No Meetings in the Summer, but Bird Walks Continue

There are no Club meetings in June, July or August. Twice-a-month walks at New Quarter Park will continue. Some field trips will be held. Check your email and this website for upcoming events.

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 May 2015 19:52

Next bird walk Saturday, July 11 at 8 a.m. at New Quarter Park

The Williamsburg Bird Club and New Quarter Park co-sponsor bird walks at New Quarter Park, 1000 Lakeshead Dr., Williamsburg, twice a month — the second and fourth Saturdays. The second Saturdays we meet at 8 a.m; the fourth Saturdays we meet at 7 a.m. Meet in the parking lot near the park office. Participants can stay as long as they’d like. Generally, the leader will walk about two hours or so, but participants can peel off as they like. Walks are free and open to the public. You need not be a member to join us. Just show up! Google map.

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 June 2015 13:12

Bird Walk at New Quarter Park, June 27, 2015

Five participants: Geoff Giles, Jan Lockwood, Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran, Bill Williams, leader
 
New Quarter Park, York, Virginia, US
Jun 27, 2015 6:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     overcast with light rain at the start; 73 degrees; outgoing tide; 4th Saturday Bird Walk; gray squirrel, eastern cottontail; snapping turtle
29 species

Great Blue Heron  2
Turkey Vulture  7
Osprey  6     3 active nests each with large feathered young; 2 of the nests had 2 young, the other at least one young
Clapper Rail  1
Laughing Gull  2
Royal Tern  2
Chimney Swift  5
Red-bellied Woodpecker  2
Eastern Wood-Pewee  2
Acadian Flycatcher  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Eastern Kingbird  1
Red-eyed Vireo  1
American Crow  2
Fish Crow  1
Purple Martin  2
Tree Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  6
Tufted Titmouse  7
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Wood Thrush  2
American Robin  5
Eastern Towhee  2
Summer Tanager  3
Northern Cardinal  1
Blue Grosbeak  2
Common Grackle  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  2
American Goldfinch  3

View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S24067665

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 June 2015 13:17

Memories of Ruth Beck

MEMORIES OF RUTH BECK…

CATHY MILLAR WRITES:  I attended her funeral. It was so delightful that, as we stood at her graveside, one could hear quiet murmurs of ‘hear the cedar waxwings?’, etc. I believe Ruth would have been pleased that as we mourned, we could not help but to also keep track of what birds were present. The birds have lost a tremendously effective advocate.

 Ruth Beck, Photo by Lee Adams

DAN CRISTOL WRITES:  The birds have lost a great friend. It is spring and life is in the air. Bluebirds are fledging their first broods and wildly attacking any squirrel or snake that comes close, Brown Thrashers are franticly gathering insects from the driveway for their newly hatched chicks, and twittering hordes of Barn Swallows are scrambling to gather mud for their nests in every puddle. Sadly, though, Ruth Beck, Emeritus Professor of Biology at William & Mary, passed away suddenly at 72.

Ruth helped birds at many levels, starting with the superb bird feeders at the lakeside home which she shared with husband Sherwin. Her feeder spread was so alluring it drew in species rarely fond of birdseed, especially Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. Ruth worked right up to the time of her death documenting and managing the nesting success of our dwindling colonial waterbirds, most notably the Least Terns of  Craney Island and the huge tern and gull colony dependent on the rocks of the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel.

Photo by Lee Adam

These human-created habitats have become important refuges for birds being displaced from our Barrier Islands as rising sea levelslowly drown out their natural nesting colonies. The owners of these properties have reason to resent the descending hordes of waterbirds, which create transportation hazards and require workers to accommodate in all sorts of ways. But for decades Ruth has been able to graciously negotiate fair treatment for the birds, and to enlist an army of dedicated volunteers and students to manage their habitats. I have worked alongside retired school teachers, conscripted college students and members of a prison work detail to ensure that the picky Black Skimmers had the proper surface of weed-free, flat sand for their nests.

Ruth, who started at William & Mary in 1969, developed, taught and supervised biology laboratories for tens of thousands of college students. These were the first intensive lab experiences for freshmen, and were often formative. She inspired countless undergraduates to go on to take courses in ornithology and to pursue birds as a hobby or profession. Ruth also hired scores of students to assist in her summer research with tern and gull nesting colonies, and turned many apathetic field hands into aspiring scientists. To the end she carried out weekly surveys of Craney Island, one of Tidewater’s most exciting birding destinations, with a crew of volunteer local birders. Like a reporter who gets to every crime scene first, Ruth’s group broke the story on many local rarities, including last year’s Snowy Owl, and many, many more.

Besides inspiring countless future scientists, birders and conservationists, and spearheading important local research and land management projects, Ruth was also a stalwart contributor to what is known as citizen science, the enlisting of non-professionals to gather data for scientific research. For more than forty years Ruth and a crew of birders has been monitoring the bird populations of Williamsburg as part of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Never satisfied to stick to her own territory, I would often catch Ruth sneaking on to my adjacent territory to make sure that I was counting things accurately. I forgave her readily, because I never missed a chance to sneak on to campus to count the Rusty Blackbird flock, just in case Ruth had missed a few.

                                                                                          
Ruth may be best remembered locally as one of the founders, longtime presidents, and benefactors of the Williamsburg Bird Club. My current fondness for the bird club is directly the result of Ruth having engaged me in various roles soon after I arrived on campus. At a time when I should have been focused solely on my duties at the College, I developed a lasting relationship with this thriving civic group. Under Ruth’s direction, the club has for decades raised money to provide research grants to William & Mary graduate and undergraduate students undertaking bird research, as well as providing scholarships for kids to attend Nature Camp, purchasing books for the library, and sustaining educated interest in birds. The Williamsburg Bird Club, through Ruth’s continuous generosity of spirit, has become one of the best examples of a sustained town-gown interaction that I know of anywhere. With generosity, humor and intelligence, Ruth Beck left the world a better place than she found it, and inspired many others to do the same. When generosity, humor and intelligence were not enough, she would turn to the most potent of her charms, extravagant spreads of food, always including strawberries. And like the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, people were drawn to Ruth Beck’s strawberries. Those wishing to remember Ruth can send contributions to the Williamsburg Bird Club (mention the Ruth Beck Fund), P.O. Box 1085, Williamsburg, VA, 23187. Ruth, we miss you already.

 

INGE CURTIS WRITES:  I happened to sit next to Ruth Beck when she gave a presentation on Prothonotary Warblers to the Bird Club of Williamsburg. She had a sample bird box with her and I was most interested to learn more about making the property I had just bought more bird friendly. I was a complete novice—all I knew was that I absolutely loved birds, even if I did not know their names. Ruth never held that against me but made me aware of what I heard and saw. She included me on the Spring and Christmas Bird Counts and had me at her home, where her birdsong clock confused me no end. Royal Terns for Ruth Beck, by Inge Curtis

One time when we were sitting on my porch on the Chickahominy River, she mentioned innumerable birds that she heard: vireos,

Prothonotary Warblers, Common Yellowthroats, bluebirds, Pine Warblers, tanagers, Yellow Warblers and a host of others I did not know existed, let alone lived in my yard. She was right, of course--in time I have SEEN all of those and many more. And often I was able to photograph them. I would share these images with her and she in turn would share them with friends and family. It was such a joy to have several people come to me at Ruth's funeral to thank me for those pictures. It had given them great joy, too.  

It was also such a privilege to accompany her to the Hampton Road Bridge Tunnel, to Craney Island and to Grandview Beach to photographically document bird populations there. The last day Ruth spent in the field was May 5th. I am so very grateful I could share that last day with her and her beloved sea birds.

 

MARILYN ADAIR WRITES:  A few weeks ago I was invited to ride along with Ruth's Craney Island survey team.  On our lunch break, I congratulated her on her new grandson and asked if she had pictures.  She responded that she didn't want to be the boring grandparent foisting her photos on others, but since I asked....She took out her phone and beamed as she showed me her precious Aiden.  Sadly, that will be my last fond memory of the wonderful person who was Ruth Beck.

 

LEE SCHUSTER WRITES:  Ruth was the kindest, most thoughtful person and even though we didn't see each other or talk on a regular basis, we always picked up where we left off. She was a great listener as well. She was the first person we really met in the bird club when we moved here 24 years ago. When my daughter was born, Ruth always asked how she was doing and always wanted the picture we sent at Christmas for her refrigerator. When Ruth was in rehab about 7 years ago, we came to visit her. Ruth engaged Jenny in conversation and they began to discuss a series of books my daughter was reading about feral cats. Ruth was very interested and asked my daughter if she could read some of them because of her interest in feral cats and birds. My daughter thought that was the greatest thing that Ruth was interested.

Ruth and I had a lot of fun together involving various bird club projects. The first that comes to mind was when the club sponsored a bird feeder cleaning with Wild Birds Unlimited behind their store on Richmond Road. We had more feeders come in than expected, which was good, but that meant lots of parts too. We were laughing so much when we tried to make sure all the parts went to the right feeder. The other fond memory was when the two of us were surveying two golf courses for Dan Cristol’s study on the effects of golf courses on birds. We did Stonehouse Golf Course and another one near Brickshire. Ruth and I were not golfers and it was pretty obvious. Ruth drove the golf cart and the number of times we either got lost or almost ran into something was quite humorous. We were laughing so hard during the whole experience, I am surprised we saw any birds. Both of these times were so much fun and Ruth and I were laughing about these times just before she passed awayRuth Beck

Ruth was a special person who taught me so much. I will miss her daily. She leaves a void that cannot be filled.                                                                            

 

VIRGINIA BOYLES WRITES:  Ruth Ann Beck was an amazing woman.  Have you heard that phrase before?  It was spoken often as people remembered her at her funeral.  As I’ve thought about the astounding times we’ve had with her, I’m ever so grateful that my hand went up before she finished speaking when she asked at a bird club meeting for volunteers for her 3 projects.  I’d gone to Craney on a field trip with her shortly after we joined, and knew there weren’t many other places where one would see an Upland Sandpiper.  Craney had its hazards, however.  The roads had large crevasses along the edges, and anything was likely to show up as you drove along.  Once, while watching for birds in the cell, she ran over a group of 4 wires projecting from the roadway.  It sounded like the bottom of the car had come off.  Startled, she quickly called on the radio for me to watch whatever was in the road.  The wires were truly hard to see before you hit them, and they couldn’t be pulled out.  The next week, she hit them again, and we began to warn of “Ruth’s wires” each time we started down that division road.  After about a month, someone placed a large piece of wood in the roadway so you could see them better, but didn't remove them.  Some Craney worker must have run over them, too.  After about 6 weeks, they finally disappeared.  There was always something lying in the road, since they used the dirt pumped from the dredging to raise and smooth the roads.                                                                                                                           "Ruth's Wires"         
Ruth’s Wire”   Photo by Virginia Boyles

 

She only had a flat tire once while we were with her.  Dave had just begun to go with us, and he and a couple of Craney workers at the office helped get her tire changed so she could continue the count.  She was always “working the problem”.   She often warned people who drove with her to be careful on the roads there.  However, the rewards of being with her exceeded any risk of driving the roads with windows down and mosquitoes looking for lunch. 

 

MARILYN AND JOHN ADAIR WRITE:  We love watching this video as it shows us a young, healthy Ruth Beck and her cat, shown in segments of the film.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkWuLoHdF2s

 

BRIAN TABER WRITES:  I've known Ruth for about 40 years, but during the past 7 years, after my retirement, I was lucky to be on her bird research team, seeing her almost weekly as we surveyed Grandview Beach in Hampton, Craney Island in Portsmouth, and the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. We posted signs for nesting areas and counted birds. Ruth was ever positive about the birds and always concerned about those of us on her team, asking how we were doing and how our families were doing...she was genuinely interested and caring to a degree that was amazing. She was also the Vice-president of Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory, where I have been on the Board since it began. Her thoughtful insights into how the organization should operate were invaluable. The birds and their families are lucky to have had her in their lives...and I am, too.

 Ruth and dog, by Cathy Millar

JERRY UHLMAN WRITES: “I’ve written a birding column that has appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for over a decade, and when you asked for memories of Ruth Beck, I was reminded of a story I wrote back in 2001 about a field trip with her.  She was incredibly generous with her time and patient with my many questions.  I’ve attached my old story for you to have a look at.  I was particularly struck by Ruth’s devotion and commitment, which I tried to convey in this piece.  I’m looking forward to reading the tribute you’re working on.  Thanks. Jerry”

Richmond Times-Dispatch,
Richmond, Virginia
Flyways and Byways
     —July 21, 2001

Our small boat bobs in the shallow waters off the southern shore of Plum Tree Island National Wildlife Refuge near Poquoson and Ruth Beck, ornithologist with the College of William and Mary’s Biology Department, carefully scans the sandy beach for nesting piping plovers.  I’m with Beck on a hot June day as she visits waterbird colonies to monitor the number of birds, nests, eggs, and chicks.  Plum Tree Island is off limits to the public because of its history as a bombing range over the years which left unexploded ordinances scattered throughout the large salt marsh, so colonial nesting birds have this island sanctuary pretty much to themselves.

Beck has been monitoring the health of waterbird colonies along the beaches and barrier islands of Virginia for twenty-five years.  She has a cadre of students and graduates, some who’ve become prominent field ornithologists in their own right, which patrols over seventy miles of beaches during nesting season to count gulls, terns, skimmers, plovers and oystercatchers.  The annual June counts tell her whether species are thriving, holding their own or declining.  Snowy Egret, by Inge Curtis                                                

Marine and wading birds such as cormorants, herons, egrets, ibises, gulls, terns, and skimmers share a common trait of typically nesting in large groups or colonies.  These colonial nesting birds are often concentrated in small and exposed areas and are vulnerable many factors such as human disturbance, severe weather, attack by predators, and urban sprawl, all which destroy their habitat or reduce the number of birds in a colony. 

Snowy Egret   photo by Inge Curtis

Of the trends that Beck has witnessed over the years, it’s clear that the number of gull-billed terns has decreased sharply in Virginia.  Also, the growing number of black-backed and herring gulls has resulted in increased predation on nesting chicks up and down the Atlantic coast.  But, on the whole, the number of colonial birds in Virginia has remained remarkably stable, according to Beck. 

On this hot and humid early June morning, there are no nesting plovers on the thin strip of Plum Tree Island’s sandy beach.  But, the number ospreys we spot is amazing.  Their recovery in Virginia is obvious by the number of occupied nests along the channel markers and the dozen birds that perch in the stunted trees of Plum Tree Island. 

Our boat swings southwest across the Back River to Grandview Natural Preserve, a popular recreation destination in the City of Hampton.  At Northend Point, accessible only by boat, you’ll find the largest colony of least terns in Virginia.  Over two hundred pairs use this remote site for nesting, and Beck has posted signs around the colony to keep intruders at bay. 

As our boat inches toward shore, a few curious visitors stand around the carcass of a beached whale well away from the least tern colony, but still under the fretful eyes of willets and terns.  As we walk toward the nesting area the parents become increasingly alarmed, and Beck carefully leads us around the edge of the nesting ground. 

The nests of least terns are mere scrapes in the white sand, faint hollows made by foot scratches and wingbeats.  Most nests have two or three sandy-colored eggs, and a few have newly hatched chicks—only a couple of inches long—covered with light gray down.  As we pass the colony, parents call to the chicks and they obediently remain motionless.  The scant grasses sprinkled around the colony provide neither camouflage nor shade for the eggs and chicks, and it’s easy to see how vulnerable these nestlings are to predators. 

Survivors will be about as big as a robin and have a wingspan of twenty inches.  They’ll stay with their parents until fall migration when they head to Central and South America in the late fall.  Least terns are an endangered species whose numbers appear to be increasing.  These smallest of North American terns were collected in the 1800s for ornaments on ladies’ hats, but their sharp decline in the past was caused mainly by habitat loss and human disturbance.

Another family of terns, common terns, nest nearby on the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel maintenance islands.  They’re joined by black skimmers and the two species scrape shallow nests in the grass-covered sandy soil and raise chicks side-by-side. While the bridge maintenance areas are not open to the public, Beck and her students are frequent visitors to monitor the breeding success from year to year.  Because of Beck’s vigilance, Department of Transportation staff now accepts the birds’ presence and assists in the monitoring process.  A camera has been installed so that her students can watch and record the activities of both species, especially the nocturnal black skimmers.              Black Skimmers, by Inge Curtis   
  As we drive onto the artificial island, it’s clear that the terns and skimmers find the area hospitable.  Nests dot thin strips of grass-covered soil amid bumper-to-bumper traffic and asphalt.  DOT staff works around the maintenance buildings and sometimes their movements bring loud reproaches from the terns, which spring from their nests into the air.  They tolerate humans but are particularly testy during the height of their nesting season. 

It’s a harrowing experience walking from our car to the building that houses huge fans that ventilate the tunnel, as well as Beck’s computer screens and recording equipment.  Nesting birds rise and race straight toward us, swooping and diving, and hovering over nests until we pass.  Inevitably, we are pecked on the top of the head several times amid flapping wings and screams of protest.

We climb to the rooftop to get a panoramic view of the nesting ground on this tiny island.  In front, skimmers and terns are crowded together on nests that dot the foot-high grass.  To the right, a large flock of skimmers stand together facing the wind and Beck explains that these birds are most likely non-breeding males or mates taking a break from nesting duties. 

We crouch low on the roof to keep a low profile.  Despite our best efforts, the wary birds spot our slightest movement and rise in unison.  The many eggs in both tern and skimmer nests attest to a bumper crop of new chicks.  Yet, lurking not far away, biding their time at the edge of the colony, we spot several laughing and herring gulls quietly waiting…  Our retreat from this busy nesting colony to our car brings, once again, loud protests, diving and head-pecks.

Heading home after a day with Ruth Beck as she tended her colonies, I felt optimistic and reassured.  Here is a person who started with warblers and songbirds and moved on to colonial waterbirds, where she’s found her own niche.  Training highly-motivated students, monitoring the birdlife of Virginia’s barrier island beaches, guiding research of our nesting colonial waterbirds for twenty-five years—“I’m the luckiest person in the world!” Beck exclaimed. 

We are the lucky ones, birders who enjoy Virginia birdlife whether it’s on the Eastern Shore or our own backyards.  In Beck, we have a dedicated sentinel at work, ever watchful over our environment, constantly taking the pulse of the Commonwealth’s birding habitat.  By monitoring the rise and fall of species and recognizing danger signals, Beck can marshal the support and resources needed to affect change.  She’s typical of a handful of university teachers and researchers around the state whose ornithological work is important to our enjoyment of birds at home and on the road.  They are unsung heroes who should have more recognition for their work and deserve our gratitude.       Black-Necked Stilts, by Inge Curtis                                                           

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 June 2015 22:25

Summary: Spring Bird Count, May 2, 2015

Kentucky Warbler at Cheatam Annex, May 3, 2015What a grand and GLORIOUS day May 3, 2015 was for being out “counting crows” and every other avian species seen and heard. With almost no wind, temperatures in the low 50s to low 70s, conditions could not have been much better for this, the club’s 38th annual Spring Bird Count (SBC). After all the checklists were posted, 76 participants, a new record exceeding 67  in 2014, had reported 150 species (download list in Excel format), 3 less than the long term 153 mean. Capping the final tally were 8 “write-in” species (species so seldom recorded locally in spring they are not on the count’s regular reporting list) and new all-time SBC peak totals for 12 species.

Topping the rarities list AND setting an all-time local high count for any season was a group of 7 Anhingas that passed over Jamestown. These birds go in the books as our 11th local record over all and our second SBC record; one was near Lafayette High School on the April 29, 2007 count.

Those who had been birding along the James and York rivers prior to count day knew going in this had been a banner year for Royal Terns. So it was no surprise when the final tally showed a grand total of 320, shredding the previous record of 256 set on April 29, 2011.

Among the record high counts established on last year’s  May 4 SBC were 49 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds , 59 Downy Woodpeckers , 289 Tufted Titmouses and 111 Summer Tanagers. Thanks in part to the increased number of participants this year each of those totals was eclipsed. The hummer high now hovers at 54. If we are going to undo the new peak counts for the others we will have to exceed 64 Downys, 308 Tufteds  and 114 SUTAs! No problem….right?

We doff our logo-motif caps to the 60 Red-headed Woodpeckers that were tallied, one better than the previous high of 59 set April 26, 2009. This year’s 29 Yellow-throated Vireos erased one of our longer standing SBC peak counts of 20 from May 2, 1982. The April 26, 2009 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher record of 205 was made obsolete by this count’s 238. Nineteen Veerys, 12 of them found by the College Woods team, pushed the former high of 14 recorded on two previous SBCs (May 15, 1983 and May 11, 1997) under the permanent oblivion brush pile. How “sweet, sweet, sweet” it was to enter 29 Prothonotary Warblers ahead of the 26 on record for the April 29, 2012 SBC. The count’s Yellow-throated Warbler total (124) was a 38% increase over the 90 listed during the May 1, 2011 SBC, and  the Chipping Sparrow peak count now stands at 206, three more than the203 found April 29, 2012.

The Hog Island folks found a Northern Shovler, our 4th SBC record and 2 Buffleheads seen near Indian Field Creek were the 6th SBC record.

This spring folks at the College Creek Hawkwatch had been seeing American White Pelicans soaring over Hog Island off and on from mid-March into April.  So it was certainly a terrific SBC bonus for the count team there to spot 2, our first SBC encounter since 22 were observed on April 29, 2012 and the 6th time this species has made the SBC spread sheet since one was at Hog Island May 2, 1982.

Not typically thought of as a late spring migrants American Pipits and Pine Siskins gave our final compilation a nice boost this year. The Skimino team discovered 7 pipits, one shy of the peak count of 8 on May 8, 1994, and our 7th SBC record.  The 5 siskins reported were part of a state-wide late spring influx of this species most likely birds returning from further south where food resources helped them survive the bitter winter. that had found for this species recorded far short of an astonishing. We’ve had this irruptive finch on 11 previous SBCs, most notably 71 on May 4, 1986.

During the bird club’s May 6, 1978 inaugural SBC five White-crowned Sparrows were found. Up to 2015 the species had made only 4 other SBC rosters, none of which outdid that tally of 5. So this is a rare bird, not just for spring but for any season. This year two widely separated count section teams claimed one each. A beautifully documented individual was found by our first-ever Gloucester County team.

Now wait a frog-mouth minute….Gloucester County?!!!! How can that be?!!! This is the Williamsburg Spring Count. We’re not in Gloucester!

Okay now. Rein in your meal-worms! Here’s the deal. When the 15-mile diameter count circle was drawn in 1977 for the club’s Christmas Bird Count application to the National Audubon Society its center was set at the Colonial Williamsburg Information Center for two reasons. One was that the parking lot there was where all of our field trips started, and two, that pin-point was just perfect for the arc to incorporate bird-rich Hog Island in Surry County AND Indian Field Creek on the York River, where spring and summer a “colony” of Boat-tailed Grackles nested.  With that placement (pretty slick, huh?) the arc also swept a narrow portion of Gloucester County, a section that for 37 previous years has not even been scouted out, much less birded. Well, thanks to Bill Blair and his comrades, we believe we now have that covered. Their White-crowned Sparrow and this count’s only Horned Grebe, an SBC 4th occurrence, having a crew across the river really paid off.

But it was the happenstance of the second White-crowned Sparrow that will put a smile on your beak. Lois and Mitchell Byrd like to take Sunday breakfast at Victoria’s in the Williamsburg Crossing Shopping Center. Count day, while the two were dining, a bird thumped into one of the restaurant’s windows. Mitchell saw the victim, which by now you’ve deduced was a White-crowned Sparrow, retrieved by an employee. The bird appeared DOA.  However, it soon revived in Mitchell’s hands, probably recovering from just having the wind knocked out of it, and was gently released by the good doctor (PhD-type)! You’ll have to figure the odds on that one….a count day rarity, in a suburban shopping center, captured alive after striking a window at an eating establishment while an ornithologist is there to hold it in his hands!!! Sounds like mega-millions lottery odds. By the way, that was Mitchell Byrd’s first hand-held White-crowned Sparrow!  

As much as we want to highlight rare and exciting birds and those species with high counts, we also must acknowledge those we failed to find that were once routine. That list includes ZERO Northern Bobwhite and ZERO rails. This makes 3 consecutive SBCs with no quail and was the first time EVER no rail species of any kind were detected!

                With that the 38th Williamsburg Bird Count goes into the permanent record. Sincere thanks to all who devoted some or all of their day to our birds. Very warm thanks to the team leaders who worked so hard before during and after count day to round up participants, gather their team’s data and saw to it rarities were documented.

 

And a Spring Bird Count Post-script

There were some in the room who knew of her. There were some in the room who knew her. There others in the room who had known and worked closely with her for the better part of 5 decades. For just about everyone there it was the last time we saw her. Ruth Beck was the embodiment of the Gift that kept on Giving. Her dear friend the late Bill Sheehan’s words of tribute were never so apt, timely and well-deserved.  Good on you, Ruth. Good on you.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 June 2015 01:32

Tribute to Ruth Beck by Dan Cristol

 

Dan Cristol wrote this wonderful remembrance of Ruth Beck for the VA Gazette. He gave the Bird Club permission to reprint it and it is below.

Those wishing to remember Ruth can send contributions to the Williamsburg Bird Club (mention the Ruth Beck Fund), P.O. Box 1085, Williamsburg, VA, 23187. Or you can bring a check or cash to the Bird Club meeting this Wednesday night at Andrews Hall.


"The birds have lost a great friend. It is spring and life is in the air. Eastern Bluebirds are fledging their first broods and wildly attacking any squirrel or snake that comes close, Brown Thrashers are franticly gathering insects from the driveway for their newly hatched chicks, and twittering hordes of Barn Swallows are scrambling to gather mud for their nests in every puddle. Sadly, though, RuthBeck, emeritus professor of biology at William & Mary, passed away suddenly last week at 72.

Ruth helped birds at many levels, starting with the superb bird feeders at the lakeside home which she shared with husband Sherwin. Her feeder spread was so alluring it drew in species rarely fond of birdseed, especially Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. Ruth worked right up to the time of her death documenting and managing the nesting success of our dwindling colonial waterbirds, most notably the Least Terns of Craney Island and the huge tern and gull colony dependent on the rocks of the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel.

These human-created habitats have become important refuges for birds being displaced from our Barrier Islands as rising sea levels slowly drown out their natural nesting colonies. The owners of these properties have reason to resent the descending hordes of waterbirds, which create transportation hazards and require workers to accommodate in all sorts of ways. But for decades Ruth has been able to graciously negotiate fair treatment for the birds, and to enlist an army of dedicated volunteers and students to manage their habitats. I have worked alongside retired school teachers, conscripted college students and members of a prison work detail to ensure that the picky Black Skimmers had the proper surface of weed-free, flat sand for their nests.

Ruth, who started at William & Mary in 1969, developed, taught and supervised biology laboratories for tens of thousands of college students. These were the first intensive lab experiences for freshmen, and were often formative. She inspired countless undergraduates to go on to take courses in ornithology and to pursue birds as a hobby or profession. Ruth also hired scores of students to assist in her summer research with tern and gull nesting colonies, and turned many apathetic field hands into aspiring scientists. To the end she carried out weekly surveys of Craney Island, one of Tidewater’s most exciting birding destinations, with a crew of volunteer local birders. Like a reporter who gets to every crime scene first, Ruth’s group broke the story on many local rarities, including last year’s Snowy Owl, and many, many more.

Besides inspiring countless future scientists, birders and conservationists, and spearheading important local research and land management projects, Ruth was also a stalwart contributor to what is known as citizen science. Citizen science is the enlisting of non-professionals to gather data for scientific research, and for more than forty years Ruth and a crew of birders has been monitoring the bird populations of Williamsburg as part of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Never satisfied to stick to her own territory, the college campus and surrounding forests, I would often catch Ruthsneaking on to my adjacent territory to make sure that I was counting things accurately. I forgave her readily, because I never missed a chance to sneak on to campus to count the Rusty Blackbird flock, just in case Ruth had missed a few.

Ruth may be best remembered locally as one of the founders, longtime presidents, and benefactors of the Williamsburg Bird Club. My current fondness for the bird club is directly the result of Ruthhaving engaged me in various roles soon after I arrived on campus. At a time when I should have been focused solely on my duties at the College, I developed a lasting relationship with this thriving civic group. Under Ruth’s direction, the club has for decades raised money to provide research grants to William & Mary graduate and undergraduate students undertaking bird research, as well as providing scholarships for kids to attend Nature Camp, purchasing books for the library, and sustaining educated interest in birds. The Williamsburg Bird Club, through Ruth’s continuous generosity of spirit, has become one of the best examples of a sustained town-gown interaction that I know of anywhere. With generosity, humor and intelligence, Ruth Beck left the world a better place than she found it, and inspired many others to do the same. When generosity, humor and intelligence were not enough, she would turn to the most potent of her charms, extravagant spreads of food, always including strawberries. And like the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, people were drawn to Ruth Beck’s strawberries. Those wishing to remember Ruth can send contributions to the Williamsburg Bird Club (mention the Ruth Beck Fund), P.O. Box 1085, Williamsburg, VA, 23187. Ruth, we miss you already.”

by Dan Cristol

Last Updated on Sunday, 24 May 2015 19:59

Overnight Field Trip to Delaware Beaches

We are planning a field trip to the Delaware beaches to May 18th and 19th. The basic itinerary is as follows:

Monday, May 18
8:00 AM: Depart Colony Square shopping center
 to late afternoon: Birding at Chincoteague (we should find some new arrivals since the March 28 trip)
Early evening: Arrive at hotel in Delaware (we're currently scoping out favorable locations to spend the night, possibly in Dover)
 
Tuesday, May 19
Early morning (time TBD): Leave hotel for the beach(es) and bird for the remainder of the morning or early afternoon: Begin trip home
 
Everyone will have the flexibility to break off and head home whenever it best suits them. We'll also want to consider the timing of the trip home to avoid rush hour through the HRBT. As you can see there are still some details to work out. But the immediate purpose of this e-mail is to gage the interest from club members in making the trip. Once we get an idea of how many people would like to participate we can then start solidifying the plans.
 
So if you would like to join this trip, please send Jim Corliss an e-mail ASAP at jcorliss240 at cox.net. Jim will then let everyone know how large a group to expect and can work on the trip details. The horseshoe crab spawning and shorebird migration in Delaware Bay is one of nature's great spectacles. 
 

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 May 2015 12:46

Field Trip to see Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, June 6

On Saturday, June 6th, Mike Wilson, Center for Conservation Biology, will lead a trip to Piney Grove Preserve in Sussex to hopefully spot some of the endangered Red-cockaded woodpeckers. Piney Grove hosts Virginia's last breeding population of this endangered species. The Nature Conservancy conducts prescribed burns to manage the pine-savanna habitat for the woodpeckers. Biologists from the Center for Conservation Biology monitor and support what is recognized as the record recovery of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

An EARLY departure to catch the ferry and drive to the Preserve to meet Mike is a must if we are to see the birds as they leave the nest cavity to forage. We will meet at the Colony Square Shopping Center at 4:00 a.m. to carpool. If you have a spotting scope please bring it for this trip. Also, you’ll need to bring water, snacks and insect repellent. Sign-ups are not needed for this trip. You will receive reminders and any additional information prior to the trip. Questions? Contact Jan Lockwood at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 April 2015 14:23

WBC Research Grant Recipient Megan Kobiela's Research Published in Animal Behavior

In 2011 the Bird Club awarded one of our research grants to Megan Kobiela, and she presented a short session about her research at our Bird Club meeting in May 2012: “The Effect of Mercury on Starvation and Predation Risk Tradeoffs in Zebra Finches.” Megan has had her research published in the journal Animal Behavior under the title "Risk-taking behaviours in zebra finches affected by mercury exposure." Congratulations, Megan!

Download a pdf of the article

Last Updated on Monday, 30 March 2015 20:28

The Birds of Virginia’s Colonial Historic Triangle

Cover of Bill Williams' book, Birds of Virginia's Historic Colonial Triangle

The Bird Club has published “The Birds of Virginia’s Colonial Historic Triangle.” Editor Bill Williams compiled the data from local birders' records since the 1960's and 1970's. The cover, shown here, sports a stunning photo of our mascot bird, a Red-headed Woodpecker taken by Club member Mike Powell at Greensprings Trail. The book contains over 30 color photos by local nature photographers.

You can obtain one of “Bill’s Books” at just about any Bird Club event. They are also available at Morrison’s Flowers and Gifts at Colony Square Shopping Center on Jamestown Road and at Wild Birds Unlimited at Monticello Marketplace.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 July 2014 20:02

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