Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Birding Craney Island

It isn't much to look at when it comes to islands from a human perspective, but to the birds, Craney Island is a sanctuary, and in turn has become a favorite hot-spot for bird watching.

The man-made dredged peninsula disposal site consist of 2,500 plus acres located in Portsmouth, Virginia where the James and Elizabeth River come together. Shallow ponds cover much of the island.

craney island, island

For the most part, Craney Island is an industrial area made up of material dredged from the local channels and ports in the Hampton Roads area. The site was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s and is still managed by them today.

Over the years Craney Island has become a vital food, nesting and rest stop for many migrating birds. Fortunately the corps, working with local conservationist, have recognized the area as an important region for many bird species and work to co-exist with them.

I was excited to tag along with the Virginia Beach Audubon Society group on a field trip to Craney Island last month. Despite the blustery chilly weather that day, we weren't disappointed. Right out the gate we spotted a bald eagle, and from there it only got better. We split up into small groups, jumped in our designated vehicles and toured the island in true caravan style – sometimes stopping every few feet to look at birds.

We were fortunate to see a wide variety of birds ranging from raptors to songbirds, and lots in-between. I was even fortunate to get a lifer on the trip. Below is just a few of what we saw on Craney. Note that some of the photo’s were taken by club members as noted above each photo.

We start out with northern shovelers. We saw lots of these ducks feeding in the ponds. They use their highly specialized bill (from which their name is derived) to forage for food.

northern shoveler, duck

The below photo of American wigeons was taken by our trip leader Steve Coari.

American wigeon, duck

Lots of Northern gannets were flying along the edges of the island out over the James River. It’s fun to watch these seabirds plunge-dive for fish from high above. This is a juvenile Northern gannet.

Northern Gannet Juvenile

Below is an adult gannet about to take a nose dive. Photo by Keith Roberts.

Northern Gannet Diving

One of my favorite raptors is the Northern harrier (below). It’s often seen gracefully gliding low over open fields and marshes.

Northern Harrier

And this was my one lifer for the day – the red-throated loon (in non-breeding plumage). The red-throated loon is the smallest of the loons and winter here along our shores. Photo by Keith Roberts.

red-throated loon, non breeding plumage


Below is a complete bird list for the day, topping out at 37 species.

American Crow
Brown Headed Cowbirds
Belted Kingfisher
Eastern Meadowlark
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
E. Starlings
Yellow-rump Warbles
Downy Woodpecker
Bald eagle (Immature)
Peregrine Falcon
Coopers Hawk
Red Tailed hawk
Northern Harrier
Common Loon
Red-Throated Loon
Horned Grebe
Black Duck
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Green Winged teal
American Widgeon
Northern Gannet (adults and Immature)
Tundra Swan
Forsters tern
Great Black Backed Gull
Herring Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Brown Pelican
Great Blue Heron

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year Juncos and Favorite Birds of 2011

Happy New Year! Like many, I always look forward to the new year. I’m not sure exactly why, I’m definitely not getting any younger. For me, I think it’s the feeling of having a fresh start – a new chance to get it right. If I could just stick to all those new year promises that I make to better myself (aka resolutions) , then all would be grand. However, we all know how that usually turns out.

As a birdwatcher, the new year brings promise of exciting new adventures and the hope of new life bird or two. The first bird sightings of the new year for me was the dark-eyed junco. Junco’s are not the most exciting of the songbirds, but they are one of my favorite winter-time birds.

Dark-eyed Junco, Bird

Dark-eyed juncos arrive in my area with the first cold spell of the season (usually late October) and spend the first few months of the new year with us. Many associate there arrival with the first snowfall of the season (aka snowbirds), but since our area doesn’t get all that much snow the first cold front will have to do.

Juncos are ground feeding birds so be sure to toss a little bird seed on the ground when filling your feeders. I keep a small bag of white proso millet, one of their favorite, on hand just for that purpose.

With that said, I would like to recap and share a few of my favorite birds, including some lifers, of the past year. Note that I said ‘favorite birds’, not favorite photographs of birds. I clarify because many of my bird photos leave much to be desired. Birds can be quite uncooperative at times.

First up is the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). I’ll take any photo I can get of these guys. The primary habitat of the RCW, the
longleaf pine ecosystem, has all but disappeared. This reduction of suitable habitat has caused the number of RCWs to dramatically decline. They are currently listed as endangered and today there
remains approximately 14,000 birds scattered throughout the southeast.

[Click on any photo to enlarge]

Red-cockaded woodpecker, bird, endangered

Here’s a lifer I got the opportunity to get in the marshes of the Outer Banks of North Carolina this past fall – the salt marsh sparrow.

Salt Marsh Sparrow, Bird

Another 2011 favorite bird was the Northern gannet. This one is a juvenile. Northern Gannets spend most of their life at sea.

Northern Gannet Juvenile, sea bird

And while we we’re talking marine birds, check out this large group of brown pelicans. There’s nothing all that unique about seeing a few brown pelicans, but what was impressive to me was the large number of pelicans in one place. This photo was taken this past fall on a pelican rookery located on one of the barrier islands in North Carolina.

Brown Pelican, Bird, Outerbanks, island

It may be tough to tell, but there’s an American redstart singing in the photo below. This photo was taken in the Dismal Swamp this spring and was another lifer for me.

American Redstart, Bird

One of my favorite little woodland songbirds is the brown-headed nuthatch. This was the first photo I ever got of one of these birds. They’re so small and never sit still!

Brown-Headed Nuthatch, Bird

Here’s a red-shouldered hawk sitting on my Christmas d├ęcor in my front yard. At least someone likes my decorations.

Red-shouldered hawk, Bird, Raptor

Last, but not least is this group of American goldfinches. These birds were captured by my Wingscapes Birdcam this past spring.

American Goldfinch, Bird, Bird feeder, Bird seed

Thanks for stopping in and taking  the tour with me. Good luck on your own birding adventures this year.

Again, Happy New Year!