Elkhorn SE Breeding Block (PRIORITY) Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)

Virginia Breeding Atlas II, 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)

 

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!

Fauquier’s Top Birding Spot in 2016: C.M. Crockett Park

 

Have you birded C.M. Crockett Park? It definitely is a birding hot spot. Records in the eBird database show that 168 species have been found at this park.

It is worth the effort to travel to this park as it has a number of bird habitats within its boundaries.There is a large man-made lake in the center, Germantown Lake (named for the town that was submerged when the lake was created). Great Blue Herons can be found at the edge of the lake often. On occasion, Ospreys and Bald Eagles can be spotted fishing the lake or perched in the trees. Rare visitors, include seagulls, grebes, and terns. Of course, you will likely see some Canada Geese on the lake.

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There is a large grassland area at the top of the parking area. At the edge of the grassland, there is a small woodlands section. The grassland is busy during breeding season. There are numerous Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, swallows and more. The woodlands section hosts Carolina Wrens and Chickadees year around. During breeding season, Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be spotted in the woods although often they are only heard calling.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoos have also been spotted in the parking area. The trees that are in the parking lot are surprisingly productive for birding at times. Neotropical migrants can be found in these trees. During breeding season the Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds, are often in the trees in this area. This past spring, a Prothonotary Warbler turned up in the parking lot…a rare visitor to this area.

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At the bottom of the parking lot is the entrance to a circular trail around a field with picnic areas. There are trees in the picnic areas and on the perimeter. Finally, there is a large woodland area on the far end of park behind the outdoor amphitheater. When there are few people, this area makes for productive birding.

Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Nuthatches and Brown Creepers have been observed in the trees in the picnic area. Most of the woodland species can be spotted occasionally in the picnic area. If you venture into the woods, there is a greater chance to see neotropical migrants during spring and fall migration. Also, this is where you will find the Wood Thrushes, Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees during breeding season.

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eBird Stats for C.M. Crockett Park

2016 – 143 species seen between January 2016 and August 3, 2016
During the last 10 years, eBird shows 168 species have been observed

Personal Observations for Period of July 2015 to August 2016

Mysterious Disappearance of Song Sparrows

Song Sparrows used to be common. I would see them during most visits. For reasons unknown they have almost disappeared. The last Song Sparrow reported to eBird for the park was seen on June 9 by another birder. I have not seen Song Sparrows since March when I spotted one in the parking lot.

Where did the Gray Catbirds Go?

Gray Catbirds showed up in April, however, the last time anyone reported seeing one was my sighting on May 31. No breeding was seen. The previous year they were seen throughout the summer. Their absence was noticeably and I wonder what caused it. Predation? Did they move on to another area?

Most Successful Breeding Birds

Chipping Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, and Northern Cardinals. Each species was observed with fledglings throughout the breeding season. Some probably had more than one brood.

Examples of Some Rare Birds Seen Observed Spring 2016

  • Black Tern
  • Palm Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Common Loon

Breeding Failures

  • A group of Purple Martins arrived early in the breeding season, however, the traditional Purple Martin houses (there are two on the farm property at the entrance to the park) were being visited by European Starlings and House Sparrows. The Purple Martins seemed to settle in and did build nests, however, they abandoned these nests with no fledglings seen. The European Starlings and House Sparrows moved right in.
  • A pair of Tree Swallows had an active nest with eggs in an old nest box that was missing its top. There were significant rain storms during this nesting period. This nest failed. Reason unknown. Suspect the major downpours into the nesting box and/or predation with the box being easily accessible from the top.
  • A pair of Northern Cardinals had a nest with young tucked in a tree in the parking lot in a bad spot. This nest failed for unknown reasons but it also was active during the heavy rainstorms. Nest predation could have also left the nest empty

A Domestic Mallard Abandoned in the Park

After Easter, someone apparently dropped off an unwanted juvenile Mallard. Luckily, the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center was able to take it in as it would not have survived on its own. Read the story: Duckling Rescue, Enabling a New Beginning at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

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Bald Eagle Attack on a Great Blue Heron

I did not see how this confrontation began. What I saw was a Great Blue Heron in the lake moving around erratically. At first, I was confused as to what bird I was observing. Then I realized it was a Great Blue Heron. Then suddenly a Bald Eagle swopped down at the heron attacking it. The heron struggled to defend itself with is massive beak. The eagle swopped down a few more times and then appeared to be discouraged by the heron fighting back. However, the eagle landed in a tree and intently watched the heron. The heron swam back to the shore and struggled on to land. It was unable to stand at first and was very wobbly. The eagle started to launch an aerial assault on the heron and eventually landed right next to it on the bank of the lake. They began fighting with their beaks until the eagle again flew up to the tree.

I contacted a conservation officer to see if help could be sent to rescue the injured heron. There was no one able to respond. I also spoke to the staff at the lake who also were not able to respond. I returned the next morning to see if I could find the heron or the eagle. Neither were present. I am guessing that the eagle eventually ate the heron.
Threats to Wildlife at the Park

C.M. Crockett Park is very popular with fishermen. There is a boat launch and you can rent boats seasonally. Fishermen also fish from the banks. Unfortunately, many of these people leave their trash included fishing tackle on the ground here. I am constantly picking up monofilament fishing line.

Other Creatures Found in the Park

The most common animal in the park is the Gray Squirrel. White-tailed deer are rare. I have only seen them inside the park once. Chipmunks are extremely rare. Eastern box turtles can be found occasionally. There are snakes. In 2016, I spotted an adult garter snake and a juvenile copperhead snake. Sometimes, skinks may be seen.

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Garter snake

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Five-lined Skink (juvenile)

Visiting the Park

The best time to visit C.M. Crockett Park is early mornings, especially on weekdays. Also, during winter there are few people. During nice days, you will find the place is often very packed with people having picnics and fishing. It is best to avoid the park at these times as the birds go into hiding and it is often very noisy.

The park is free during off season. Seasonally, there is a charge for non-Fauquier county residents. (On weekdays, during high season, they often do not have anyone collecting fees.)

Signal Hill Park Needs More Birders

Ebird records show little birding activity at Signal Hill Park in Prince William County, Virginia. In fact, for all eBird record years, Signal Hill had only 43 bird species reported and only 11 checklists submitted. I thought I understood why during my first two visits about a year ago. The park seemed to be small and not have many birds. I had no plans to return, however, I was in the area recently. I had some free time, so I headed over to Signal Hill Park to check for breeding birds.

Signal Hill Park ended up impressing me. The construction that was happening during my first two visits was over, leading me discover that the park was much larger than I thought. Behind the construction area in the upper lot was a lot more park to bird.  

I ended up birding for about two hours and was pleased with my observations. I ended up adding 12 new bird species to eBird for this spot. There are now 55 species reported. 

For 2016, including my visit, only four lists were submitted to eBird for Signal Hill Park. Besides my one list, there was one other birder who submitted three lists: two in February and one in March. There were no visits reported to eBird between March 19 and my visit on August 4. Clearly, Signal Hill Park is under-birded. I bet we could increase the species list for this spot significantly with more birders visiting in the future.

Breeding Birds: 

I was surprised by number of male breeding birds singing in the middle of the day whereas other parks are largely silent this late in the breeding season except at dawn and dusk. 

I found a pair of Blue Grosbeaks that were quite agitated and were showing signs of territorial defense chasing a Gray Catbird out of a certain tree. I think they may have a nest in this tree. 

Other breeding bird observations: 

An American Robin pair that I observed foraging on the ground and carrying food off to somewhere in the trees. 

A fledgling Eastern Kingbird with a short-tail calling from the top of a tree. 

A male Eastern Blue Bird singing vigorously from a spot in a tree above a nest hole. I looked for a female and was unsuccessful. At this point, a Cooper’s Hawk was hunting and all the birds were hunkered down.

I moved on into the woods trail and found singing Eastern Pewees, a fledgling Downy Woodpecker, and many other birds along the trail. Meanwhile, a Wood Thrush sang deep in the woods. 

The mosquitos were present here although there were not as many as other parks in Northern Virginia in summer. 

Overall, the park is well maintained with hardly any trash compared to other parks. Unfortunately, the understory of the woods appears to be overgrazed by deer, and there is a problem with invasive species like Japanese Stilt Grass. The main attraction at this park is a water park. There are also sports fields. However, you can get away from these areas on the woods trail. 

I hope I have got some of you interested in birding at Signal Hill Park, especially if you are participating in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas! 

Signal Hill Park, 9300 Signal View Drive Manassa Park, VA 20111 

Tips: 

Plenty of free parking in numerous parking lots. 

Easy trails through the woods. 

Close by are plenty of options for eating such as Panera, Chik-fil-A, etc.