Date: 4/11/18 2:57 pm
From: Rob Bielawski via VA-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [VA-bird] Early April observations for Virginia Beach
To my fellow birders who may have an interest in what birds are being
observed in Virginia Beach these days...

While temperatures continued to remain below average for this time of year,
and the leaves have not yet begun filling out most deciduous trees across
the city, spring migration still managed to take another leap forward
during early April! Top records for this reporting period in Virginia Beach
included new rarity reports for ANHINGA, WESTERN GREBE, LOUISIANA
WATERTHRUSH & WESTERN TANAGER, continuing rarity reports for RUSTY
BLACKBIRD and an unseasonal occurrence for RED KNOT! In addition to these
species, expected spring migrants are being reported with increasing
diversity and during the reporting period, we saw early first-of-season
(FOS) records for BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, LEAST BITTERN, PROTHONOTARY
WARBLER, LEAST SANDPIPER, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, NORTHERN PARULA & GREAT
CRESTED FLYCATCHER. Additionally, springtime arrivals within average
expected dates also occurred for LITTLE BLUE HERON, CATTLE EGRET,
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER & STILT SANDPIPER. Early reports (for species that
had first arrivals in a prior period) continued as well for a potential
CHUCK-WILL’SWIDOW and also for RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, WHITE-EYED VIREO,
CHIMNEY SWIFT, OVENBIRD, BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER & PRAIRIE WARBLER.

*The following is a copy paste from my website
(http://www.beachbirding.com/journal-index
<http://www.beachbirding.com/journal-index>), and all opinions and views
mentioned are my own; all hyperlinks below have been removed since not all
email servers allow for them to function properly. This is a summary of
several hundred eBird checklists, emails, phone calls, text messages, etc.
that occurred from April 1st through April 10th within the city limits. For
those not from this part of the state, much of this is likely a precursor
to what you'll be observing soon (or maybe are already seeing as well). For
the full version with links to every mentioned eBird list, as well as 60+
photographs sewn into the report, check out the web version by clicking the
link provided above. Otherwise, just simply read on. *

Leading the list this period was our first ANHINGA report of 2018 when an
individual was observed flying southeasterly over Stumpy Lake NA on 2 Apr
(obs. Andrew Baldelli). Potentially the same individual was observed
perched in a cypress tree from the causeway on 5 Apr (obs. Jason Schatti).
Historically, Stumpy Lake has been one of (if not the) most reliable
locations in the state for observing this species, and last year, as many
as 6 were observed at the park from 14 Apr 2017 (ph. Rob Bielawski & Ron
Furnish) through 2 May 2017 (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty). Just as a quick
reminder, if you are birding from the causeway and trying to spot this
species atop the cypress trees to the north and south, please be respectful
of the vehicles driving into the golf course. Every year it becomes an
issue when folks set up tripods or scopes on the asphalt roadway surface
and block traffic; please stay on the gravel shoulders at all times before
we lose access to this (as fishermen already have)!

While technically a second report for the species in 2018, a single WESTERN
GREBE found from the Horn Point Road Boat Ramp on 6 Apr (ph. Karen & Tom
Beatty & Kathy Louthan) could potentially be the same individual observed
11 Feb flying past Little Island Park (obs. Andrew Baldelli). With very few
of these birds on the East Coast in any given year, it is difficult to say
whether this might be a second individual, or a new record for the same
bird. It is even possible that this is the same bird that wintered off our
coast last winter, though there is certainly no way to say for sure.
Another Western Grebe was photographed on the Eastern Shore on 17 Mar (ph.
Edward Brinkley), and another was observed this winter in Maryland, but
aside from that, the closest record this year is in New York state! With
records for the Virginia Beach individual occurring every day through 9 Apr
(last report, obs. James Marcum), it is likely that this bird is still
present somewhere around the shoreline of Back Bay.

At least two LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES were observed during the period, and
while this is the prime time for their passage, the species is still a
rarely reported bird here during the spring season. The first was found at
Stumpy Lake NA on 1 Apr (ph. Rob Bielawski, later ph. Mary Catherine
Miguez), while the second individual was observed at West Neck Creek NA on
6 Apr (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty & Kathy Louthan). In recent years (according
to eBird), we’ve seen roughly one or two individuals in Virginia Beach, so
with our three different individuals so far in 2018, this has been an
excellent spring season for the species. However, it is still one that many
birders haven’t been able to get on, since all three occurrences have been
short stays. As we head into mid-April, the chances for finding this
species start to drop quickly, and it will be interesting to see if any
others pop up. Marshy habitat like at the parks listed above, and perhaps
also at First Landing SP or Lake Smith & Lake Lawson NA might hold a
migrant for a short duration.

Potentially one of the wintering birds, a WESTERN TANAGER reported at Loch
Haven Park near Pleasure House Point NA on 5 Apr (ph. Jonathan Snyder)
represents an interesting late season record. With counts of at least two
individuals at a feeder in Alanton earlier in 2018, and a roaming
individual observed at several locations along the Shore Drive corridor, it
is possible that this newly found bird might actually be one that has been
previously documented, just in other locations. With the species becoming
an annual winterer in low numbers here along the coast, it would truly be
interesting to find out just how many might be present each winter, and how
many are returning individuals.

Single-individual reports of RUSTY BLACKBIRDS continued this period, with
one being reported at a private residence near the Chesapeake city line on
2 Apr (obs. George Harris), and another observed in the flooded forest at
Stumpy Lake NA on 3 Apr (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Mary Catherine Miguez).
While this species is commonly seen around the Great Dismal Swamp not too
far away to our west, it is a tough species to find within publicly
accessible areas of Virginia Beach, hence its being listed here as a
rarity. At the time of this writing, with 210 species currently observed
for the year in Virginia Beach, this species remains one of only 26 species
that hasn’t had a photograph submitted to eBird for it yet! As the time is
winding down for their residence here, hopefully someone is able to capture
a shot of one for our 2018 Illustrated Checklist.

An interesting, and unseasonal report came in during a seawatch at Rudee
Inlet on 3 Apr when a pair of RED KNOTS were observed in northbound flight
with a mixed flock of shorebirds (obs. Andrew Baldelli). Red Knots are
typically one of our latest arrivals in the spring, with an average
expected date of 10 May, followed by a quick passage through the region as
they head up towards Delaware Bay and beyond. Individuals have been known
to winter occasionally on the Eastern Shore, and in the Outer Banks, so
perhaps these were a pair that wintered nearby (we’ve even had Jan/Feb
records along our outer coast in year’s past). Continued seawatching might
reveal more of these between now and May, but the bulk of observations for
this species here are still a ways off.

When “early first-of-season arrivals” are mentioned, this simply refers to
species for which the first reported occurrence in the city takes place
prior to their “average expected arrival date” (based on the Gold Book
coastal plain dates and supplemented with more recent eBird data. First on
the list goes to our first BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER of the season.
Typically observed beginning around 20 Apr, a singing individual near
Munden Point Park on 7 Apr (obs. David Clark) represents a very early
record for the city, and may pertain to the “Wayne’s Warbler” race
mentioned in the Gold Book as an earlier migrant than other forms of the
species. This race has been known to breed in the Great Dismal Swamp,
though records had been decreasing quickly during the Gold Book’s
publication.

Equally early was a first LEAST BITTERN report from Back Bay NWR on 2 Apr
(obs. Robert Wood), since this species has an expected arrival date of 15
Apr in Virginia Beach. Given that at least a pair of Least Bitterns was
photographically documented nearby in January at Little Island Park, it
seems likely that others may have attempted wintering in the freshwater
marshes that surround Back Bay, and perhaps this very early record pertains
to an individual who someone survived the frigid winter? Or, this is just
an early spring arrival to the region, though at the time of the report,
there wasn’t a single record known even from North Carolina, and this is by
far the most northeasterly spring report so far!

Falling eight days ahead of the usual arrival date of 10 Apr, an early
PROTHONOTARY WARBLER found at Stumpy Lake NA on 2 Apr (ph. Charlie
Bruggemann) created a new earliest date ever for the species in Virginia
Beach! Comparatively, last year’s 9 Apr arrival at the same location is the
only other year in eBird data that preceded the expected 10 Apr date. This
likely means there is a lot of missing data, but or that birders aren’t out
in swampy habitat looking for this species typically yet by early April.
Future years might help clarify exactly when the species tends to show up,
and it may very well be closer to the beginning of those month like this,
but for now, this early record is quite the outlier!

The remainder of the ‘early arrivals’ were all very close to the expected
dates, with LEAST SANDPIPER falling farthest outside of its 5 Apr expected
date with a first record for three individuals at Princess Anne WMA
Whitehurst Tract on 1 Apr (ph. Rob Bielawski). The southwestern impoundment
of the northern half of the tract was where these and several Greater
Yellowlegs were observed, and on Sundays throughout April, this location
will be worth keeping tabs on for shorebirds. Once we hit May, the park
opens up to allow daily birding through the fall. An access permit is
required, but can be purchased on the VDGIF website.

With an expected arrival date of 10 Apr, a first SOLITARY SANDPIPER of the
spring season on 8 Apr was remarkably close to a match with recent year’s
data in eBird. This individual, found at Princess Anne WMA Beasley Tract
(ph. Andrew Baldelli & Rob Bielawski, later ph. Steve Myers) fits in well
with 8 Apr arrivals in 2016 & 2014 that help average their arrival out to
the 10th. Located at the northeast corner of the southern impoundment, this
individual was foraging along the edges of the remnant pool near the
outflow pipe that helps to drain the impoundment into the connecting ditch
to Back Bay. Depending on how much rain we receive in the next few weeks,
this is another spot worth looking at on Sundays when the park is open, as
it is likely to hold some other species of shorebirds, Spotted Sandpiper
being one of the soon to be expecteds.

Several NORTHERN PARULAS were detected a day ahead of schedule at First
Landing SP on 4 Apr (ph. June McDaniels), which fits in nicely with last
year’s 5 Apr arrival, as well as 2015’s 4 Apr date. This park is typically
the first in the city to see this species, probably because it is also the
area where most Northern Parulas here will attempt to breed due to the
abundance of Spanish Moss which the species uses for nesting purposes. The
Osmanthus Trail in particular is where the species is often observed on the
arrival edge, but the Long Creek Trail is also an excellent place to view
the species.

The final early arrival came just before the close of the reporting period,
with a single GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER found at Marshview Park on 9 Apr
(ph. June McDaniels, later ph. Mary Catherine Miguez). With an expected
date of 10 Apr, this one was almost right on target, and soon the forests
of Virginia Beach should be filled with the raucous “breeeeeep” or “wheeep”
call that these birds make from the canopy, the easiest way to locate them
among the leaves (once the leaves actually come out that is).
Interestingly, due to their vocalizations being so widely known, this is
one of the most commonly reported birds here during spring and summer in
eBird.

Along with the early first-of-season arrivals, we had four species that
made their spring arrival after their average expected dates. The first of
these, sorted by how late they were first detected, is the LITTLE BLUE
HERON. Setting dates for this species can be a bit problematic due to the
reality that some members of this species do actual winter in Virginia
Beach from time to time. Most winter records occur on the impoundments at
Back Bay NWR, which is closed to the public through the winter except for
private groups and paid tram trips to False Cape SP that are offered
occasionally on weekends. However, in an average winter, the likelihood of
an accurate record of Little Blue Heron isn’t enough to warrant allowing
this bird without review. So a spring date has been set to 30 Mar hoping to
narrow down when true spring arrivals start flowing into the city. The
first this year occurred on 1 Apr at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract
(ph. Andrew Hawkins), and though there was what I’d call an unseasonal
occurrence back in late February, this bird marks the first of the true
arrivals.

Six days later than expected, a first of season SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER was
finally detected at Back Bay NWR on 5 Apr (obs. Robert Ake). While low
numbers of this species tend to winter in other counties near and along the
coast like Northampton, Accomack, Hampton and York, reports in Virginia
Beach are very scarce after late fall. In fact, the rarer Long-billed
Dowitcher is almost equally expected here during the winter, so any
dowitcher observed from Nov to Mar should really be closely studied to
verify which species it is. Of course, when both species are in
non-breeding plumage, identification becomes a bit more complicated, and
perhaps not even possible with many individuals. For that reason, this is
why eBird offers the Short-billed/Long-billed Dowitcher ‘slash’ option.

CATTLE EGRET, another arrival for the reporting period, is another wading
bird species that tends to have winter reports in the city. However, in
most winters, the first snowfall event of the year forces these birds
south, and like clockwork in 2018, the last report occurred just hours the
blizzard event of 3/4 Jan commencing (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty). With the
species absent since, the first documented spring record occurred on 2 Apr,
barely behind the expected 30 Mar arrival date, when two individuals
(sporting breeding plumage) were observed along Munden Road near Princess
Anne WMA (ph. Mary Catherine Miguez, later ph. Karen & Tom Beatty). Over
the next month, some individuals of this species may be observed exciting
their ‘high’ breeding plumage, where their facial skin and half the bill
turn to a bright magenta, while their head, neck and chest plumes also
retain the rufous coloration typical of standard breeding plumage. These
features make this species quite exquisite during April & May (see an
example from 8 Apr in this checklist). For anyone hoping to view this
species, simply driving around Morris Neck, Mill Landing, Nanney’s Creek,
Muddy Creek and Charity Neck Roads will often yield sightings of flocks of
Cattle Egrets foraging in roadside ditches/fields.

The last of our spring arrivals was one very beautiful species of
shorebird, the STILT SANDPIPER! Any chance to view this species is worth
the effort, and a report on 6 Apr of three individuals on what sounds like
the C Storage Pool at Back Bay NWR (obs. Greg Tito) makes for an excellent
first installment for the species in Virginia Beach this spring. With a
typical 5 Apr arrival date, this records comes just one day late, so,
essentially on-time for eBird purposes. With the West Dike now open daily
to visitors (since 1 Apr), the C Pool, C Storage, B Storage, and A Pool are
all accessible once again, and though the water levels have been reported
to be too high to maximize shorebird habitat, the shorelines can still hold
these birds. So, for anyone venturing out to Back Bay NWR, make sure to
scan the water’s edge, and maybe you’ll pick one of these up!

In the late March journal entry, quite a few species were noted with early
arrival dates. Many of those species continued to be observed into early
April, before their expected date was finally reached (and records input
into eBird finally stopped flagging as ‘rare’). Having this information
input to the database helps make the expected dates more accurate each
year, and in 2019, some arrival dates will likely be shifted as a result.
For example, OVENBIRD has been set with a 5 Apr arrival date based on
recent years’ data, but for a second straight spring, the species has
showed up on 29 Mar, and records have been abundant from there onward. In
early April this early, there was 15 reports of the species submitted to
eBird, ranging in location from Stumpy Lake NA, Princess Anne WMA
Whitehurst Tract, Lake Lawson & Lake Smith NA, West Nek Creek NA and First
Landing SP. If we again see a March arrival next spring, this species will
have its arrival date changed to 30 Mar. The importance of this? Clearly,
many species simply lack data in the system that helps warrant the
extension of acceptable dates. More eyes in the field, and more
knowledgeable folks submitting data, helps those of us interested in status
& distribution garner a much more accurate vision of exactly when species
start to arrive. So the more information provided, the better the eBird
experience for all those involved, from users to reviewers, to researchers
who can use the data from a conservation aspect.

Ovenbirds weren’t the only species that appeared in prior reporting
periods, and continued to be reported through the expected arrival dates.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, CHIMNEY SWIFTS, PRAIRIE WARBLERS, WHITE-EYED
VIREOS, RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS and even a potential CHUCK-WILL’S-WIDOW
(presently awaiting audio recording upload to the eBird list) all fit the
bill this period as well and each provided for great excitement across
Virginia Beach in early April! As well as these ongoing early reports, we
had several other interesting reports pop up that are worth mentioning here.

It took us a painful 96 days, but we finally got our first record for BLACK
SKIMMER in 2018 when a pair was photographed at Pleasure House Point NA on
6 Apr (ph. Kathy Louthan). This is the first time since the winter of 2014
where no Jan-Mar records were submitted to eBird for Virginia Beach. In
most winters (or in an average one) there is a flock that stays typically
into February around Lynnhaven Inlet / Pleasure House Point, departing
sometimes for a couple of weeks before returning again in March. With the
extreme winter weather that impacted the coast in early 2018, this flock of
skimmers either departed for warmer waters to the south, or could have been
killed off completely during the first blizzard of the year (last eBird
record was on 27 Dec, just prior to the Little Creek Christmas Bird Count).
If any CBCers happened to log this species during the count on the 31st,
please get it submitted to eBird to help firm up the departure date!

Another first of year bird was finally logged this report period, when a
NORTHERN BOBWHITE was heard repeatedly vocalizing at Princess Anne WMA
(obs. Rob Bielawski) on 1 Apr. This species is surely present year-round
throughout the southern half of the city, but none have apparently been
calling within earshot of any eBirders so far in 2018. Of course, with this
species, provenance is a concern, and we have no real way of knowing which
birds are true wild birds, versus which have been simply let loose for
hunting purposes on private land and have managed to cover some distance.
In either case though, this was another species for the city’s 2018 list,
which after the period stands at 210 observed species, and 184 photographed
species.

On 9 Apr, a pair of WILD TURKEYS were viewed at Marshview Park (obs. June
McDaniels), which is a miraculous find so close to the Oceanfront / Resort
Area. At least one was heard on 10 Apr at the same location (obs. Karen &
Tom Beatty), but so far no photographs have come in for this one (not
necessary, but would be very neat). This area of the city, near the
Shadowlawn neighborhood has seen some unusual visitors over the years, with
a Black Bear being captured here at one point, so clearly, the wildlife
have found ways to reach the wooded areas on the outskirts of the
developments that also wrap around Lake Rudee. A male BLUE-WINGED TEAL was
viewed at Stumpy Lake NA on 6 Apr (obs. Rob Bielawski), marking the first
record of this species at the park in eBird dating all the way back to 15
Apr 1978 (obs. Edward Brinkley). Lastly, perhaps SEASIDE SPARROWS might be
starting to move, as one was observed at Rudee Inlet on 9 Apr (obs. Chrissy
Barton). Typically once these birds start being detected on the jetty rocks
(where I assume this was), that means they are passing through in search of
more suitable marsh habitat.

WEATHER: Continuously winds throughout the period made for difficult
birding, and we didn’t see any major migration movements unfortunately.
But, average daily high temperatures rose a bit again, increasing 8.9° from
55.5° F to 63.4° (-4.1° from prior 10-year average), with average daily low
temperatures also slightly increasing 1.2° from 40.9° to 42.1° F (-5.5°
from prior 10-year average). Overall, temperatures ranged from a minimum of
35° F (8 Apr) to a maximum of 79° (4 Apr). A total of 1.00” of rain fell
during the period, spread across three days with measurement amounts, with
a maximum of 0.69” falling on Saturday, 7 Apr. Matching last period
exactly, maximum sustained winds at Oceana this period were 26 mph and
gusts reached 37 mph (4 Apr). For the first period in a while, no surge
events affected the Sewell’s Point tide gauge. Sunrise/sunsets varied from
6:49 AM/7:26 PM (21 Mar) to 6:37 AM/7:34 PM (10 Apr), which means we gained
20 minutes of daylight during this period with a total of 12 hours, 57
minutes of ‘Length of Day’ to close the period!

For those hoping to view every photograph submitted for Virginia Beach
during this period, please see the complete listing for the month of April
located on eBird’s Media explorer by clicking here! Please remember, anyone
with an eBird account also has the ability to rate these photographs (1-5
stars), and based on the average rating, this is how eBird populates
anything media-driven on the website, particularly the Illustrated
Checklists! So, if you're one of the many folks who enjoy looking at
photographs of birds, take some time to click them all and rate them, it
helps make eBird better and better each day!

LOOKAHEAD: In early April, we bid farewell to Snow Goose, Tundra Swan,
Canvasback, Red-necked Grebe & Orange-crowned Warbler (10 Apr expected
departure). Any records for these species moving forward will flag in eBird
as ‘rare’, but really they are flagging for being found past their usual
date of departure. In mid-April, we have typical departure dates for
Northern Pintail, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Great
Cormorant, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet & Dark-eyed Junco (15 Apr)
and Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, American Woodcock & Winter Wren (20 Apr),
so make sure to try for your last sightings of the season on these species
while you can! If you observe any of these species near or after those
dates, please try to document their occurrence to the best of your ability;
it helps make eBird data & filters more accurate! For annually expected
spring arrivals, as of the reporting period close date, we have not yet
logged arrivals for Broad-winged Hawk (30 Mar expected arrival), Common
Tern (5 Apr), Hooded Warbler, Semipalmated Plover, Orchard Oriole & Eastern
Kingbird (10 Apr), Whimbrel, Bank Swallow, Yellow-throated Vireo, American
Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush,
Semipalmated Sandpiper & Grasshopper Sparrow (15 Apr) and Blue-winged
Warbler, Least Tern, Sandwich Tern, Blue Grosbeak & Indigo Bunting (20
Apr). As with the departures mentioned at the start of this section, if you
observe one of these arrival species before the date listed, please try to
document the sightings as best as you can! As always, make sure to report
your finds to eBird so the data can be used to adjust the expected arrival
dates and to view the full listing of each species’ average expected spring
arrival dates, as well as the average expected spring departure dates!
LASTLY, for those devoted birders who do follow this journal, please know
that a Facebook Group that complements all these sightings has been
created, titled the Virginia Beach Bird Sightings & Discussion group. For
anyone with a sincere interest in our city’s rich tapestry of bird species,
please feel free to check it out, by requesting to join at the link above
(and by answering the three questions required for approval).

For further information regarding this thrice-monthly, online publication,
please visit the Journal Overview Page which provides an in-depth
explanation of the format, layout and composition of the journal. As
always, thank you for reading, and please leave me a comment below (you may
use your Facebook, Gmail or other accounts to easily do so), or just click
the Heart icon to the lower right of this post to let me know you stopped
in!

Thanks all,

Rob Bielawski
Virginia Beach, VA
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