Scott Baron, a ten year Virginia State Parks volunteer, has provided the following Winter Virginia Bird Watching report from Sky Meadows State Park. All of Virginia’s state parks are on the Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. Whether you are a bird watching enthusiast, nature lover, or enjoy hiking Virginia trails, Virginia State Parks are a great destination to interact and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot to see. Indeed, with less foliage, it may be easier to spot that rare bird.
“A couple of species of birds that are scarce in the northern Piedmont and nearby mountains during the winter are overwintering at Sky Meadows this season: Chipping Sparrow and Eastern Phoebe. Because my surveys typically take me to each area of the park only once or twice per season, it can be difficult for me to determine the status of some species at any one time and certainly it can be difficult to know the happenings of individual birds. However, since November, a small flock of Chipping Sparrows has been present in the area of the Gap Run Trail and Boston Mill Road. On November 22 I flushed a flock of about 20 Chippings on the north side of the pond along the Gap Run Trail. Nearby I saw 2 Chippings in a mixed foraging flock of sparrows on December 6. On January 17, during a very cold spell, four Chippings were in the exact same place that I saw the flock of 20 two months earlier.
I’ve seen and heard Eastern Phoebe in the park on three separate occasions this winter. There was one in the woods near the Bridle Trail on December 20, one or probably two Phoebes on the west side of the park on January 17 and one Phoebe in the same area as the Jan. 17 sighting on January 19.
Both species winter in small numbers in the region. However, I only recall one Chipping Sparrow in the winter at Sky Meadows. This bird was around for a while on the east side of the park and reported by birders a few winters ago. I know of two early winter records of Phoebe at Sky Meadows. Both were several years ago on separate years. As far north as southeast Virginia both of these species are fairly common in the winter months but they become scarce farther north and inland.
In other avian happenings, Pine Siskins are staging an irruption from the aboreal forest this season, having been widely reported in Virginia since mid-October. Almost every time I’ve gone birding in northern Virginia since that time I have heard one or more Pine Siskins, usually only heard as flyovers. Each winter at least a few Siskins are present here. Some winters they leave the northern forest in large numbers, like this winter. The species has been reported from bird feeders around the state, sometimes in big numbers (100+). Another winter irruptive that is being reported but in much smaller numbers and much less often is the White-winged Crossbill. They don’t usually make it this far south in their winter irruptions. In years when they do go south they usually only make it as far as the Northeastern states. I may have heard one while walking the North Ridge Trail on January 19 but I can’t be sure. Nearby Clarke County has recently hosted White-winged Crossbills in ornamental spruces.
Birds like crossbills, redpolls and siskins in the finch family are collectively referred to as winter finches. They leave their breeding range to forage for food during times when the seed crops on their favorite trees are scarce. Sometimes the birds appear hundreds of miles south of their breeding range, offering birders in those areas a special treat. They are erratic in their wanderings, which makes them special to birdwatchers, as you can’t be sure where they’ll show up next.”
If you have your own bird watching reports for Virginia State Parks you would like to add, please email me at [email protected]. Pictures of the species you reference to accompany the information will be greatly appreciated. For more information on the park nearest you, see the Virginia State Parks website.