In late April and early May I want to do as much nature watching as I can, within the constraints of work, my lawn needing to be mowed, and my cats needing to be petted. Migrating birds are returning or passing through our area now, and insects are waking up and become active on the warmer days, and I want to see as much of spring as I can. Unfortunately the weather has to cooperate on the days I have off, and that doesn’t always happen, so I haven’t been able to get out nearly as much as I’d like. But I have managed a few day trips in the past few weeks, and I’ll share some highlights with you.
The bird at the top of this page is a “Prairie Warbler,” a common breeding bird in southeastern Virginia that arrives here from its wintering grounds around mid-April. You will see and hear them in a variety of habitats as they establish their breeding territories, including pine woods and open fields. I photographed this individual in the Zuni Pine Barrens in early May.
I love to go to the Great Dismal Swamp in the spring, and walk along Jericho Ditch or Washington Ditch in the morning. On most days you will hear a veritable symphony of birds there, including warblers, vireos, flycatchers, woodpeckers and many others. The Prothonotary Warbler (photo below) is one of the signature birds of The Swamp, and is one of the most vocal. Because this beautiful bird only breeds in swampy and wet areas of the southeastern states, birders from other areas of the country target this bird and travel here to see them and add them to their “life lists.” The Dismal Swamp is well known as one of the best places to see them, and attracts these birders. I photographed this one there in late April.
Another common warbler of The Swamp and other environs is the Common Yellowthroat. The male Yellowthroat has a distinctive black “mask, visible in the photo below. This one was singing his little heart out and just demanded my attention! (Too bad he was in the shade…)
 On the same day that I photographed the warblers, I managed to get this photo (below) of a “Swamp Darner.” This is our largest dragonfly species, and they are plentiful and conspicuous at this time of year at the Dismal Swamp and other wet areas.  Also common this time of year is the “Harlequin Darner” (second photo below), one of the smaller members of the Darner family.
In early May I made a day trip to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, which is at the north end of the eastern shore of Virginia. A trip there is always rewarding, and it is a very popular destination for birders, beach-goers, pony watchers, and all sorts of nature enthusiasts. One of my favorite things about going there is the view from the causeway that connects  Wallops Island to Chincoteague Island. The road is built in the middle of extensive marshes and wetlands, and in the spring you’ll see hundreds, if not  thousands of birds as you drive along. There are a few places where you can pull your car onto the shoulder of the road to get a better look, and that’s where I photographed the three birds below:
Common Tern
Black-necked Stilt (amazing long legs!)
Glossy Ibis
There are several areas to bird on the refuge itself, and a variety of habitats that each host different species of birds and wildlife. The result is that you can find a wide variety of birds in a relatively small area: songbirds in the woods, shorebirds on the mudflats, gulls, terns and waterfowl over the water, eagles and raptors in the skies, and herons and ibis just about everywhere. The water levels were very high the day I was there, which meant there were no flats or shallows for most of the birds I wanted to see, so I continued on down to the beach at Tom’s Cove, parked, and walked a half mile or so down the beach in the sand. The highlight of the walk was this guy, who, surprisingly, started walking directly at me (the opposite of what birds usually do – they’re always going “away” from you!):
Suddenly, he stopped at an inconspicuous little scraping in the sand and sat down, which is very unusual for a shorebird:
 Then, after a minute or two, he stood up and I could see the reason for the bird’s odd behavior:
This American Oystercatcher had made its nest right there, not ten feet from the rope that separates the “people beach” from the closed off area protected for wildlife. There were three speckled eggs in the “nest” that he/she was incubating. It’s amazing to me that the bird chose this spot, and tolerated all the people nearby.
The next month will be very active, with breeding birds and increased numbers of butterflies and dragonflies. Try to get out there if you can! We’re going to host another “Nature Photos at the Library” evening on Tuesday, June 26 (beginning at 6:30 p.m.), so see if you can get some photos and come share them with your fellow nature enthusiasts. Your photos can be of anything in nature that inspires your photographic talents. I’ll have more on that in my next blog, but feel free to call me at 410-7147 (ask for Karen), or email me at kkearney@infopeake.org, if you would like more information.

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