Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mississippi Kites, Annandale, VA

There have been reports of breeding Mississippi Kites in the Annandale/West Springfield area, and I finally got to go over to look for them with my friend Renee, who had seen them earlier in the week. She directed me to the viewing area, in a quiet neighborhood, and after waiting about five minutes, we were rewarded with one adult and one juvenile kite flying about.

It was fascinating to see them hunt and consume their insect prey in mid air. Periodically the would swing their claws towards their head; we assumed they were eating the cicadas or whatever insect they were catching. According to what I've read, this is a typical behavior; however, if they catch lizards or other small prey, they perch to eaty.

Finally, the juvenile landed in a nearby tree and we were able to get our scopes on it and get some pictures. Great fun! Thanks to Renee and the VA-Bird list for helping me gain another new bird!

I guess soon they will be migrating to Central/South America!
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Saturday, August 16, 2008

New Species Found

This story about a new species of bird found in Gabon was posted to the Virginia birdlist. Cool stuff! You can see pictures here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Robins at Wisp

Last Thursday, we were standing at the portico to go into the restaurant at Wisp, a ski resort in Deep Creek Lake, MD, when a bird shot past us, right by our heads. We looked up, and on a cross beam right above us was this robins nest! I'd never seen a robin's nest in such a public place. The two young robins had both left the nest by the time the weekend was over.

I thought I'd get to see some really neat mountain birds while we were up there in the Alleghany Mountains. The first morning we saw:
American Crow
House Sparrow

Later we added:
Common Grackle
House Finch

We did eventually add:
Song sparrow
Chipping sparrow (they were everywhere!)
Green heron (it was fishing in the ponds every morning.

So the birding was not really exciting, but we had a great time with the family, white water rafting on the man-made course, very cool! and riding the mountain coaster.
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Huntley Meadows--In Search of Rails, Part II

I was determined to see the Virginia Rails, especially since they have chicks. Records for Huntley Meadows going back to the '80s show no known breeding Virginia Rails, so it's very exciting. I went yesterday (Wednesday) evening to see if I could catch them coming out to feed, but to no avail, so I was back again this morning at 7:30 am. Along with the rest of the Virginia Rail paparazzi. By the time I left, there were twice the number shown below. Most had lenses requiring a Sherpa to assist in carrying.

This time, we struck gold. I saw the gentleman in the above picture with the gi-normous white Canon lens taking some pics and hurried over. We saw an adult pair of rails engaging in, well, some adult activity behind some reeds. Afterwards, they moved like wraiths in and out of the reeds. I got a few quick shots with my camera, then set up the digiscoping rig. Eventually they moved to a more open area and we were able to get some great shots. The rails were quite active. The group saw two adults and three chicks in all. We had to be quick as they moved in and out of the reeds.

In the above picture, the rail is just getting ready to hop into a tunnel in the reeds.

Above, the parent rail looks for breakfast while a chick looks on. The adults are about 9" in length, about robin sized but not robin-shaped!

This chick was sitting just outside the tunnel in the reeds, possibly leading to the nesting area, as they all came and went from there frequently.

It was a very fun morning.... what could be better than a beautiful day in a beautiful place and not only seeing a new bird, but getting to watch it with its young?
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Huntley Meadows--In Search of Rails, Part I

The sighting of Virginia Rails with chicks at our local wetlands, Huntley Meadows, has the birding and nature photography community in a tizzy. I've gone several times this week myself. Tuesday morning, I was the only person there for about an hour, which was very peaceful and beautiful but not a successful trip as far as the rails went. I thought I saw them in amongst the reeds, but they were just shadows, not good enough to call. I did see an Eastern Phoebe, a Pileated Woodpecker (far away and I didn't have my scope that day--too bad!) some great views of a Common Yellowthroat pair and and Eastern Wood Peewee, all pictured below. Also, of course, Redwinged Blackbirds, Mallards and Canada Geese. A tree swallow played with a feather, dropping it and catching it. The water is quite high at Huntley Meadows right now, a combination of the active beaver community and big spring rains, so there aren't many shorebirds.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Huntley Meadows Part 1

It was an incredibly gorgeous morning at Huntley Meadows. I woke up early, so decided to go try to find the rails (Virginia and King) that have been tantalizing people at Huntley. Below, a female redwinged blackbird nibbles at a cattail.

Lesser yellowlegs were all over the place.

Also least sandpipers (below) and solitary sandpipers, though I didn't get any good pics of the solitary.

Two American Bitterns flew in. I saw this one doing his stick impression. For better Bittern pics, go here.
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Huntley Meadows, part 2

A roughwinged swallow posed obligingly for me.

As did this common yellowthroat.

The female common yellowthroat was a bit more coy.

Despite not seeing any rails, it was a gorgeous morning at Huntley Meadows.
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Redbellied Woodpecker at Huntley Meadows

On my way out of Huntley, I heard redbellied woodpeckers just before the boardwalk goes into the woods. I looked up and a redbelly was having a fued with a starling(?) at the redbelly's nest. The top two pictures show the redbelly and the other bird fussing with each other. As far as I can tell, the redbelly was successful in driving the starling off. The pair of redbellys returned frequently to the nest, peering in. Hopefully all is well. I will monitor the nest to see if I see any feeding activity.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Great Marsh Trail

Fred and I went down to the Great Marsh Trail on Mason Neck on Tuesday to check out the eagle's nest we saw last month. Unfortunately, the trees had leafed out far enough that we could barely see the nest, let alone what was in it. We didn't see any adults sitting around the tree, nor did we see any other raptors. No osprey, no red-tailed hawk, no harriers. It was pretty dead. We did see this rough greensnake hanging out around the deck area. I've seen them before in trees at Huntley Meadows. It was very docile, and according to the field guides, do not bite. It didn't move at all when I touched its back. In addition to the snake, we saw many male and female orioles, the ubiquitous great blue heron, a brilliant scarlet tanager and a common yellowthroat, however none photographable!

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Gravelly Point I -- Bobolinks

There have been reports on the Virginia Birding email list about Bobolinks at Gravelly Point, a little parking lot and park just north of Washington National Airport. People like to go there and watch the planes take off and land. It was a beautiful day. So, Fred and I packed up the scope, the binoculars and the cameras, threw the top down on the Miata, and headed up the George Washington Parkway to see what we could see. Within about 30 seconds of arriving, we saw our first bobolinks. They are flocking birds, so we saw little groups of them. This one has three males and one female (the topmost bobolink).

I just liked this picture.

A good one showing the distinctive back view of the Bobolink. Black breast, distinctive back. Interesting!

The reports on the VA Bird list said that everytime a plane took off, the bobolinks would fly up, and they were right. Because of the wind, the planes were taking off right over our heads, and every time, a flock of bobolinks would fly. It was great fun. We would wait until a plane started coming down the runway, then watch for the bobolinks.
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Gravelly Point II -- Other Birds

This redwinged blackbird flew up to within about 10 feet from me in the little copse of pine trees we were sitting in, red epaulets ablazing. He picked at some trash he found, then posed obligingly for me, though his red was withdrawn by this time.

We also got a picture of a duck. Hey, we take what comes. Apparently Gravelly Point is a landing spot for the amphibian tour boat. Just a few minutes later, it went by on the George Washington Parkway behind us.

The first bird I saw at Gravelly Point (ok, some pigeons were first--I should say the first interesting bird) was this Eastern Kingbird. It was perched on the top of some pine trees when I first saw it. We later perched below the same pine trees to watch the bobolinks.

Bikers, walkers, joggers all were busily travelling on the Mt Vernon Bike trail behind us. It was a beautiful day!
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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Monticello, VA

Fred and I visited Monticello, near Charlottesville, VA. This was the home of Thomas Jefferson, 1st Secretary of State, 2d Vice President of the US and 3rd President, as the guide informed us.
While the guide talked to us about the "nickle view", above, the view of Monticello that used to be on the nickle (what will they say now?) and the dependencies that were built with underground passages so that the slaves and others could go about their work without going outside, I was easily distracted by the Baltimore Oriole singing away in the tree next to us.

No other birds of note, but this was the first Baltimore Oriole of the year for me! It was a gray and gloomy afternoon and quite windy, so I'm happy with the photo. Amazed it's this near to being in focus!

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Hairy Woodpecker Nest, Alexandria, VA

So, my birding buddy Renee and I, early in April at Loftridge Park, saw a Hairy Woodpecker and saw this hole nearby, which we thought might be a nest hole. (Click here for the earlier report.) She's been keeping an eye on it, and reported possible action at the hole. This morning I finally got to go back with her to the location.

Sure enough, a hairy woodpecker was active near the hole, make that high chipping call they make. We watched for awhile (her husband Matt joined us) and there was just a lot of calling but the hairy never went to the hole. So we went about 10 yards farther away and settled in. (Note: bring chairs next time. And beer.) Before too much longer, the male hairy started getting closer and closer to the hole, and finally, the female came out and the male went in! Carrying lunch. You can just barely see the caterpillar or bug in his bill. The top three pictures are of the male at the hole and then going into the nest.

Thrilled, we waited a bit longer, and eventually the female returned, came up to the nest and the male exited. Here she is waiting for him to leave. A great day! We'll keep you posted.

We started at Huntley Meadows, hoping to see the reported King Rail (nope!) but did see an American Bittern fly in.
It was a great morning for birding. Other birds seen today were (Renee, let me know what I've left out):

Huntley Meadows:
Great Blue Heron
American Bittern
Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Solitary Sandpiper
Tree Swallow
Gray Catbird
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird

Loftridge Park:
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Gray Catbird
Hermit Thrush
Wood Thrush
American Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue Jay
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Northern Cardinal
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