Children Rescue Baby Robin from Mountain Run

While birding Wine Street Memorial Park on June 14, 2018, I spotted an American Robin with food in its beak. I was watching it when I heard a young girl ask a young boy if he still had the baby bird.

I looked over at the children and saw that the young boy was hunched down by the ground petting something. I walked over and asked if they had a baby bird. The girl replied yes and they showed me a nestling robin on the ground in a large leaf. They said that the bird was injured. The bird was shaking. I picked it and it immediately stopped shaking and perked up. It opened its eyes and looked up at me. I told the kids that we should back away and see if the parents would come down to the baby. Meanwhile, I asked them to tell me what happened.

The children brought me to the edge of Mountain Run which passed through the tiny park. They said that they were fishing when they saw the bird fall into the water. The girl told me that they scooped it out of the water in a plastic bucket they had with them. They were planning to bring it to a wildlife rehabilitator at some point. They said they tried to feed it bread and then fed it an earthworm. I told them that bread is bad for birds, though the earthworm was a good idea. I then explained to them that the baby would be best off if we could reunite it with its parents.

After a while two adult American Robins moved to the electric wire above the baby. We all moved further back to give them some space. One of the adults flew down to the baby. Seeing the parents interest, I informed the children that I would set up a temporary nest and put it in a tree as the parents were still there trying to feed their baby.

From my car, I retrieved a box I keep for potential wildlife rescues along with some string. I found an old shirt that I placed in the box. I put the nestling in the box and hung the temporary nest in a tree. I showed the children what I had done and told them I would be back to check the nestling in a couple of hours. I also praised them for rescuing the bird. I let them know that I would monitor the baby to ensure that parents were taking care of it. They agreed with me and went back to fishing.

While away from the park, I purchased a small basket to replace the box as a better temporary nest.

When I returned to the park, the children were gone. I carried the basket to the tree and was dismayed to see that nest box with the robin was also gone. I do not know what happened though I assume that the children or their parents took it down. I only hope that they took the robin to a wildlife rehabilitator rather than home.

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Midland NW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Midland NW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Midland Block 1 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 (1985-1989)

Birding hotspot, C.M. Crockett Park is located primarily in this block (most of thr parks wood trails fall under Catlett SW). John Marshall’s Birthplace (another birding hotspot) is also in this block. This block contains most of Midland, VA, including the main area of the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport.

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), 24 breeding bird species were confirmed for Midland NW. To date for the second breeding atlas: observed: 62, possibly breeding 27, probably breeding 24, confirmed breeding 24, total 75. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only 22 were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  • Only 12 species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Eastern Bluebird, Wood Duck, European Starling, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow, Common Grackle, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove.
  • The current atlas has already identified 12 new breeding species: Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, Purple Martin, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Kingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo and Indigo Bunting.
  •  Ten species were identified during the first atlas that were not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (however four years still remain to confirm these species): American Kestrel, Canada Goose, Mallard, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Song Sparrow,* and Blue Grosbeak.

*Song Sparrows were noticeably absent in this block in 2016, however, many have been observed in 2017.

Birding in Virginia: From the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont

By Kelly Krechmer, Winner of Bird Studies Canada’s 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count Story Contest

I had assumed that the Great Backyard Bird Count was for birding exclusively in backyards. I do not have a backyard. However, I learned that the count can be done anywhere, so this year I set out to do what I considered my Great Beyond Bird Count!

I started my bird count in a number of under-birded Virginia counties. I was rewarded with my first-of-the-year sightings of Northern Bobwhites, Wild Turkeys, and Pine Warblers.

The next day, I headed out to the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Along the way, I stopped at a nearby marsh and flushed an American Bittern from the reeds. I considered the bittern to be a harbinger of what lay ahead.

At the wildlife refuge, I headed out to the beachfront. The beach walk was great, with unseasonably warm weather and only a handful of people, who were also birders! There were Sanderlings probing the sand. Not far from shore were loons, gulls, scoters, and many diving Northern Gannets, along with a pod of dolphins headed south.

I scanned the ocean continuously and witnessed a Northern Gannet come up with a fish stuck in its throat that it was trying to swallow. Soon, other gannets were attempting to steal the fish and were mobbing the struggling gannet. Loons and gulls circled the melee. It was quite a sight.

On day three of the count, I headed inland to Hog Island Wildlife Management Area. The weather was unexpectedly warm again. I was searching for the American White Pelicans previously reported at this hotspot. Another birder showed me where they were. The pelicans were on a mud bank offshore, and appeared to be enjoying the sun as much as we were. I was thrilled to see them for the first time in Virginia.

During the final day of the count, I travelled around my home county for about 12 hours straight. I ended the day at sunset with two Short-eared Owls.

I observed 100 bird species during the four-day count. I also simultaneously contributed data to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas.

It is great to have a fun birding activity that is also a Citizen Science project important to bird and habitat conservation efforts.

White-eyed Vireo

A recent birding trip to Government Island resulted in an unexpected surprise sighting. On my way back to the parking lot I heard some chirping in a thicket. I was surprised to see a White-eyed Vireo feeding a fledgling. 

I had been seeking to find breeding White-eye Vireos since April with no success. I had found many singing males and returned to their locations to follow up hoping to find evidence of breeding. No luck. 

I was happy to stumble upon the vireos at Government Island. I tried to get a photo of the fledgling, however, it remained deep in the thicket making it impossible to get a photo that was anymore than a blur. Luckily, the adult male was so busy looking for insects that he perched near where I was able to snap a good photo of him!

Virginia: Thousands of Brown-headed Cowbirds

Today I decided to bird some new areas. I first headed to a birding hot spot in Virginia. The location consists of two large farm fields and a quiet dead-end road in between. I got to this birding spot there and was initially disappointed because I only heard a Blue Jay and spotted some Mourning Doves. I decided to move on to the next spot. As I was heading back down the the dead-end road I saw a massive bird “cloud” moving in the sky in the field to my right. These birds were flushed from the ground by a hawk .

I figured that the birds were probably starlings. I stopped and got out my binoculars. I could see that they were not starlings and wondered if they were some sort of black bird. I couldn’t tell until they came toward where I was parked.

I watched the massive group of birds as they moved along in the field. Finally they started flying in my direction and stopped in the field and in the road next to me. I could see without binoculars that they were Brown-headed Cowbirds. I looked with my binoculars at the group in the field to see if there were any other birds mixed in. I spotted only one starling.

I was awestruck when the birds were all around my car and perched on the fence posts on both sides. They gradually moved to the field on my left.

I figured I should get a photo to prove that I saw so many cowbirds today. I was just about to get a great shot when a hawk came out of nowhere and flew into the mass of cowbirds that were in the air coming toward me. The hawk easily snagged one cowbird for his meal and flew away. The remaining cowbirds scattered. I managed to get a few photos and video with my smart phone. Unfortunately, the birds were now some distance and skittish as I tried to get closer so no good shots.

Watching Wrens at Home in Virginia

For a bird enthusiast living next to a state forest had its perks. Many birds that nested in the forest would pop over to look for things to eat. There were the usual Northern Cardinals that always are a delight to watch, along with House Sparrows, and Carolina Chickadees. However, the proximity of the forest also provided for regular glimpses of Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, White-throated Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Carolina Wrens, and the rare visit of a Winter Wren.

The Winter Wren was one of the rarest visitors to my porch only appearing for a few days each spring in earnest search of insects. I spotted the Winter Wren busily clearing every nook and cranny of my porch of bugs. I appreciated the pest removal service and the entertainment provided by this bird who completely ignored my presence. It was a quick visit similar to when a hummingbird swoops in to drink nectar.

One evening, I put the porch light on and to my surprise I noticed that there was something wedged between the light fixture and the wall. It appeared to be a bird of some sort. I discovered the preferred sleeping spot of a male Carolina Wren! Each night the wren would return to sleep in this spot safe from the owls in the adjacent forest. I looked forward to dusk when he would return and set up for the night. It was fun to see him arrive and warily try to sneak up to his hideaway. He would land the fence then move over to a chair looking all around before making his finally move up to his spot. Then every morning, he would sing loudly before departing. He usually did not wake me up as there seemed to be always an American Robin that would take to sing around 430am.

Eventually, I started to see the same wren in the day time. It would look for insects on my porch and hang around longer than the Winter Wren had. I was surprised when I saw the wren head over to the plate of birdseed I had on my porch. The wren tossed aside many nuts and seeds until it found a choice piece. I ended up seeing the wren swallowing  whole peanuts. I noticed that when he was eating seed, the other birds stayed away. Apparently, the Carolina Wren is intimidating to other birds! So he had the seeds and nuts to himself until he decided to fly away to the forest or just to the parking lot.

Often I would spot him hopping around the parking lot and jumping up to car fenders to pull off dead insects to eat. When satiated the wren would spend the day off in the forest. At dusk he would return to his safe spot on the porch to sleep.

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One day, I noticed that there was another wren with slightly paler markings coming to my porch with the male wren. I later guessed that this was his lady friend. They would show up to look for bugs. This female wren was a lot shyer and would quickly hide behind a planter to eat a seed she scooped up from the plate. The male wren was bold and would visit even when I was sitting a few feet away from the plate.

At some point, I witnessed the male wren showed the female wren his sleeping spot. They both even nestled down for the night a few times. They were really crammed in there with one perched on top of the other! I do not think the female wren was impressed with this spot as she would disappear some nights and he would be back alone for the night. Probably in an effort to impress his lady and get her to want to nest at his “bachelor pad,” the male wren began a meager attempt to build an actual nest on the light fixture. He brought a few small twigs and placed them up there. Later the twigs would alway blow down. He would try again. He tried at least three times to make a nest with just a few pieces of tiny twigs. He alway failed. Every now again, the male wren got the female wren back up to this tiny spot.

I bought the wrens dried meal worms to eat and left a pile for them. They enjoyed them a lot whereas most of the other birds at the feeder preferred nuts and seeds. I delighted in watching them visit together. Then one day both of the wrens disappeared.

Infrequently, I would spot the male wren in the daytime but never at night. The female was missing. I figured she must of convinced him to go with her to a different nesting spot. Sure enough one day the pair came to the porch in the daytime with a fledgling! It was as if the father wren was showing his baby where he liked to hang out and get something to eat. I only saw them visit twice.

I saw the whole wren family with another fledgling in the nearby forest many times though as the male wren gave away their location by singing loudly every day.

I have since moved away and miss this wren family. Whenever, I hear a Carolina Wren sing I think about the times I was amazed by the wrens on my porch.

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