Monday, December 25, 2017

Black-throated Gray Warbler in James City County

This far western warbler, a very rare visitor to Virginia, bathed and preened briefly today, Christmas Day, in my yard near Williamsburg.
Brian Taber

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Baywatch Waterbird Survey

The Observatory conducted its 5th annual Baywatch Waterbird Survey from October 1 through November. Waterbirds face issues of pollution, sea level rise, development, commercial fishing and other disturbances and their activity needs documentation to insure protection. Observatory Advisor and world-class birder, Ned Brinkley, of Cape
Charles conducted the daily count. The photo is from Pickett's Harbor Natural Area Preserve, just north of Kiptopeke, not open to the public, where the first four years of surveys were conducted,  but due to noisy house construction adjacent to the site, Ned did most of the surveys from a little farther north at the Cape Charles Coastal Habitat Natural Area Preserve, which is open to the public. Both sites allow great views of the lower Chesapeake Bay, so that waterbird activity could be recorded. In addition to Ned's report, which will appear in the Observatory's Annual Field Research Report, observations were sent to eBird.

Ned found 59 species of waterbirds for a total of more than 128,000 detections, though this is a duplicated count, as some birds were present on more than one day. Some birds were clearly migrating, others were feeding and resting in the area. The survey shows the great diversity and abundance of birdlife in the lower Bay. Ned was able to document an unprecedented jaeger movement, among many other highlights. The data will be analyzed and shared with our conservation partners.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Season's End

During the last few days of the hawkwatch season, we enjoyed some fun sightings. On 11/27, another Golden Eagle passed, and Brian Taber spotted a Yellow-headed Blackbird flying over the platform. On 11/29, another likely Northern Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis abieticola) passed us. Steve Thornhill managed to capture a photo of the bird. Notice the dark throat and boldly marked underparts, which are characteristics of the Northern race. Take a look at this informative blogpost from Hawkwatch International about Northern red-tails.

Photo by Steve Thornhill
It was nice to see a flock of about 180 distant Snow Geese on the last day of the season. Amazingly, due to the warm weather, Monarchs were flying right up until the end, with counts of ~20-60 Monarchs per day during the last week! Other butterfly species were also around, including Buckeyes and various sulphur species. During the last few days of the season, we enjoyed several visits from a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, who perched on the nearby t-pole to survey his surroundings. 

Photo by Steve Thornhill

Down at the Kiptopeke pier, two Snow Buntings have been continuing to hang around, although I did not see them during a visit yesterday. Take a look at this beautiful, classy-looking character.

Photo by Steve Thornhill

A banded Brown Pelican was also recently seen down at the pier, but it was not close enough to read the band number.

Photo by Steve Thornhill

It has been another wonderful season here at Kiptopeke, with a multitude of interesting sightings. Notable highlights included:

  • 1 Swallow-tailed Kite on 9/12, which spent time around the platform (oftentimes very nearby) for four days! 
  • 478 American Kestrels on 9/21
  • 365 Ospreys on 9/23
  • 152 Peregrine Falcons on 10/7, which was the day of the Eastern Shore Birding and Wildlife Festival
  • 444 Bald Eagles this season, which is the second highest fall count at Kiptopeke
  • 1,197 Broad-winged Hawks this season
  • 4 Rough-legged Hawks this season, including a dark morph and a light morph flying together on 10/21
  • 12 Golden Eagles this season, including three count days in which multiple (2 to 3) birds were seen
  • 2 Wood Stork sightings- one on 9/17, and another on 9/22
  • 1 Roseate Spoonbill on 10/1
  • 2 Wilson's Phalaropes on 10/3
  • 1 White-winged Dove on 11/4
  • 327 Tundra Swans on 11/20
  • 1 Yellow-headed Blackbird on 11/27
What an amazing fall it has been. 

Although it is unfortunate that Sharp-shinned Hawk numbers were much lower than usual (with only 2,273 sharpies seen this fall), the low counts this year provide useful data. Eastern North American sites have been reporting a recent decline in sharpie numbers, which could be related to declining prey populations. It is also likely that weather patterns resulted in many of these birds moving inland and over the barrier islands.  

Thank you to the many old and new friends who helped to make this season so memorable. Your sharp eyes and good company were so helpful, and I enjoyed spending time with you all. Also, thanks to the many visitors of all ages who stopped by to ask questions and enjoy the migration. 

As the temperatures drop and fall becomes winter, some raptors and other birds will continue to be on the move. Please stop by the platform, pier, and trails to see what you might find. No matter the day, there is always something special to see at Kiptopeke. I will sign out with a photo of this spunky little Winter Wren, a bird who seems forever cheerful and active on even the chilliest of days.

Happy birding to all!