Raven Loonatics — No R-Egrets on this Birdathon!
2011 Birdathon Summary
109 species and No R-Egrets
The Raven Loonatics (Gerco Hoogeweg, Bruce Hill, Larry Meade and Donna Quinn) conducted their 2011 Birdathon on May 9, 2011 from 5:00 am to 8:30 pm. Weather gave us a nice assist and conditions were calm, partly cloudy with comfortable temperatures in the 60’s. We logged 145 miles by car and 10 miles by foot.
We started our day before dawn with a brief stop at Bles Park where we heard a Barred Owl and many Prairie Warblers. Although we heard Barred Owl in several locations later in the day, we did not list another owl species.
By the time we were treated to a glorious sunrise over the Potomac, we had checked off many of the ‘expected’ county birds. Spotting a pair of glowing Prothonatory Warblers entering and exiting their nest hole in the deep green below the canopy was an Algonkian highlight. Despite 68 ticks at the park, we left wondering where were the warblers?
Bles Park proved to be a gem yielding the fine sightings of a pair of Northern Shovelers hiding in the pond in the middle of the park, a large flock of Bobolinks flying overhead, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Redstart, Yellow Breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting just to name a few highlights.
We wished we could find the Rose Breasted Grosbeak reported there by the IMBD birders, but unfortunately this bird ended up on our ‘missed’ list. Also on the list of misses, a White Crowned Sparrow at Bles seen by only two Raven Loonatics.
Friday’s scouting proved valuable as we spotted a Wild Turkey behind the Loudoun water facility and a Red Breasted Merganser in the Verizon ponds which remained in their general vicinities after being spotted by Bruce on Friday.
This year’s route included the Belmont 14th hole golf lake where we did not see a Pied Billed Grebe, one of those tease birds that show up from time to time but is never there when you need it.
Beaver Dam Reservoir was a popular fishing and boating destination due to the nice weather and therefore not productive birding. We made some changes to our route this year including the Lucketts area which yielded only three new species – Yellow Warbler, singing Meadowlarks and a fortuitous flyover by an Osprey.
We arrived at Blue Ridge Center late afternoon with high hopes of finding our missing warblers. We found Blue-winged Warbler right where it should be but it seemed many of our migrating warblers decided to linger in the south.
For the most part, we were disappointed in warbler species despite covering at least 4 miles of trails. We had a couple of ‘almost 100% sure’ birds during the day, but without 100% certainty, we couldn’t add them including a tantalizing ‘almost Black-throated Blue Warbler’ that teased us behind leaves in low light. We left BRCES with 10 additional species but disappointed and still wondering where were the warblers?
With daylight fading the pressure was on to locate the notorious Loggerhead Shrike – and once again, it was a Shrike-out for the Loonies. Next target bird – Red-headed Woodpecker. We fared better than we did with the shrike as we scored a timely Red-headed ‘car bird’ – a bird spotted from the car on Little River Farm Lane.
We concluded our day at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation area which proved quite rewarding. Wetlands birds included Virginia Rail, Sora, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and a sneaky Swamp Sparrow which tried to evade detection but was finally caught by all four of us. Absolute highlight of the location and day was a surprise sighting of 4 Common Nighthawks appearing as dusk set in, a nice lift at the end of a long day.
We eliminated Banshee Reeks this year but stopped by the landfill as we had a bit of light left. Unfortunately, it was covered and quite sterile. Further route adjustments will be made next year. Does anyone know a popular county gull hangout?
One of the truly great things about the birdathon is experiencing our county from the perspective of the birds – being in the fields and woods before sunrise and hearing their songs, witnessing migrating flocks flying north overhead, watching them rest and feed by our waterways, and observing their intense usage of our parks and preserved natural areas.
We can only imagine the devastation of discovering a former safe haven has become a shopping center or condo complex to a tired bird just returned from winter grounds. However, it seems despite the continued destruction of habitat, birds have found sanctuary in the green spots dotted amongst habitation and retail, where they have a fighting chance at finding refuge and food. Its clear that without these protected areas, our county birds would have little hope of survival which only deepens our commitment to preserving Loudoun county’s natural areas.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was the absence of migrating warblers we hoped to see but did not. This being our second team birdathon, we had certain expectations, perhaps unwarranted. In general, our count is more a reflection of the common birds to be found in the county, rather than uncommon or rare birds.
As always, there is the element of luck and mystery in a big day such as this. There were missed birds seen during the previous day’s scouting, and missed birds posted by others from the same locations that very day. A Great Egret was seen scouting and spotted by others, yet eluded us for the second year in a row despite being a bird almost impossible to not see.
That we could find 109 species, and that they are more commonly seen birds, is credit to the diversity of birds in our county. Of course this only makes us wonder how we would do if we had both our typical county birds as well as a nice migratory push through the county. Before our day even ended we were talking about next year…
Bruce Hill, Gerco Hoogeweg, Larry Meade, Donna Quinn
Team Raven Loonatics