"Protecting Wildlife Through Field Research, Education and Habitat Conservation For 25 Years"
Prothonotary Warbler. Illustration by Anna Stunkel, our Kiptopeke Hawkwatcher for the past four years.. CVWO volunteers will start monitoring Prothonotary Warbler nest boxes in the Coastal Plain in the next few weeks. Later in the spring we'll have t-shirts with this beautiful image.
March 2020
A Word from the Prez!

What a strange few weeks we’ve been through and the turmoil surrounding the coronavirus will continue if many predictions are correct. Still, the natural world continues its spring revelations — migrating and nesting birds, emerging butterflies and other insects, budding trees, and blooming flowers. Thankfully, the coronavirus has not affected spring's natural rhythms.

Just as the College Creek Hawkwatch, near Williamsburg, is beginning its 24th late winter/spring season, an analysis is out from the Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) about how the hawks are doing. We get asked that question a lot at both College Creek and at Kiptopeke Hawkwatch in the fall. These hawkwatch sites all across the continent send their data to HMANA for statistical analysis. The Raptor Population Index study is an ongoing effort to track trends.
The answer about how the hawks are doing is not simple as hawks are spread out over a very large area. Still, there are trends, which are significant. In the latest edition of the journal "Hawk Migration Studies" there is this to say about the 2019 spring season for the eastern flyway, from editor Brian Wargo:

"...the flyway is represented by 28 hawkwatch sites in 9 states...the most northern is Cooper, Maine, the southernmost is College Creek..."
There is an "unmistakable rise in Bald Eagle numbers...unmistakable decrease in Sharp-shinned Hawks, Cooper's Hawks and Red-tailed Hawks....Northern Harrier numbers have dropped significantly..."
For three mid-Atlantic sites, which includes College Creek..."Northern Harriers were at a record low...Sharp-shinned Hawk levels were the second lowest value in 15 years...markedly negative trends for American Kestrels..."
Long-term studies are needed, of course, which is why we continue to monitor the migrations.

It should be no surprise as habitat is lost that bird numbers for many species are decreasing, but information can inform conservation efforts. The data we collect helps organizations like HMANA, American Bird Conservancy, VA Dept of Game & Inland Fisheries and others to make informed decisions and to advocate for conservation actions for hawks.

For those who want to know more, HMANA has a number of resources and an excellent website for further information.

Meanwhile, seek refuge in the open spaces in our community while practicing social distancing as we are doing at the College Creek Hawkwatch. Many trails and parks are open even if the buildings are not open and staffed. We’re fortunate to have an abundance of national, state, local, and private parks and refuges in the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Take a mental and emotional health break and get outside to recharge and refresh. We’ll be together again soon. Stay well.

Other topics in this issue of our eNewsletter:
  • College Creek Hawkwatch on the James River near Williamsburg is underway
  • CVWO awards three Research Grants to graduate students
  • Volunteers start monitoring Prothonotary Warbler boxes by April 1

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Eastern Monarch Population Numbers Decrease 53% from Last Year
March 13, 2020: "Scientists estimate 2.83 hectares of North American monarchs overwintering in Mexico during 2019-2020, announced today by WWF- Mexico and the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP). The forest area occupied by monarch butterflies represents a 53.22 percent decrease compared to last year. Eleven (11) monarch butterfly colonies were located and assessed during late December 2019; three of these were located in Michoacan and eight in the State of Mexico. Most of the area occupied (2.46 hectares) was located within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve with only 0.37 hectares outside." Read more here .
The next webinar is April 28: "Research Reports from the Field: Western Population Research." Register for this free webinar here.

CVWO is a partner with Monarch Joint Venture.
College Creek Hawkwatch is Underway
The 24th College Creek Hawkwatch started February 29 and every day 2-3 volunteers tally the migrating raptors moving north across the James River.

Don’t worry — we’re practicing social distancing out in the open air.

On March 12, we set the Turkey Vulture daily record with 195. There were also 22 Black Vultures, 5 Osprey, a Cooper's Hawk, a Bald Eagle and 4 Red-tailed Hawks, for the second-best daily count in our 23 years at 228.

We report data to  Hawkwcount.org . Bill Williams, Nancy Barnhart, and Brian Taber are regular volunteers, often joined by visitors and other volunteers.
Bill Williams scans the skies for migrating raptors at the College Creek Hawkwatch.
Volunteers start monitoring Prothonotary Warbler boxes in March and early April
Jim Easton and Brian Taber have already checked the 7 boxes on the Powhatan Creek Trail in James City County. On March 17 boxes #2 and #7 have Carolina Chickadee nests.

Dave Youker has already checked the Prothonotary Warbler boxes at Harwoods Mill Reservoir and installed a new box that disappeared. He'll check on the boxes at Lee Hall by April 1.

And Gary Driscole plans to kayak along the Dragon Run to check and repair/replace nest boxes by April 1.

Prothonotary Warblers will be back by mid-April! If you live near a swamp or forested wetland, listen out for their distinctive "sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet" song as the males start establishing territories and attract mates.
Carolina Chickadee peeks out of a Prothonotary Warbler nest box on the Powhatan Creek Trail in James City County. Photo by Jim Easton.
CVWO Awards Three Research Grants
Nick Flanders, pictured above out in the field, received the 2020 Bob Ake Research Grant from CVWO.

Nick is a PhD student in the Department of Biological Studies at Old Dominion University. Nick's research focuses on " Using remote cameras to assess the diversity of avian frugivores that use oak mistletoe ( Phoradendron lecarpum ) in forested and urban habitats in southeastern Virginia."

This grant will allow Nick to deploy 2 additional cameras in winter 2020-2021 to expand the geographic extent of sampling and results. 

In total, eight remote cameras will be deployed on fruiting oak mistletoe shrubs across eastern Virginia at sites distributed equally between forested wetland and urban habitats from Nov 2020 to Mar 2021.

Data from this camera-trapping will be used to generate habitat-specific lists of oak mistletoe frugivores. Subsequent analyses of avian survey data will focus on listed species. 

Congratulations, Nick!
Casey McLaughlin Received Ruth Beck Research Grant

Casey is a master's degree candidate in the Biology Department at William and Mary.

Her research is focused on "Feather corticosterone as a bioassay for stress from mercury exposure."

"To better study the impact of chronic mercury exposure on corticosterone over time, I have taken advantage of a technique that measures corticosterone deposited in feathers (Bortolotti et al., 2008). Circulating corticosterone is permanently deposited into feathers as they grow. Thus, each completed feather provides a picture of a bird's total circulating corticosterone over the entire several weeks of feather growth."

Congratulations, Casey!
Robin Thady, pictured above with a Zebra Finch, received the 2020 Bill Akers Research Grant from CVWO.

Robin is a master's degree candidate at William and Mary and her research is focused on "developing an acoustic warning signal to reduce bird collisions."

Per Robin, "Sound could be used as a preliminary warning signal to birds as they approach tall objects, raising their awareness so that they can visually detect the threat and change direction before a collision can occur. Acoustic warning signals have been demonstrated to cause birds to slow and redirect their flight paths away from collision hazards."

Her aims are to "Identify the most effective sound signals for deterring birds from colliding with objects" and "determine generalizability of sound signals across different species for practical use."

Congratulations, Robin!
Butterflies Appearing in April
Common Buckeye. Photo by Jim Easton
Painted Lady. Photo by Jim Easton
Zabulon Skipper. Photo by Jim Easton
Red-banded Hairstreak. Photo by Jim Easton
Nineteen species of butterflies make their first local appearance in April
By Jim Easton

Butterfly-watching remains on the list of “safe activities” (as long as we maintain social distancing).

Nineteen species of butterflies make their first local appearance in April.

Be on the lookout for:

Family Papillonidea – Swallowtails:    
  • Palamedes Swallowtail (Papilio palamedes)

Family Pieridae –Whites and Sulphurs:
  • Little Yellow (Pyrisitia lisa)

Family Lycaenidae – Gossamer-winged Butterflies:
  • Harvester (Feniseca tarquinius
  • Great Purple Hairstreak (Atlides halesus)
  • Brown Elfin (Callophrys augustinus
  • Eastern Pine Elfin (Callophrys niphon)
  • Juniper Hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus)
  • Red-banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops)

Family Nymphalidae – Brush-footed Butterflies:
  • Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
  • Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)
  • Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)
  • Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius)
  • Monarch (Danaus plexippus)

Family Hesperiidae – Spread-wing Skippers:
  • Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
  • Horace’s Duskywing (Erynnis horatius)
  • Common Sootywing (Pholisora catallus)

Sub-family Hesperiinae – Grass Skippers
  • Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus)
  • Zabulon Skipper (Poanes zabulon)
  • Pepper and Salt Skipper (Amblyscirtes hegon)
Horace's Duskywing. Photo by Jim Easton
"Riding the Wind"
Riding the Wind is a book of essays by CVWO President Brian Taber about birds, birding, and conservation, several of which were previously published. Cover art by our hawkwatcher Anna Stunkel and 20 illustrations by award-winning artist Julie Zickefoose.

For a donation of $20.00 per book (plus $5.00 shipping & handling), email Nancy Barnhart and she will mail a copy out to you.

If you live in the Williamsburg area, you can save shipping and handling by visiting Backyard Birder at 1490 Quarterpath Road, or Wild Birds Unlimited, 4625 Casey Blvd, Suite 300.

You can also get a copy from Buteo books .
You can support CVWO just by shopping at AmazonSmile
It's same Amazon you know and love. Start at www.smile.amazon.com. Log in as you always do and then look for Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory in their list of charities. Amazon donates a small portion of your purchases to CVWO! Easy as that! And thanks!
Add CVWO Merchandise to your Holiday Shopping List
Now you can show your support for CVWO with your tote bag, coffee mug, water bottle, or t-shirt! A small portion of each purchase comes back to CVWO to support our efforts.

Click over to CVWO's store on Cafe Press to see what else is available and the cost. No tax but there is a nominal shipping fee.

CVWO Has A New Website!
Visit and Share CVWO's New Website!

You'll find information on raptor, butterfly, songbird and waterbird research as well as beautiful photos and rich stories from the field!

And don't forget to support our nonprofit work with your tax-deductible donation!
CVWO's Blog Is Hopping!
Brian Taber. Photo by S Devan