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Remington CE Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Remington CE Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Remington Block 4 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)
-Fauquier County.

This block contains the center of Bealeton; a growing town. It is primarily residential and commercial with few remaining agricultural fields. Route 28 and 17 coverage here and the rail road runs through this block. 

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), 16 breeding bird species were confirmed for Remington CE. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only four species were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  •  Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: American Robin, Common Grackle and Barn Swallow. 
  •  The current atlas has already identified seven new breeding species: Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, House Sparrow, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Willow Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove. 
  •  Only one species was identified to be breeding during the first atlas that was not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (four years still remain to confirm this species): Yellow-throated Vireo. However, the Yellow-throated Vireo has not been observed in the breeding block yet. 
  • During the first breeding atlas, Northern Bobwhite quail were observed. No breeding was confirmed. During the first year of the current breeding atlas, no Northern Bobwhite have been observed in the block. There has been significant development in the block since the first breeding atlas that probably has negatively impacted habitat for quail.

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)
-Fauquier County.

This block contains most of the Weston Wildlife Management Area and the a woodland area of C.M. Crockett Park.

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), ten breeding bird species were confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  •   Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Carolina Wren, American Robin, and Barn Swallow. 
  • The current atlas has already identified seven new breeding species: House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow. 
  •  Three 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, Blue Jay, European Starling.

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) are 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 Geese, Mallard, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Song Sparrow,* 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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