Date: 5/15/18 9:34 am
From: Rob Bielawski via VA-bird <va-bird...>
Subject: [VA-bird] Early May Summary of Bird Sightings for Virginia Beach
Fellow Birders,

The full write-up with ~100 photographs, and hyperlinks to all the
mentioned eBird reports / sources is available on the web here: Past entries available

The first few days of May were well-defined by the large-scale movement of
thrushes into Virginia Beach, with the expected Veery, Swainson’s and
Gray-cheeked Thrushes all accounted for at numerous locations that boast
proper habitat. Higher counts of warblers, and stronger diversity also rose
during early May, and in general, passerine numbers soared above prior
reporting periods! Bolstered by southerly winds, strong movements of
northbound migrants occurred overnight on 2-3, 3-4, & 4-5 May (the nights
of a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday). With this burst of warm weather &
arriving migrants, coupled with eBird’s “Global Big Day” event occurring on
5 May (a Saturday), Virginia Beach saw incredible numbers of checklists
from local birders. Overall, top records for early May in Virginia Beach
included new rarity reports for TENNESSEE WARBLER, WARBLING VIREO,
continuing rarity reports for COMMON GALLINULE & ANHINGA! At this point in
the season, the volume of new species arrivals has waned considerably, with
early first-of-season (FOS) records for only RED KNOT and with arrivals on
or after average expected dates for GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, MAGNOLIA WARBLER,
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER & BOBOLINK. This is due to most species’ spring
arrival dates occurring by the end of Apr, so by the time we reach the
month of May (in an average year), late spring departures are likely to
produce more reports than new spring arrivals, and as such, this reporting
period we saw records in this vein for RING-NECKED DUCK, AMERICAN WOODCOCK,

Among the large movement of warblers and various other passerines on the
morning of 5 May (a Saturday), a miraculous TENNESSEE WARBLER found in the
vegetation lining the “sparrow field” north of Back Bay NWR’s visitor
contact station (ph. June McDaniels) provided our rarest observation for
the early May reporting period! A very rare transient here in southeast
Virginia during the spring season, this report represents the first
individual to be photographically documented in Virginia Beach and
submitted to eBird, outside of the fall season (when the species is also
rare, but slightly less so). In fact, this is only the third spring record
listed for the city, with one record on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
(perhaps during a fallout of migrants?) on 8 May 2016, and the only other
record being an individual noted on 17 May 1997 at First Landing SP. What
was likely this same individual was observed at the park, though along the
Bay Trail this time, on 9 May (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty). Another individual
was reported at Lake Lawson & Lake Smith Natural Area on 6 May (obs.
Timothy Barry).

With only 4 prior records in eBird (all in spring) for the City of Virginia
Beach, a WARBLING VIREO at Back Bay NWR on 6 May (ph. Andrew Baldelli & Rob
Bielawski) made for an exciting spring coastal record! Known as a rare
transient throughout the coastal plain, and even more scarce here in the
extreme southeast due to its typical migration following the Blue Ridge en
route to the northeast, this record is the first and (currently) the only
Atlantic-coastal record south of Cape Henlopen, Delaware thus far for 2018!
Additionally, this is the first photographically documented record for
Virginia Beach in eBird. As far as recent records go, a well-described
individual was noted 11 Apr 2017 at Carolanne Farms Park in western
Virginia Beach (obs. Brandon Holland) and a vocalizing individual was found
at Back Bay NWR on 12 May 2016 (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty) and remained at
the same location through 14 May. Prior to this, eBird records are very
scarce, with only one noted at First Landing SP’s former songbird banding
station on 5 May 2012 (obs. Calvin Brennan), and lastly, a single bird at
Back Bay NWR on 17 May 1996 (obs. Edward Brinkley). The 2018 individual was
noted again later in the day on 6 May (obs. Mike Collins), and was viewed
the following day, 7 May, in the same general area (obs. Jason Schatti), as
well as on 9 May (ph. Mike Collins, obs. Karen & Tom Beatty, ph. Rob
Bielawski & Jason Schatti). All observations of the bird occurred in the
dense vegetation along the western half of the Bay Trail (now with a sign
posted at its base, noting its inclusion in the regional, Reese Lukei
Raptor Trail, but still being individually titled the Bay Trail as before).

With a miraculous two records occurring this period, we increased our total
number of spring records for NASHVILLE WARBLER (in eBird) from one to
three! An individual was noted at a private residence in Hunt Club Forest
on 7 May (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty), and then two days later on 9 May,
another individual was observed on private property near Lake Smith (obs.
Tracy Tate). The only prior spring record for the species here in Virginia
Beach occurred way back on 3 May 2010 at Red Wing Lake Golf Course (obs.
Karen & Tom Beatty). Typically, this species is more expected here on the
coast during fall migration where counts of 2, 3 or even 4 have been
observed on good mornings; this is clearly a rare spring transient worth
familiarizing yourself with and looking for right now!

A second (though at the time of submission it was the first) report for
CAPE MAY WARBLER occurred on 1 May at Back Bay NWR (ph. Mike Collins), and
marked the very first photographically documented spring record for the
species in the city for eBird! Observed along what was then-still-called
the “Bay Trail” (see above note about the new name), what is likely to have
been this same individual was observed again on 4 May (ph. Karen & Tom
Beatty), and in the early morning hours of 5 May (obs. Brandon Holland).
Like the prior species mentioned above, Cape May Warbler’s occurrence in
Virginia Beach during the spring months has been very scarce. The only
prior records listed in eBird are for an individual observed on 17 Apr 2017
(obs. Karen & Tom Beatty), one at Back Bay NWR on 11 May 2013 (obs. David
Clark) and another at the same location on 11 May 1997 (obs. Edward
Brinkley). After this 2018 bird was reported, an earlier report of one
popped up at Lake Smith for 28 Apr (obs. Tracy Tate), and since the Late
April report was written prior to this, I felt it best to mention it here.

Next up on the list of rarities was another second record for the spring
season, and the first to be photographically recorded. A non-vocalizing
YELLOW-THROATED VIREO was observed working through the deciduous canopy
along the marshy side of the woodland trail at Stumpy Lake NA on 1 May (ph.
Rob Bielawski), interestingly staying in close company with a Blue-headed
Vireo. The only prior report for 2018 pertains to a sight record of an
individual at West Neck Creek NA on 21 Apr (Karen & Tom Beatty). Quoting
from last reporting period, “this is a species that we may see one or two
records for each spring in Virginia Beach, and coupled with the difficulty
for many birders to properly differentiate between it and the superficially
similar Pine Warbler, it flags as rare in eBird even in the somewhat
expected months of April & May. In 2017, we didn’t have any records in the
latter half of the year, and only two individuals were noted overall. The
first, found at Stumpy Lake NA on 1 May (obs. David Clark), continued the
following day, but then our only other record was an
audio-recorded-individual on Muddy Creek Road on 3 Jun (aud. Karen & Tom
Beatty), which was quite a surprise since it was the first Jun record in
the city since 1992 in eBird.”

A highly unexpected find here during the month of May, a female or
immature-type PAINTED BUNTING was discovered at Back Bay NWR right near the
stop sign that marks the southern terminus of the visitor center’s eastern
parking lot on 2 May (ph. Steve Myers). While Painted Buntings have become
an annual winter resident in Virginia Beach, frequenting feeders in several
neighborhoods, their occurrence in public spaces has remained scarce and
therefore opportunities for most birders to observe them has followed suit.
Back Bay NWR has been the most reliable public location though, and during
migration, one or two individuals do tend to show up each year. Recent
examples of this include an individual photographed near the final bend in
the entry road before the parking lot on 23 Sep 2017 (ph. Michael Mayer),
and an individual noted in the ‘sparrow field’ north of the visitor center
on 13 Oct 2016 (ph. Andrew Baldelli) that remained nearby through at least
5 Nov 2016. Each of these records also pertain to female/immature-plumaged
birds. The only recent report of an adult male (the more colorful plumage
type) observed in a publicly viewable space was an individual observed
during the Back Bay Christmas Bird Count on 29 Dec 2017 along Muddy Creek
Road (ph. Karen & Tom Beatty).

A very unexpected May record occurred when a flock of twelve AMERICAN WHITE
PELICANS was observed in northbound flight above the entrance causeway to
Stumpy Lake NA on 1 May (ph. Rob Bielawski). A first eBird record for the
park, this also represents the farthest inland report for Virginia Beach,
with almost all prior reports being purely coastal occurrences. Notable
exceptions to this include a single individual resting on the smaller,
southern pond of Sherwood Lakes from 12-13 Jan (obs. Mike Collins), a group
of three birds flying over Interstate 264 on 27 Jan 2016 (obs. David
Clark), and a flock of thirteen soaring over the Lesser Goldfinch stakeout
site on 28 Nov 2016 (ph. Jeffrey Blalock / Adam D’Onofrio/ Mike Stinson /
Clyde Wilson). Also notable, the only other May record for this species in
the city (according to eBird at least) occurred way back on 9 May 1982
(obs. Barry Kinzie) up at JEB Fort Story. Records tend to slide into May
each year at Hog Island WMA in Surry County, and it is possible, perhaps
even likely, that this is where this flock of twelve was heading for.

Last for the list of “new” rarities this period, a single immature
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW was reported at Back Bay NWR on 7 May (obs. James
Marcum). With only a few scattered records of individual birds so far in
2018, and the fact that White-throated Sparrows outnumber this species
about 1,000 to 1 in the city, any observation is worth noting. Typically
during the fall, this species is reliably reported (Sep/Oct) during larger
scale sparrow movements, but it’s report frequency in the winter and in the
spring are both quite low. The vast majority of individuals observed are
immature-plumaged birds, and full adults have been very rarely recorded,
which is unfortunate because they are quite striking to see!

In terms of continuing rarities, the two COMMON GALLINULES first observed
at Princess Anne WMA’s Whitehurst Tract on 15 Apr (ph. Rob Bielawski) were
again reported during early May. Thanks in part to the eBird “Global Big
Day” event, this pair of potentially breeding birds were detected in the
early morning (well before dawn) hours of the day on 5 Apr (obs. Andrew
Baldelli & Tracy Tate). For the first time, the pair was heard vocalizing
to one another (likely due to the time of day for the observation, while
other reports have been during daylight hours). Their occurrence in the
park’s heavily vegetated impoundments, which provide an extreme amount of
hiding space and seems to be a perfect habitat for a pair to successfully
breed. Perhaps a confirmation for the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas will
come out of Whitehurst Tract this season? As always, please remember that
this is a Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries site, and as such,
it requires all individuals present to have either a fishing license or a
WMA access permit, either of which can be purchased online.

Last for the rarities this period, what is likely to have been one of the
continuing AHINGA was reported at Stumpy Lake NA on 5 May (obs. Andrew
Baldelli & Tracy Tate). First observed over a month prior at this location,
on 2 Apr (obs. Andrew Baldelli), up to three individuals have been noted
this spring (peak count occurred 13 Apr). With counts reaching as high as
18 individuals recently outside of Richmond, VA and a report of 19 in
Fauquier County, it seems likely that many more have passed by us in
Virginia Beach. Stumpy Lake NA has been the most reliable location for the
species in year’s past, and so far in 2018 only one other report has
occurred in the city away from this location, that being an individual at
West Neck Creek NA on 19 Apr (ph. Charlie Bruggemann). Like Mississippi
Kites, this species seems to be reported more often as the years go on, and
is becoming more expected during Apr & May as a whole throughout Virginia’s
coastal plain.

Springtime arrivals have now reached the point in the season where their
diversity has waned considerably. Moving forward, we’ll be seeing far more
in the way of departures than arrivals. That said, we did have four new
“expected” species with arrival dates in early May! These included an early
arrival for RED KNOT when one was observed on 5 May (five days earlier than
average) at Back Bay NWR (obs. Brandon Holland). On-time, or later than
average arrivals also occurred for GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH on 1 May (one day
later than average) at West Neck Creek NA (obs. Karen & Tom Beatty),
MAGNOLIA WARBLER on 7 May (seven days late) at Back Bay NWR (obs. James
Marcum) and for WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER on 7 May (seven days late) found
near Marina Shores (ph. Andrew Baldelli). A final first-of-season species
was BOBOLINK, with a flock of 50+ individuals being found on 5 May (ten
days late) along Back Bay Landing Rd. (ph. Eric Alton & Tamara Conklin).
This flock was present the following day between the two 90° bends in the
road before the boat ramp, and two additional flocks were also found. The
first, another group of 50+ individuals was noted on 6 May in the fields
west of Charity Neck Rd. between Pleasant Ridge Rd. and Robinson Rd. (ph.
Andrew Baldelli & Rob Bielawski), and the third group was found in the
field housing a grain elevator near the intersection of Indian River Rd.
and West Neck Rd. (ph. Rob Bielawski). All three locations featured the
exact same habitat, tall fields of wheat with plentiful seeds at the top of
the roughly 5’ tall vegetation. The initial flock at Back Bay Landing Rd.
was extensively documented, with many other observers from 5-9 May, and
with photographs provided to eBird on 8 May (ph. Lynn Aamodt and Mary
Catherine Miguez), and on 9 May (ph. Andrew Baldelli).

Quite a variety of lingering birds were reported during early May, with a
female RING-NECKED DUCK observed at Princess Anne WMA Whitehurst Tract from
5-7 May (ph. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate, later ph. Rob Bielawski) leading
the way. With an expected departure date of 15 Apr, and the last prior
record occurring 12 Apr, this species stayed 22 days beyond that of an
average season. Next up, in terms of sheer ‘lateness’, was a report for
AMERICAN WOODCOCK in the pre-dawn hours of 5 May, also at Princess Anne
WMA’s Whitehurst Tract (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate). With an
expected departure of 20 Apr, this is certainly a late record, though, this
species is one that often goes undetected due to its nocturnal nature. If
more birders were out seeking this species in the nighttime hours, we’d
likely see more records later in the season, and its even possible that
American Woodcocks might summer here in the city. But, for now, 20 Apr is
the set departure date for eBird purposes. Next up, a continuing lingerer
from the prior reporting period (actually, the last two periods), the
AMERICAN PIPIT first observed at Back Bay NWR on 17 Apr (ph. Karen & Tom
Beatty) remained in the small grassy area east of the visitor center
through 3 May (last ph. Eric Alton & Tamara Conklin, last obs. Michelle
Payne). With 25 Apr being their expected departure date, this individual
was here 8 days beyond that, though it is unknown whether the bird finally
flew northward, or was picked off by a predator of some type at the park
given it hadn’t left the same patch of grass for over a week. Also at Back
Bay NWR, reports of a single MERLIN continued right up to period’s end of
10 May (obs. Tracy Tate, obs. Tommy Maloney & Jason Schatti). Only slightly
late at this point, with an average departure date of 5 may, we’ll see just
how long this individual gets picked up. Last of the late lingerers, 1-2
WESTERN PALM WARBLERS were observed at Back Bay NWR up to the period’s end
(obs. Mary Catherine Miguez, obs. Tracy Tate). The Gold Book notes that the
Western race of this species tends to linger beyond the more common Eastern
(or “Yellow”) race, so perhaps this isn’t so unusual, but under current
eBird setup, the species is at least 5 days late as of reporting period

In addition to all the great rarities, arrivals, lingerers, etc. we also
had some not-necessarily noteworthy, but still interesting reports pop up
this period in Virginia Beach. HORNED LARKS were reported in good numbers
on West Neck Road on 5 May (obs. Andrew Baldelli & Tracy Tate), with the
count of 8 tripping the eBird filter for the city. This species is likely
present in many fields throughout the city, and a breeding confirmation
actually occurred last year at Ashville Park, but it is a difficult species
to track down with most occurring on private property / agricultural plots.
A SEASIDE SPARROW was photographed at Back Bay NWR on 5 May, making for an
exciting find at the park (ph. June McDaniels). Amazingly, this is the
first photographically documented report of the species at the park! With
Back Bay NWR being one of the heaviest birded locations in the state, any
chance to add a new photo to eBird for this hotspot is remarkable. Also at
the park, a BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON was observed on 4 May (obs. Karen &
Tom Beatty), marking one of very few records here (and a first for this
year). Lastly, an interesting-plumaged PROTHONOTARY WARBLER was
photographed at West Neck Creek on 5 May (ph. Charlie Bruggemann). The
individual showed a black forehead, but it isn’t discernible whether this
is just mud (it doesn’t appear to be), or if it is an actual genetic
variation in plumage, which would be very interesting!

WEATHER: Kicking off the period with a few days of heat following
southwesterly flow was a nice change from late April, though the latter
half of the period was defined by strong northeast winds and lower than
normal temperatures (until the final day), which made finding new species
difficult. Overall, average daily high temperatures rose considerably, 8.9°
from 66.7° F to 75.6° (+0.4° from prior 10-year average), with average
daily low temperatures following suit, 7.6° from 48.6° to 56.2° F (also,
-1.3° from prior 10-year average). Overall, temperatures ranged from a
minimum of 46° F (1 May) to a maximum of 88° (2 May). A total of 1.85” of
rain fell during the period, spread across two days with measurement
amounts, with a maximum of 1.45” falling on Sunday, 6 May. Maximum
sustained winds at Oceana this period were 23 mph (on 4 May) and gusts
reached 31 mph (10 May). No noteworthy tidal surge events affected the
Sewell’s Point tide gauge this period. Sunrise/sunsets varied from 6:10
AM/7:52 PM (1 May) to 6:00 AM/8:00 PM (10 May), which means we gained 18
minutes of daylight during this period with a total of 14 hours 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 May
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 May, we bid farewell to Gadwall, Merlin, Ruby-crowned
Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, Palm Warbler, Nelson’s Sparrow & Pine Siskin (5 May
expected departures) as wells as Blue-winged Warbler, Broad-winged Hawk,
Blue-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Wilson’s Snipe,
Bonaparte’s Gull, Blue-headed Vireo, Sedge Wren, White-throated Sparrow &
Savannah Sparrow (10 Apr). 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 early May, we have typical departure
dates for Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Piping
Plover, Peregrine Falcon & Yellow-rumped Warbler (15 May) and Wilson’s
Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Rose-breasted
Grosbeak, Whimbrel, Bank Swallow, Solitary Sandpiper, Black-and-white
Warbler, Red-throated Loon, American Bittern, Northern Harrier, Sora, Swamp
Sparrow & Baltimore Oriole (20 May). 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 Bank Swallow (15 Apr
expected arrivals), Gull-billed Tern (25 Apr) and Common Nighthawk (30
Apr). Moving forward, we have now concluded the expected spring arrivals
season, and no new species are expected (aside from those listed above that
we just haven’t logged yet). As always, make sure to report your finds to
eBird so the data can be used to adjust 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 (and contains close to 100 members at this
point), 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

Thanks All,

Rob Bielawski
Virginia Beach, VA
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