Bird Atlas Tips July 2009
Hi Loudoun County Atlasers!
With another month of atlasing under our belts, the project is really starting to take off. Braving the heat and ticks has paid off with some excellent atlas sightings! Below are a few of the many highlights from June, along with several tips and reminders.
• Little Blue Heron – Mary Ann Good and Gerry Hawkins observed a Litttle Blue Heron, a Species of Special Interest, at the Dulles Wetlands.
• Cerulean Warblers – Byron Swift heard 3 singing male Cerulean Warblers, another Species of Special Interest, singing from the same point in the Ashby Gap area and then heard another one nearby.
• Black-billed Cuckoo – Christine Perdue and Joe Coleman both documented this species as a Possible Breeder in separate parts of the county (Unison and Ashburn areas, respectively) – this species is not previously thought to nest in Loudoun County!
• Dickcissel – Bruce Hill documented this species as a Possible Breeder in the Arcola area. This is most likely the first reported Dickcissel in Loudoun County this year!
• Red-headed Woodpecker – Kurt Gaskill observed a pair flycatching and then returning to a nest cavity in the Bluemont area to feed young.
• Screech Owlets – Joe Coleman and his wife, Karen, observed 2 curious owlets nesting in a cavity in a Black Locust tree on their neighbor’s property in the Bluemont area.
Tips on Confirming Breeding (tips taken from the San Diego County Bird Atlas)
• The first thing to focus on when you see a bird is the bill. Is the bird carrying nesting material or insects? For the majority of species, carrying nesting material or food for young is behavior confirming breeding. Watch the bird for a minute or two to see whether it’s carrying the prey back to a perch to be killed and eaten by the adult itself. If the bird carries the prey any distance or is accumulating insects in its bill, it’s likely the food is destined for young
• Find a likely spot with a few birds flitting around, sit silently for 5 or 10 minutes, and see what pops up—often quite a lot. Hurried hiking and crashing through brush will generate almost nothing. Once you spot a bird, stay with it for a moment to see what it does.
• Seemingly odd behavior may be a clue to something interesting. For example, swallows don’t normally land on the ground except to pick up nesting material (grass for nest-lining in the case of Rough-winged Swallows as well as mud for Cliff Swallows).
• Listen for unfamiliar calls—especially if they sound like those of baby birds—and track them down. Even if you don’t find the young, the adults usually give themselves away with alarm calls or distraction behavior. The calls of fledglings are just as distinctive to species as those of adults and can be learned with practice.
• Spread your effort throughout the day. In the first hour or two after dawn the adults are often too preoccupied with feeding themselves and advertising their territories to engage in much breeding-related behavior. Later in the day may present good opportunities to see behaviors such as nest-building and feeding of young.
• If you or someone you know owns any land in Loudoun County that can be made accessible to atlasers please let me know.
• Try to atlas once every 10-15 days from May through August and once every month from September through April. Of course, the more you can get out in the field to atlas the better!
• After entering and saving your data check for any warning messages that need to be addressed before you hit the finalize button.
• If you finalize your field card data and then realize you’ve made a mistake please contact your Regional Coordinator or myself for help – in most cases we can make the necessary changes without you having to re-enter your data.
28 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 634 hours in the field documenting 7,539 sightings. You have recorded 177 species, with 74 of these species having a confirmed nesting status.
Keep up the great work and please let me know if you have any questions!
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator