The CBBT is known nationally for its great birding; I knew about it years ago when I lived on the west coast. During spring and fall bird migrations, songbirds that are flying across the Bay and become tired frequently land on the islands to rest, especially during rough weather. Seabirds that usually remain far offshore will often be blown closer to the coast during storms, and the CBBT islands are an excellent place to scan for them. And during the winter months, the islands are an outstanding place to scope for wintering waterfowl, gannets, loons, grebes, gulls and other types of birds. The photo at the top of this blog post is of a male Red-breasted Merganser that I photographed during the boat trip. This species is a common winter visitor to the Bay. The female’s plumage is quite different from the male’s; the photo below is of a female that I photographed earlier this winter at Fort Monroe.
Long-tailed Ducks, formerly called “Oldsquaws,” are another sea duck that we only see during the winter months. In my opinion, they are one of our most beautiful ducks. The males and females look quite different, and as is usually the case in the bird world, the male is the more spectacular. Below is a photo of a male that I took on the boat trip; following that is a photo of a female I took earlier this winter.
The bird below might not look all that impressive to you, but it was the highlight of our trip. It’s name is “Razorbill” for pretty obvious reasons, and it is a seabird of the alcid family that is rarely seen in Virginia. A few usually winter far offshore and can only be found, with luck, on pelagic boat trips far from the mainland. This winter has been a banner year for them because of all the winter storms that we have had, and large numbers have been seen south of their normal winter range. And on several days in January and February, large numbers were seen from shore in Virginia. This was the hoped-for “target bird” of the trip for most birders, and we were rewarded with about a half dozen of them in the waters north of Ft. Story.
Most non-birders think that “a seagull is a seagull is a seagull.” There is actually no such thing as a “seagull,” rather, there are many different species of gull worldwide. It takes a lot of practice to tell one species from the next; gulls are different sizes, have different shades of gray in their mantles, different wingtip patterns, different leg and bill colors, and many more field marks that distinguish the various species. And that’s just for the adults birds! It takes anywhere from two to four years for a gull to reach its adult plumage, and until they do, they go through various juvenile and subadult plumages that can be very confusing.
The common gulls along Virginia’s coast in all seasons are the Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, and Great Black-backed Gull. Laughing Gulls, which have a black head, usually migrate south of Hampton Roads for the winter and start returning in mid-March to breed (look for them in Food Lion parking lots soon!). Far less common on Virginia’s coast, although increasing in numbers, is the Lesser Black-backed Gull. We found several of them in the gull flocks that followed our boat. Two of the photos I took of them are below:
Our boat returned to the Dockside Marina in Lynnhaven Inlet in the early afternoon. The marina itself was a good place to look for birds from the docks. We saw American Oystercatchers out on the sandy islands, geese, Brown Pelicans and cormorants (both Double-crested and Great) in addition to the wintering waterfowl: