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


Janet, The Queen of Seaford said...

What a great variety of birds Alan. Good you were able to go. Driving by Craney Island you don't think of it as such a lively place for all those birds.

Les said...

That is quite a list, especially for something that is esentially wasteland. It kind of gives you hope that despite our efforts wildlife thrives.

Is Craney Is. open to the public, or is there some sort of permit you need?

sarah said...

I like the photo of the gannet diving into the water. It looks like the bird is going to attack a fish.

nursery furniture said...

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.