Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Memorable Memorial Day Birds in Virginia

Alesia and I drove up to Virginia to visit with family during the Memorial Day weekend.  We enjoyed our time with my parents at their beautiful house on the Chesapeake Bay, with Alesia's cousins and family who were also in the area, and with her brother who lives near Richmond.

This will be the first of what may be several themed blog posts. I took more than 600 photographs during the several days we spent in Virginia.  The trip culminated in our two day trek along "Lee's Retreat" from Petersburg to Appomattox.  So look for that post in the days or weeks ahead.

My first post, surprise, will focus on birds I photographed up there. But let's start with this critter encounter: a fox seen in my parents neighborhood, which is near Wicomico Church, Va.

What a surprise to see this beautiful, healthy looking fox in daylight.

Glad I had my camera with me!

I was only able to get off a few long distance shots before it fled into some nearby woods.

As the owner of Persian cats, I really appreciate big, fluffy tails, which this fox has for sure!
That same evening at dusk, Alesia and I went for a walk and saw several more foxes out and about in this same field and around some houses.

I had my camera but was unable to get any decent images, as darkness was quickly descending.

Cool encounter.  We would also see a bald eagle perched at the top of tree in Kilmarnock as we drove to church Sunday morning.  Lots of wildlife in Virginia's Northern Neck! 

My favorite bird photo from this trip has to be of an Eastern Meadowlark I spotted on a power line near the remote Sailor's Creek Battlefield.

I saw this during a stop along Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Retreat to Appomattox, which will be the subject of a future blog post.
This offbeat encounter was especially satisfying to me as a birder because of a comment I made to my mother that on a Virginia birds coffee mug she has are pictured several common birds there.

I told her I had photographed all of them except one: the Meadowlark.  I had never seen one before, so this is a lifer bird for me!

When I saw that yellow breast through my camera lens, I suspected Meadowlark and was able to confirm later. This is what makes birding such a fun hobby!

Back at the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, my folks waterfront home is such a joy. What a treat for a few days to watch the boat and bird traffic, not to mention the daily sunrise over the water (see my next blog post!).

My folks have enjoyed all of this special scenery for years.  And they had a hand in the erection of this Osprey platform a few hundred yards out into the bay.  Annually, Ospreys come, nest and reproduce on this platform.

With my "superzoom" Canon SX50 I am able to get fairly tight on the Osprey pair.

Didn't see any little ones this time.

Big props to my parents and their neighbors who successfully advocated this platform.

It must be very well made and mounted in the ground, having survived many raging storms over the years.

One of the platform Ospreys on a food run...
...don't forget the fries please....ha!

This sign for boaters leaving and entering a nearby marina is a perching pad for different birds.

The platform Ospreys hang there sometimes.

Gulls like this spot too.  This gull is a lifer one for me!  At first I figured it was a Laughing Gull but a little more research revealed it to be a Great Black-backed Gull.

So, two lifer birds for me during this Virginia visit: this type of gull and the previously mentioned and pictured Eastern Meadowlark.

I've always thought birding is a hobby that travels well and is full of finds and surprises!

I did see some Laughing Gulls, this one on a post in the nearby marina.

Moments later the gull has some of its feathers in its bill- no laughing matter!

This gorgeous Great Blue Heron was on the other side of the marina along the narrow channel leading into the bay.

As I was watching the Great Blue Heron, I noticed this snake swimming in the marina in the direction of where the heron was standing.

I thought I might be in for some very special photographs! The heron had to see the snake. And I know that it could be a tasty meal for it.

At this point, I know the heron was looking at the snake!

I waited patiently near a dock to see if the heron would strike.

I think this is a Rainbow Snake.  I researched Chesapeake Bay snakes and the limited image I attained seems to most closely resemble the Rainbow, which this Maryland Department of Natural Resources describes as very aquatic and common to marshes, marinas, etc.

But alas, the heron never went after the snake.
After a short time, the big bird moved in the opposite direction.

And so did I. Soon I had another neat morning bird encounter.
Face-to-face and eye-to-eye with a Turkey Vulture!
It was neat to be able to get in so tight on the vulture's face.

I'd suggest getting some Clearasil for that acne! Just kidding...

Not sure what is was eating here.

These posts were on an embankment just feet from the bay.

I was hoping to get some shots of the vulture flying from its perch.

Didn't get that but did get this image of its impressive wing extension.

Vultures will never score beauty points, but from behind, this is beautiful to me!

I first spied the above Turkey Vulture amid these rocks.  This made for an interesting texture type of shot.
I did get a shot of the vulture flying away.  I enjoyed the opportunity to see this large bird in such an up close and personal way.
My sister-in-law Lynette is a California native. She was excited to see Northern Cardinals during her Virginia visit.

I thought Cardinals were everywhere in the U.S., but apparently not in the San Diego area where she lives.  But then I guess that's why they are called "Northern" Cardinals.  West of the Rockies is not their domain.

This Northern Mockingbird was also photographed on the roof of my parents house.
This is a Common Grackle. I like its blue sheen.

Eastern Bluebirds are also common sights in the Northern Neck region of Virginia.
While in the Northern Neck, Alesia and I visited with her cousin Diane and her husband Artur who have a home near the Rappahannock River.

They have a cozy place on the water where they can launch their kayaks and enjoy nature and its diverse inhabitants, such as this Great Blue Heron.

We also enjoyed seeing Alesia's other cousin Karen and her family.

This heron was looking for a meal. Too bad that snake I showed earlier wasn't in this marshy waterway.
An Osprey also seemed to be looking for lunch.

Diane and Artur enjoy the birds they see around their lovely wooded (and watered) place.  I gladly gave them a signed copy of my recently published bird and nature photography book.

Check this link for more details on my new book.
Here is the striking American Robin. 

This photo was taken in Richmond at Hollywood Cemetery.  This grand Victorian necropolis is where Alesia's parents are interred.
These large black birds, either American Crows or Common Ravens (I'll soon find out which!) seem to having a nice conversion.

I photographed them atop the High Bridge near Farmville, Va. High Bridge is known for two Civil War battles on April 6-7, 1865 during the final days of Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which would surrender at Appomattox just a few days after these engagements.

I'm using the bird identification forum to try to positively name these two.  So far, the consensus seems to be Common Ravens, but the jury is still out.  I'm providing these two additional photos in hopes to get a more definite ID.

Ultimately, my forum query did confirm these birds as not only Common Ravens but juvenile ones.

The discussion thread I have linked here, for anyone interested in seeing how this bird forum works.

This posts features about a dozen birds I came across in my former home state of Virginia.

Tickled to have three lifer birds and some familiar feathered friends in different settings as well!
Last but not least- this Brown Thrasher spotted at the Pamplin Historical Park. This stop launched out "Lee's Retreat" drive to Appomattox.  See my next post for the scoop on that excursion!

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