I consider myself as being fairly lucky when it comes to finding and photographing wildlife, but it the past week I just missed getting two of my high priority life birds. Last Saturday morning, March 5, I was on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Island #1 (CBBT #1). There are four islands along the CBBT, but only island #1 is open to the public where there is a small restaurant and gift shop, and a fishing pier. CBBT #2, #3, and #4 are closed to the public, and the only way to go birding on these three islands is to register in advance with an expensive guide. On Wednesday, a birder posted some photos of a pair of boldly colored, male, Harlequin Ducks taken last Saturday morning, but from CBBT #3 - drats! I didn't see them from CBBT #1, and this duck species was my primary target bird that morning, as they are sometimes seen from one of the CBBT islands.
This past Thursday evening, I read that a Long-eared Owl was seen in the Swoope area southwest of Staunton. I contacted one of my local birding pals who lives in Swoope, learned that there were four Long-eared Owls in a communal roost on private property, and was given permission to go on the private property to look for them. I got there late on Friday afternoon, and the property owner told me that he hadn't seen the owls the entire day. I did see a Hairy Woodpecker there, but no owls.
On my way home, I met up with Alice and we went to Humpback Rocks on the Blue Ridge Parkway to meet up with a group of Augusta County birders who had planned an event to watch American Woodcocks do their ritual mating dances. The dances start just after sunset. We did see a few of them, but it was fairly dark, and to be honest, Alice and I weren't very impressed. The Woodcocks were too far away, and flew up much higher than I had expected, so we mostly heard them and didn't see very much.
Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway
I went back to Swoope on Saturday morning to try for the Long-eared Owls again, but still no luck. With the extremely warm temperatures we have had all week, these owls probably headed north and are gone for the season. I missed them by one day! I did get permission to come back next winter, just in case they return. While I was looking along the road for the owls, some guy stopped and asked me what I was looking for, and he told me that he was getting interested in birding. He also said that he had just moved into Swoope last fall (on North Mountain Road), and he had a Snowy Owl on his property during the winter! Another missed opportunity to see a great bird, but at least it wasn't another life bird for me.
I did a little more birding while I was in Swoope and saw a Northern Harrier and a Red-tailed Hawk, and one of the resident Bald Eagles was in its nest.