Fleetwood Hill Battlefield: Hot Spot for Birds and History

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is a magnet for birds and Civil War buffs. During the American Civil War, The Battle of Brandy Station took place on June 9, 1863 when Union Calvary Major General Alfred Pleasanton launched a surprise attack against Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate calvary.

Years ago, local citizens came together to save the battlefield from development. The National Park Service mapped the historic area and recommended preserving four separate areas. Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is one of the four that is preserved from development. American Battlefield Trust is the main organization behind the preservation.

American Battlefield owns this beautiful spot located in Culpeper County between the small towns of Elkwood and Brandy Station. The Trust purchased 61 acres area at Fleetwood Hill in 2013. Here you will find a free parking area that overlooks one of the most scenic views in the county. In one direction, is the grasslands of the battlefield that hosts a variety of grasslands birds. In the other direction, is a beautiful private farm with a pond popular with waterfowl in the winter.

Fleetwood Battlefield is a great year-round destination for birding. Trips to the battlefield in the winter surprise the visitor with unexpected visitors such as Tundra Swans. On December 18, 2017, I stopped by the battlefield to see what was in the Beauregard Farm pond. To my surprise, when I got out of my car, I flushed four Greater White-fronted Geese from the field across from the parking lot. They had been foraging for grain in the field. It was the first time I had spotted geese in the field directly across from the parking area. On the pond, I saw two Cackling Geese among around 50 Canada Geese, 12 Hooded Mergansers, three Tundra Swans, about 30 American Black Ducks and about 60 Mallards. It was a lucky day as some winter days the pond is deserted.

When Spring arrives, my attention shifts from the Beauregard pond to the battlefield. The field fills with thistle and other plants that provide food and cover for grassland birds. Soon Grasshopper Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Meadowlarks, and American Goldfinches make the battlefield home for the breeding season. I just spotted a Dickcissel yesterday who was singing vigorously from a tree-top. Native trees in the field provide home to other species such as Orchard Orioles. The battlefield is quite a “birdy”place.

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is also a great place to look for butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies.

Kudos to The American Battlefield Trust for doing a great job maintaining the battlefield, while providing breeding areas for grassland birds. Moreover, they have installed new interpretative signs in the battlefield providing the visitor with a wealth of information about the Civil War battlefield. The Grasshopper Sparrows like to come out and perch on the interpretative signs!

American Battlefield recently put in a stationary telescope that allows visitors to get a closer look at the area for free. I look forward to being able to use this scope during winter to look at the birds on the farm pond across the road! You can also see the mountains of the Shenandoah National Park from this spot.

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield happens to be located in a priority block for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020). The atlas is a project to map breeding birds throughout Virginia to inform conservation strategies. The priority block is known as Brandy Station SE. For more atlas information, I cover atlasing of this block in a separate blog post: Brandy Station SE (Priority Block) – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2.

American Battlefield is seeking to make Fleetwood Hill Battlefield and other historic areas into Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park. They have been acquiring land in the Brandy Station area for this effort. You can learn more about the American Civil War sites in Culpepper and other battlefields from The American Battlefield Trust; the only national level organization working to save America’s historic battlefields. Consider making a donation to American Battlefield on this site. Battlefields are great for preserving our nations’ history while providing open space, which in turn provides wildlife habitat. A win-win!

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Brandy Station SE (Priority Block) – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2

RESULTS AS OF JUNE 2018 – OBSERVED 20, POSSIBLE 24, PROBABLE 12, CONFIRMED 13, TOTAL 49

Brandy Station SE has only a few roads in it. The main road is James Madison Highway (Route 15/29) that crosses the bottom section of the block. The block includes part of the small town of Brandy Station. It also includes the Fleetwood Hill Battlefield along Fleetwood Heights Road. (Note: this block does NOT include Brandy Station Battlefield Park, which is located next to Culpeper Airport). Besides the battlefield, the only other public areas in this block are the brewery on Alanthus Road, the Graffiti House and commercial area of Brandy Station. Large areas of the block are private farms making birding challenging.

Ruffians Run, Flat Run and Jonas Run are waterways in this block. There are a few ponds on private land in this block. The pond at Beauregard Farm can be viewed from the Fleetwood Hill Battlefield parking lot. Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is the best spot for birding in this block. It consists of a grasslands, agricultural fields, and native trees. Flat Run passes through the battlefield.

So far, diurnal surveying of about twelve hours has resulted in 12 confirmations of breeding birds for this priority block. There were 15 confirmations for the first breeding atlas (1985-1989). The current atlas will probably exceed the first atlas for confirmations with additional day surveys and nocturnal surveys.

Found breeding between March 2016 to June 2018: Mourning Dove, Eastern Phoebe, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Grasshopper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and House Sparrow. Red-winged Blackbirds are surely breeding here, though I have not been able to get a firm confirmation. There was a possible juvenile calling from the deep grass with an adult male hanging around nearby. Hopefully, a confirmation of this species is soon to come. Brown Thrashers and an Orchard Orioles are probably actively breeding as of June 2018. I just need a confirmation. The above lists of confirmed species contains species that were not confirmed during the first atlas.

The first breeding bird atlas confirmed 15 species: Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Chipping Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and Orchard Oriole and Red-winged Blackbird. So, many of the same species are still breeding here. In remains to be determined if Chipping Sparrow, Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay and Carolina Chickadee are still breeding in this block. Blue Jays, a pair of Chipping Sparrows and a Killdeer have both been observed in recent days.

Rockwater: A New Park, A New Place to Bird

In May 2018, the town of Culpeper debuted its newest park, Rockwater Park. Located on Route 29 just south of the town center, Rockwater is set on 32 acres. There is a mile of wide paved trails. This makes for a tick-free birding experience if you remain on the trail. It also means that the trails are handicapped accessible for wheelchairs or motorized scooters. So everyone can bird here.

Rockwater Park’s entrance is a steep incline one way into a paved parking lot with one sheltered picnic area and a building with bathrooms. From there you can choose to routes to start off though either way you will loop back around. No getting lost here. The trails are set back from the road and are relatively quiet. There are residential areas surrounding the park though they are mostly obscured from view.

This park has been nominated as an eBird hot spot. You can check what birds I found on my first birding trip there: Rockwater Park, June 14, 2018. I also spotted a groundhog and a doe with her fawn during my visit.

The park is in Culpeper West NE block for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 project. This block currently has about five hours of surveying done. Checkout what birds have been found in this block: Culpeper West NE. If you get to Culpeper, consider visiting Rockwater Park to do some atlasing!

Catlett SW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2

RESULTS AS OF JUNE 2018 – OBSERVED: 39, POSSIBLE: 24, PROBABLE: 17, CONFIRMED: 19, TOTAL: 60

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

During the current Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (2016-2020), nineteen breeding bird species have already been 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:

• The only species that was found during the first atlas that has not been confirmed for the second atlas is: American Kestrel. All other species from the first atlas have been re-confirmed during 2016-2017.

• The current atlas has already identified seven newly observed breeding species: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Grackle, and Chipping Sparrow.

Remington NE Block – VA Breeding Atlas 2

RESULTS AS OF JUNE 2018 – OBSERVED: 16, POSSIBLE: 24, PROBABLE: 7, CONFIRMED: 10, TOTAL: 41

Remington NE Block contains agricultural, commercial, industrial and residential areas. There are no public parks in this block. All land is in private hands. There are trails in residential areas, wooded and grassland areas abutting a couple of schools. Messick’s Farm market is in this block and they have agricultural fields with woodlands along the perimeter.

Route 15/29, Route 28 and Route 17 all run through this area. It extends from Opal down to the dangerous intersection of Route 17 and Route 28. One large area in Bealeton adjacent to this intersection is being rapidly developed. Former farmland has been developed into a senior apartment building and private homes called the Mintbrook community. Ryan Homes is the company building these new houses right now and additional homes and a planned shopping area are slated to replace an open grassland.

There are rumors that a Sheetz gas station is going in on the corner of 17 and 28. There are already three gas stations at this intersection (they are located in Remington CE block which starts right at the intersection).

Right in the middle of the Mintbrook development is Bowens Run. This area is popular with local and migratory birds. This spot remains one of the most important bird habitats in this block. The Mintbrook development could negatively impact breeding birds as habitat is removed and there is increased human activity in this area.

Surveyors for the Breeding Bird Atlas 1 confirmed only three species for Remington NE Block: American Robin, Northern Cardinal, and Northern Mockingbird. I am happy to report that I have already confirmed these three species for the second atlas and seven other species (I have noted which species were confirmed along Bowen Run (Mintbrook development):

Canada Goose
Barn Swallow
Carolina Wren – Mintbrook
American Robin – Mintbrook
Gray Catbird – Mintbrook
Northern Mockingbird – Mintbrook
European Starling – Mintbrook
Song Sparrow – Mintbrook
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle – Mintbrook

Notably, a Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Orchard Orioles have been observed in June at Mintbrook.

Unfortunately, the only owl found in the block was a deceased Great-horned Owl seen on Route 28 right at the first waterway in the block. This owl was documented in the iNaturalist dead bird project.

This block needs addition survey time. I have almost put in ten hours of survey time (diurnal and nocturnal surveys). With additional surveys, I am confident that more breeding species will be confirmed.

Catlett SE Block (Priority) – VA Breeding Atlas 2

RESULTS AS OF JUNE 2018 – OBSERVED: 23, POSSIBLE: 30, PROBABLE: 12, CONFIRMED: 30, TOTAL: 72

Catlett SE Breeding Block (PRIORITY) – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett, SE Block during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)

As of June 2018, 30 breeding bird species are confirmed for Catlett SE. Seven other atlasers have helped me cover this block. Almost 30 hours of diurnal surveys have been done along with .62 hours of nocturnal surveying.

So far the totals for the second atlas falls one confirmation short of the total from the first breeding bird atlas. The first atlas lists possible breeding at 27, probable breeding at 27, and confirmed breeding at 31 (1985-1989). There is quite a difference in the species found breeding during the first and second atlases (see below for details).

Catlett SE block consists almost entirely of private lands most of which are still being used for agricultural purposes. This makes surveying the block difficult as there are no public areas. Route 28 is the major road through this block. Important bird habitat is located on private wetlands in this block. Cedar Run and Turkey Run are waterways in this block. Catlett and Calverton are tiny town centers each with a post office and a few businesses.

Results so far for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2:

The Following species have been confirmed between January 2016 and June 2018: Cedar Waxwing, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Barn Swallow, Eastern Meadowlark, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Green Heron, Eastern Wood-pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-throated Vireo, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The following 15 species were identified breeding during the first atlas and have not yet been confirmed during the 2016-2020 atlas: American Kestrel, Wild Turkey, Kildeer, Carolina Wren, Purple Martin, Chimney Swift, Northern Flicker, House Wren, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Field Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Prairie Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. Some of these species were observed in this block during April-June 2018. Whereas, Wild Turkeys and House Wrens have not been observed by atlasers from 2016 to June 2018.

For the second atlas only one priority database bird has been confirmed breeding in this block: Hooded Merganser (observed by other birders). Two male singing Dickcissels were first observed in this block in June 2018. They are probable breeders as they have sung for over seven days at same location. American Black Ducks have stopped over during migration though have not been observed breeding in this block.

Townsend CW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2

RESULTS AS OF JUNE 2018 – OBSERVED: 55, POSSIBLE: 34, PROBABLE: 30, CONFIRMED: 28, TOTAL: 92. Block Complete.

Townsend CW Breeding Block in Northampton County, VA, is complete. This block is on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and includes Kiptopeke State Park. It was easy to surpass the data from the first breeding atlas as only two species were confirmed for the first atlas! When I signed up to cover this block, other birders (29 other birders!!) had already contributed many hours to the effort. What was missing was nocturnal hour surveys.

I spent April to May 2018 surveying this block. I completed the night-time surveys, and I added 14 breeding confirmations.

I think that many of the probable breeding species are breeding at Kiptopeke Park. I will update this article to list the confirmed species and the species that I think are breeding there and just need to be spotted!

The first breeding atlas confirmed the following species for Townsend CW: Osprey and Barn Owl. Unfortunately, no Barn Owls have been observed during the Breeding Bird Atlas 2. Great-horned Owls are confirmed in the block and Eastern Screech Owls are likely breeding in Kiptopeke Park where they are regularly observed.

Breeding Bird Atlasing at Breaks Interstate Park and Surrounding Areas: Elkhorn City SE (Priority), Elkhorn City CE, Elkhorn City CW

This summer, I have spent many hours birding Elkhorn City blocks SE, CE, CW looking for evidence of breeding to contribute to the Virginia Breeding Atlas II. I managed to complete Elkhorn City SE block, which is a priority block by confirming 30 breeding species. The CE block still needs a lot more atlasing during the remaining years of the atlas. The CW block also needs more atlasing, however, it is remote and difficult to get to the small area covered in Virginia (most of the block is in Kentucky which doesn’t count).

Throughout the summer, I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from the woods in the priority block and Elkhorn CE. I never actually got to see it. I wonder if there is only one. There are not many hairy caterpillars around, which they like to eat. This may mean that they are not successfully breeders at BIP. More observation is needed. On the other hand, there are plenty of moths at BIP, and Whip-poor-wills are present (they eat lots of moths). I was unable to confirm breeding though I suspect that there may be a nest that was predated by a bobcat! I heard a confrontation between the species during the night!

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds birds were present at BIP this summer. I never found breeding evidence. Mostly they buzzed by without pausing. Only once did I see one perched on a branch! It was a male located right at the entrance to the park.

Notably absent from the area: No Northern Mockingbirds or House Sparrow were observed in Elkhorn City SE, Elkhorn City CE, and Elkhorn CW breeding blocks! In fact, I only found two Northern Mockingbirds in Dickenson County.

In Buchanan County, I found one pair with fledglings. Interestingly, as soon as you cross into Russell County, Northern Mockingbirds become common.

Here are my findings for breeding activity broken down by breeding blocks:

Elkhorn City SE (Priority) Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017

The priority block falls in the developed area of Breaks Interstate Park (BIP). Observing breeding activity from late May to early August, I noticed patterns of breeding success. Some of the species that were confirmed breeders for this block were seen outside of the park at a wetland area and a golf course. I have noted them separately below.

In the priority block within the developed area of the park:

Chipping Sparrows
I witnessed Chipping Sparrows having up to three successful broods.

Carolina Wrens
A pair of Carolina Wrens appeared to have two or three broods also. A family of Carolina Wrens were still feeding older fledglings in early August.

American Robins
American Robins had nests near the visitor center and at least one pair had a nest in the woods. The nest in the woods was predated by a Red-Shouldered Hawk at least twice. I do not know if any of the nestlings survived from that nest.

Eastern Phoebes
The Eastern Phoebes were breeding at many buildings and structures. They had the most nests of any species in the park of those that I was able to find.

1

Barred Owls
During my first birding outing at BIP, I heard a Barred Owl singing. There was no activity for awhile that I detected. The next thing I noticed was Barred Owl fledglings calling (more like…Hissing) in the trees. I heard them a lot for a few weeks after that they finally stopped hissing. In August, I heard Barred Owls singing again.

Red-Shouldered Hawks
I believe they had a nest in the woods near Cold Springs Trail. A pair was there consistently. I witnessed predation of the American Robins nest and a Red-Shouldered Hawk carrying a robin nestling in the direction of Cold Springs Trail.

Hairy Woodpeckers
I observed four different pairs with nests with young.

Northern Flicker
The pair had two broods in the same nest located in a utility pole.

Common Ravens had a nest near Pinnacle Rock Overlook. Once the nestlings fledged, they moved around the park quite a bit traveling between the CE and SE block. Then they all left the park.

American Crows
They nested in the park and the fledglings stayed close to their parents all summer. They primarily spend their time in the priority block. I think that there is only one family of crows that raised at least two fledglings.

Red-eyed Vireos (REVE)
I never found a REVE nest. It was not until July that I confirmed breeding when I started to see fledglings chasing adults and getting fed in trees. Then it seemed for about two weeks, I keep seeing and hearing the fledglings!

Wetland Area/Golf Course/and Buchanan County area nearby:

Scarlet Tanager
A male was observed from outside of the park carrying food into part of the woods that I believe belong to BIP.

White-eyed Vireo
I heard a White-eyed Vireo singing at the wetlands area outside of the park just south of the village of the Breaks. I finally confirmed breeding when I spotted a fledgling in the same spot. I did hear a White-eyed Vireo singing once at the BIP Campground in Elkhorn City CE block. I never heard or saw one in the BIP again though.

Eastern Kingbird
I observed a nest with young and both adults carrying food to the nest in a tree at the golf course! No Eastern Kingbirds were observed in BIP.

Red-winged Black Birds
Multiple pairs successfully breed in the wetlands. After the young had fledged, I think they traveled into the park as I observed them in a wetland area in the priority block once. They didn’t stay though.

List of Confirmed Breeding Species in Elkhorn City SE block 2016-2017

Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird

Update: Blue-headed Vireo (August 10)

American Robin
all rights reserved Kelly KRechmer

Elkhorn City CE Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017

This block covers the area of Stateline Overlook, the Geological and Ridge Trails, the Campground, Deer and Beaver Pond Trails, Much of the woods where the Mountain Bike Trails are located, and the area of the park that is along the road on the drive north from the village of Breaks up to the Kentucky-side of the park. It also covers the area under the new bridge on Conaway Road, Happy Hollow Road and Breaks village.

All of the birds listed below were observed breeding in BIP, with the exception of Wood Ducks and House Finches, which I explain:

Wood Duck
I stumbled onto the Wood Duck family when I pulled over to let a car go by in Buchanan County area of Conaway Road. There was a small waterway right there and I flushed a female Wood Duck with her fledglings. This was the only observation of Wood Ducks I made in the area. So for once, I actually appreciated a speeding tailgater!

House Finch
I have not observed any House Finches in BIP. They were observed breeding along Happy Hollow Road, Buchanan County.

List of Confirmed Breeding Species in Elkhorn City CE block 2016-2017

Wood Duck 
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Ovenbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch

Elkhorn City CW Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017

No breeding birds observed. This block covers only a small area of Virginia within Breaks Interstate Park. It is difficult to access this area. It requires a hike up a rocky trail for a few miles from the Kentucky side of Breaks Interstate Park. I traveled up the trail with a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. We hoped to observe Peregrine Falcons that nested in the park in 2016. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in finding the falcons this year. A few birds were heard singing, however, no birds were observed during our hours long visit except for vultures.

Elkhorn SE Block (PRIORITY) – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Virginia Breeding Atlas 2, as of June 2017, 15 breeding bird species have been confirmed for Elkhorn SE, Dickensen County. This is a priority block. Fifteen of 20 probable breeding species have been confirmed.

Confirmed breeding birds 2016 to Present:

Peregrine Falcon
Hairy Woodpecker
Brown Thrasher
American Crow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
Chipping Sparrow
American Robin
Eastern Towee
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Phoebe
Common Raven
Carolina Chickadee
Northern Flicker

SOURCE:
eBIRD, 2017. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell University of Ornithology, Ithaca, New york. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 20, 2017)

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.