Sunday, October 27, 2013

First(ish) Common Merganser

Meant to post this sooner, but I was waiting for the right photos to add. Last week at Great Falls, we spotted a couple of Common Mergansers (a life bird for me), but I didn't get terrific views, at least not enough to satisfy my curiosity. I'm happy to say, though, that we saw some Common Mergansers today, and this time I was able to snap some photos for further study. (I'm confident now that I saw the same species last week.) At one point, a male Mallard floated in next to the Mergansers. It was a good ol' fashioned pose off. Gorgeous birds, both of them!

We also saw loads of Yellow-rumped Warblers, both kinglet species, and some thirsty Cedar Waxwings. Combined with the juvenile Eagles, Brown Creepers, and multiple Pileateds, it was a pretty spectacular day.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

First Eastern Meadowlark

On the first chill-you-to-the-bone morning of the season, I joined a group for a walk around Sky Meadows. Basically, every experienced birder I've talked to since I started this adventure back in May has told me that I have to visit Sky Meadows... and boy were they right. Not only was the birding top notch, the scenery is exceptional, too. Already looking forward to the next visit.

As expected, there were numerous sparrows--Savannah and Song being most abundant--but what I didn't expect were so many Eastern Meadowlarks (a life bird for me). They're simply spectacular little birds, with the sweetest little songs, and one even perched long enough for me to snap a photo. (If you look closely, you'll see he's singing in one of the pics.)

I was lucky, too, to join Linda Millington for looks at a Barn Owl, a Mute Swan, and a Trumpeter Swan (all three life birds for me). We caught but a fleeting glimpse of the Barn Owl, but it was enough to make me gasp. I've been searching all over Northern Virginia for an owl, any owl, since May; it turns out I just needed to pay a visit to Linda's neck of the woods. If only I'd taken her up on the offer months ago...

The swans, too, were breathtaking, but the wind had become so ferocious that we could only stand to be outside for a few minutes. It was just enough time to spot the differences between the Mute and the Trumpeter bills.

Probably the most extraordinary moment, though, was the viewing of the Ross's Goose. We all owe Elizabeth a debt of gratitude for spotting the little guy while he was leading a V of Canada Geese. It was lovely to see the diminutive Ross's on the pond, sure, but up in the air... that was special. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

First Dickcissel and Straggler Warblers

Had a lovely mid-week walk in Alexandria, led by two terrific birders, Dave Boltz and Phil Silas. As Phil mentioned in his va-bird summary, the morning started off slowly at Ben Brenman Park, but we were soon treated to multiple sparrows, kinglets, Yellow-rumpeds, and a lovely Blue-headed vireo. At one point, we had upwards of 5 Palm Warblers showing off in the same spot, and I was lucky enough to capture a few pics (one with Palms and a Ruby-crowned together; one of a Brown Thrasher and an Eastern Towhee together).

After a pitstop at Swings for some coffee, I made my way to Huntley Meadows to check out the revamped habitat. As expected, there were sparrows everywhere, but what I was really on the hunt for was a thrush or two. I got my wish with a Hermit Thrush, but the real treat came moments later when I spotted my first-ever Dickcissel. He stayed tucked away from decent photo ops (sorry to disappoint), but he did sit still just long enough for me to compare field markings with my field guide. Sure enough, a Dickcissel finally made my list.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Northern Shoveler

To celebrate our 5th anniversary, we hopped on some bikes in Old Town Alexandria and made our way down the Mount Vernon Trail. It was a terrific day for biking and some reflection, and though I swore to myself that I wouldn't do any birding (aside from just generally appreciating the presence of birds all around us), I noticed something near Dyke Marsh that we just had to stop for.

As it turns out, the birds on the water were exactly what I thought they were: Northern Shovelers. I'd seen plenty of them in field guides (and in antique stores as decoys), but I'd never seen one, let alone 15, in real life. So, yep, another life bird for this still-fledging novice. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bles Park and Lake Thoreau

Had a lovely morning at Bles Park with the Loudon County birders. The warblers were at a minimum, sure, but the company was pleasant and knowledgeable, and the weather showed signs of finally cooperating again. In fact, after the walk, I stuck around for another hour or so, reaping many benefits from the sun breaking through the early-morning grayness.

The raptors really became active, as did the sparrows. I was able to pick up a couple of life birds--a Northern Harrier and a Swamp Sparrow--and I had good looks at a Blue-headed Vireo (bad photo reluctantly included), a Common Raven calling out while flying overhead, a Savannah Sparrow, and a Grasshopper Sparrow. Saw a few more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, too, but it was most thrilling to watch and listen to one (pic below) calling out for upwards of 5 minutes!

I also wanted to make a note that I've gotten the folks at eBird to change the listing of Lake Audubon to Lake Thoreau. If any folks are in the Reston area and bird that area, please let me know. I'd like to populate the database for the new listing as soon as possible. Thanks!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

More excellent backyard birding today. As with the past few rainy days, the wee birds (chicks, wrens, warblers, kinglets) were abundant, but this time I noticed a few new arrivals to our little plot of condo-tree heaven: a blue-headed vireo and a yellow-bellied sapsucker!

Both are life birds for me, though I'm fairly confident I saw both yesterday along the Reston pathway to Lake Anne (which, by the way, is not listed on eBird but has produced some truly lovely birdwalks over the past few months). In any case, I wasn't completely certain about the IDs yesterday, but this morning's clearer and closer views gave me all the proof I needed. I was even fortunate enough to have the camera ready for some pics of the yellow-bellied sapsucker. It was a textbook male, and he was magnificent.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Backyard Birding

Deterred by the rain (and a bit of oversleeping), I resolved to stay indoors today, foregoing even a quick birdwalk through the neighborhood. Much to my surprise, the birds came to me! In some stroke of good fortune (for me, though perhaps not for the birds), the rain and wind forced a great variety of small birds into the tree just outside our window. 

There were kinglets (RC and GC), chickadees, a phoebe, warblers (maggies and golden-rumpeds, for sure, as well as others I couldn't ID), and a brown creeper. This latter bird was a lifer for me, and I was so amazed that it landed just 10 feet from the window that I almost fell out of my chair! 

Here are two pics I managed to nab just before it crept its way out of view. What a lovely little bird...

Thursday, October 10, 2013

White-throated Sparrows & Warblers

Yesterday, I ventured out alone to bird some places new, some places old.

The new: I started off at Algonkian Regional Park, where I was lucky enough to see numerous warblers, white-throated sparrows, kinglets, and winter wrens. At one point, after pishing just a couple of times, a huge--and I do mean huge--group of birds became active in a small tree just in front of me. I couldn't believe my eyes at first, but I soon gathered my wits and pulled out the camera for some video. This massive group must have included upwards of 100 birds, but it was the variety that was most extraordinary. I easily spotted kinglets, wrens, titmouses, chickadees, and warblers of all kinds. They were all moving so quickly, though, that the warbler IDs were tough to come by, but the spectacle was awe-inspiring.

The old: Lake Thoreau in Reston, which is a place I've birded often enough to know pretty much what I'll find. But for those of you looking for a new place to visit, the path alone is worth your time. And on certain lucky afternoons, the birding can also be quite good. The thing is, eBird doesn't even list Lake Thoreau. In fact, they have it mislabeled (I'm in the process of getting them to fix it) as Lake Audubon, which is close by, sure, but nowhere near the same.

In any case, the first bird to greet me was a common raven, which I always find entertaining, and then things really picked up when I arrived at the meadow-like habitat just a little southwest of the lake. Here I found plenty of warblers--yellow-rumpeds, maggies, and others I couldn't ID--and I had some wonderful views of white-throated sparrows. Here's a highlight...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Canada Geese + Interloper

Stopped by Lake Fairfax after the Riverbend Walk this morning. Spotted a couple of Warblers (Magnolia and Black-throated Green), but the most interesting/confusing find was an interloper swimming with the Canada Geese. The mostly-white bird appears to be just a tad smaller than the Canada Geese, and it should be noted that none of the CGs were bothered at all by the unidentified bird's presence.

I need help with the ID. Please post comments below or to the VaBird Listserv.