Every year the Audubon Society requests birders to survey their local areas on one day between the middle of December and early January. The Charlottesville Area CBC was held today this year. Walt Childs and I were asked to help out in Section 4, and chose an area in that section between Crozet and Charlottesville that included mostly wooded residential and some pasture land. Elevations range from about 600 feet to about 900 feet. It also includes a private residence where I have permission to go birding.
All of last winter, the owners of this residence had a Baltimore Oriole visiting one of their bird feeders. This is quite remarkable, as Baltimore Orioles are locally common in Virginia between the end of April and the end of September, but rare in most of Virginia during the winter months. In fact, the "Virginia Gold Book" states only two records of this species in the entire Piedmont area during Christmas Bird Counts between 1984 and 2004. The Baltimore Oriole had returned to their residence this winter, and I first saw it on December 6 of this year, and included it in my report for that day. Click here to read my December 6, 2019 report.
Baltimore Oriole; December 6, 2019
December 15, 2019
Photo courtesy of property owner
The residence owners told me that the Baltimore Oriole comes to one of their feeders early every morning, so I asked them to look for it today before we arrived, in case Walt and I did not see it on this CBC day. They did see it today, and took this photo.
Walt and I arrived at the start of our area at 9:15 a.m. The temperature was 51 degrees, and winds were 8 to 10 mph with occasional 15 to 20 mph gusts. When we arrived, there was mixed sun and clouds, but soon there was 95% clear skies. When we ended the suvey at 2:40 p.m., it was 61 degrees with little change in the winds. We ended up driving 14 miles and hiking about 1/2 mile. We made three trips to the private residence, where we saw 27 of the 30 avian species we recorded today. We spent about half of our survey time there, as this residence has several bird feeders, multiple acres of wooded land, and some open views of a good portion of the sky. We did not see the Baltimore Oriole on our first two visits, but on our third visit, both Walt and I saw it fly in and perch on a branch. Unfortunately, there was a large tree blocking my view of where it perched, so I didn't get any photos of it today. However, Walt was sitting about 20 feet away from it, and had a clear view of it for more than a minute before it flew, and it was close enough that he did not need his binoculars to positively identify it as a male Baltimore Oriole. We speculated that perhaps this Baltimore Oriole may be a permanent resident of the area, given that it is now in in second winter here, and the surrounding habitat would support its being here in the summer as well, without having to visit man-made feeders when food is readily available in the wild.
We did have one unexpected and unfortunate problem with our survey. The map below shows our survey area bounded by the bright green lines, and we had planned on surveying all of the roads within that boundary. Neither of us were very familiar with the area, and found that all of the roads within the area shown in white are private roads where we did not have permission to enter. We did drive all of the roads shown in red at least twice, and on each pass on any road section after the first time, only counted birds that were new species for that stretch of road, or a number of birds that was greater than counted on the first pass.
We saw a good number of common woodland species.
There were a few Turkey Vultures, but we counted 50 Black Vultures, including 36 in one Kettle.
25 Black Vultures of the 36 vulture kettle
We saw Red-tailed Hawks on five occasions, and using my photos, I was able to determine from plumage patterns that four of them were different birds.
We also saw four different Bald Eagles.
Juvenile Bald Eagle
Basic IV sub-adult Bald Eagle
Basic III sub-adult Bald Eagle
Adult Bald Eagle
One of the highlights of the day was a very cooperative Sharp-shinned Hawk.
We logged five woodpecker species.
Male Downy Woodpecker
I was able to re-locate the unusual female Downy Woodpecker with dark barring on its white back patch. A St. Louis birding pal of mine, Dave Pierce, had seen a similar Downy Woodpecker in 2016, and this bird was discussed on David Sibley's web site. This time, I was able to get better photos of it. The barring on its back is quite clear, and there is some spotting on its breast and vent area.
Unusual Downy Woodpecker
Unusual Downy Woodpecker
Unusual Downy Woodpecker
It was a fun outing, and we appreciated the hospitality of the residence owners. Note that the feeders and wooded areas where the Baltimore Oriole has been seen are a good distance from public roads and therefore, is unlikely to be seen just driving around the area.Species Count