an admiral,
its profile
distinguished with sideburns
the color of smoke,
and I said: remember
this is not something
of the red fire, this is
heaven’s fistful
of death and destruction,
and the hawk hooked
one exquisite foot
onto a last twig
to look deeper
into the yellow reeds
along the edges of the water
and I said: remember
the tree, the cave,
the white lily of resurrection,
and that’s when it simply lifted
its golden feet and floated
into the wind, belly-first,
and then it cruised along the lake —
all the time its eyes fastened
harder than love on some
unimportant rustling in the
yellow reeds — and then it
seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it
turned into a white blade, which fell.

Mary Oliver

pp. 34-35 in New and Selected Poems: Volume One (Beacon Press: Boston, 1992)

Happy birding to all, and I hope to see you next fall.