"Protecting Wildlife Through Field Research, Education and Habitat Conservation For 25 Years"
For this January 2020 eNewsletter, we've included a collage of birds you might expect to see on your Great Backyard Bird Count in February. How many can you identify? Answers at the end of this newsletter.
Many thanks to Jim Easton for his photos and collage.
January 2020
A Word from the Prez!

Happy New Year and welcome to the 2020’s! Our 25 th  anniversary year – 2019 – was a grand success. New sponsorships and new friends along with continued success on our ongoing efforts are very gratifying.
So, what do citizen scientists and field researchers do in the winter? Many of our Board members and supporters participated in Audubon Christmas Bird Counts in the Coastal Plain of Virginia. CVWO sponsored the Cape Charles and Nassawaddox Christmas Bird Counts on the Eastern Shore (and helped pay to rent the boat for the island surveys for Cape Charles Count). Many thanks to Harry Armistead for sending along summaries. See highlights below for the Cape Charles CBC with a link to the summary of the Nassawadox CBC.

The winter months are for report writing! Several of our partners require reports in exchange for access to areas not open to the public. You can read a short summary of CVWO’s 2019 Monarch Migration Study Project below. Many thanks to Michael Ferrara for the Monarch data. FULL reports (along with our other efforts) will be in the 2019 Annual Field Research Report released in the spring. [That’s another winter project!]
Finally, the significant publicity in just the last two weeks about the destruction of the tern and gull nesting site at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel has reached national media with loud outcries from birders and conservationists who are actively petitioning Virginia government officials, writing letters, and speaking at agency meetings to persuade powers-that-be to fund a solution to the habitat destruction on the existing tunnel island. CVWO sent written comments to Board meeting of VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries in Richmond January 23. For many years CVWO members assisted Ruth Beck, W&M biology professor, in seabird surveys at HRBT. After her death in 2015, CVWO continued surveying there through 2018 with permission from the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and VA Department of Transportation.
If you are so inclined, we urge you to contact state officials and ask them to mitigate this loss. The solutions are known, and the cost is miniscule compared to the total cost of the new tunnel construction. See the note below for links to recent opinion and news pieces and where to send your letters.

Other topics in this issue of our eNewsletter:
  • Register for Monarch Conservation Webinars
  • Join in the Great Backyard Bird Count
  • Summary of 2019 Monarch Butterfly Season on lower Eastern Shore
  • Summary of Cape Charles Christmas Bird Count
  • Butterflies in February?

We look forward to seeing you out in the field in 2020 and sharing our stories with you as the this season begins. Thanks, as always, for your support.

CVWO President

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Contact State Officials to Urge Construction of Island for Nesting Birds Next to HRBT
The plight of the nesting location for terns and gulls on the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel has reached the national media and the outcry has increased for Virginia officials to implement a solution for these birds that will return in April.

Below are links to several news articles and opinion pieces that appeared in January.

January 26 an opinion piece appeared the Virginian-Pilot written by Michael Lipford, former executive director of The Nature Conservancy and by Dr. Mitchell Byrd, Professor Emeritus of biology at William and Mary and founder of the Center for Conservation Biology at W&M/VCU. Their summary: "We believe it is wrong to remove seabirds from the lower James River ecosystem. We need our state leaders to work together to provide short and long-term solutions for the birds before they return. It is the right thing to do."

In a Washington Post opinion piece, January 10 , Mike Parr, President of American Bird Conservancy says, " the state could build a new breeding island for the birds — a tried-and-true technique, and one that Virginia  has used successfully before. But this will take time, and construction needs to start almost immediately."

In a Virginian-Pilot, January 15 editorial , the Editorial Board concludes " The HRBT expansion is a necessity for this region, but surely the commonwealth can find a way to balance environmental protection with infrastructure construction. The absence of penalty from Washington should not be a license to do irreversible harm.

CVWO has mailed letters to four state executives encouraging support for the creation of an island adjacent to the new tunnel being built at the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel between Hampton and Norfolk.

The birds need your help! Let state officials know you care.

Royal Terns on Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel
Will you write a letter to Virginia officials in favor of building an island for this waterbird colony that will otherwise be lost due to inaction. Urge them to do the "right thing."

Here are names and addresses (feel free to copy and paste):

The Honorable Ralph S. Northam
Governor of Virginia
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, VA 23218

Matthew J. Strickler
Secretary of Natural Resources 
Patrick Henry Building
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Ryan Brown, Executive Director
VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
P.O. Box 90778, 
Henrico, VA 23228-0778

Ms. Shannon Valentine, Secretary
Virginia Department of Transportation
1401 E. Broad St.
Richmond, Virginia 23219
2020 Monarch Conservation Webinars
First webinar is February 25

The Monarch Joint Venture is partnering with the US Fish & Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center to present 11 webinars in 2020 on all things Monarch.

The February topic is " Monarchs in the Rough: Creating Habitat on Golf Courses."

Register here for these free sessions.
Join In the Great Backyard Bird Count
February 14 - 17
Your data help scientists!
The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a free, fun, and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online . Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology  and the  National Audubon Society  learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Last year, more than 160,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

There's also a photo contest! See details here .

Virginia was 6 th in number of checklists submitted in 2019, behind only California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania. We were ahead of Washington, Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan.

Let's keep up the good work for 2020.
Summary of 2019 Monarch Butterfly Season on the Lower Eastern Shore
By Michael Ferrara, above
The 2019 Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory (CVWO) Monarch Migration project was successful, with 761 Monarchs tagged and over 3,000 observed in daily point counts on the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The 22 nd  season of the CVWO Monarch Migration project ran from September 15 th  to November 15 th , 2019. As part of this project, I conducted roost surveys at Wise Point at the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge (ESVNWR) and point count surveys at the Visitor’s Center for the ESVNWR for approximately 30 minutes daily beginning at 11 a.m.

Blue Mistflower  (Conoclinium coelestinum)  was the primary nectar source throughout the season with over 65% of Monarchs being caught on it. Goldenrod was the second most important nectar source for Monarchs.

Of the 761 Monarchs tagged, 463 were male and 298 were female. This ratio falls between those of the last 3 years.  This year males made up 60.8%  and females made up 39.2% of all tagged Monarchs. These findings are more in line with the ratios of last year of 59% males, compared to the 65% males that were tagged the two years prior. 

The migration had somewhat low numbers compared to recent years potentially due to significantly strong winds and a smaller migration from the Northeast this year. This can be seen with Anna Stunkel's relatively huge Monarch count from the hawk watch platform. Stronger winds would keep Monarchs higher in the sky making them difficult to capture and tag.

The pollinator field created by Kiptopeke State Park in 2016 near the hawk watch provided an excellent location for Monarchs looking to feed on Mistflower and Goldenrod.

ESVNWR had expansive fields of Goldenrod that were heavily used by Monarchs although they were relatively difficult to access for tagging.

This year Goldenrod was not the prominent nectar source for Monarchs, which was a surprise. Even more interesting, Goldenrod was very prevalent at Magothy Bay State Natural Area Preserve, Pickett’s Harbor and parts of KSP such as Taylor Pond. Yet Monarchs were rarely seen in these areas.
For the past 23 years, CVWO has researched and documented monarch butterflies during fall migration at Kiptopeke State Park and the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. During this same time the North American monarch population plunged 80% due to pesticides and habitat loss. CVWO's research is provided to international science databases and contributes to the monarch's survival.

In this video you will hear from Michael Ferrara, CVWO's monarch biologist, who shares insights into the unique geographic feature of the peninsula of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and how this super highway for monarch and raptor migration provides tremendous opportunities for CVWO, scientists and the public to encounter the butterfly and hawk migration in the fall.
By Harry Armistead. Count compilers: George Armistead and Ned Brinkley

This count was Monday, December 30, 2019, with 26 participants finding 148 species. Of most interest: two birds new to the count, a yellow-throated vireo and a white-winged dove. After more than half-a-century, new species are not found every year.  

This area at the end of the long Delmarva Peninsula both concentrates some species and makes others at times unusually scarce. We are still learning its salient features. Since only two active birders live here, the count is dependent on observers from elsewhere. Coastal Virginia Wildlife Observatory sponsors the count, helps in a big way to fund the fee for the all-important boat party that finds the lion’s share of shorebirds. 

Notable are record highs of 15 orange-crowned warblers (seen by 5 parties) and 9 blue-headed vireos (seen by 2).  A high tide helped produce good numbers of the three reclusive marsh sparrow species and 2 wrens: 36 saltmarsh, 19 Nelson’s and 17 seaside sparrows plus 11 sedge and 7 marsh wrens. Twenty Ipswich sparrows are also a good total.

Other higher-than-normal totals are 7 peregrine falcons, 207 brown pelicans, 14 red-shouldered hawks, 1,847 black-bellied plovers, 9,009 dunlin, 52 clapper rails, and 374 double-crested cormorants. Nice but not that unusual totals include 36 bald eagles, 4 whimbrel, 387 willets, 21 red knots, and 61 American Woodcock. In most years this count achieves the national high for woodcock.
Birders tallied 14 Red-shouldered Hawks, a higher count then normal. Photo by Steve Thornhill.
A larger-than-usual number of species were either absent or in very low numbers this time. Notably American goldfinch 2, rusty blackbird 0, purple finch 0, horned lark 0, snow goose 0, wood duck 0, American coot 0, northern bobwhite 0 (in precipitous decline all over the Mid-Atlantic region), black-crowned night heron 0, lesser yellowlegs 0, red-headed woodpecker 0, northern pintail 1, white-winged scoter 0.  

Thanks to Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge for permitting access to restricted areas and to Greg Cridlin for likewise letting our observers onto his farming property. 

Cape Charles count is December 30 every year. All are welcome.

Here is a link to the 2019 Nassawadox Christmas Bird Count summary prepared by Harry Armistead. Thanks Harry!
Butterflies in February?
Eastern Tailed-blue. Photo by Jim Easton
Sleepy Orange. Photo by Jim Easton
Cabbage White. Photo by Jim Easton
YES! After a couple of warm days, look for these gems!
By Jim Easton

Ten species of butterflies make their first local appearance in the month of February. Four photos are included here.
Be on the lookout for:

Family Pieridae-Whites and Sulphurs:
  • Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
  • Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)
  • Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme)
  • Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)

Family Lycaenidae-Gossamer-winged Butterflies:
  • Eastern Tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas
  • Summer Azure (Celestrina neglecta)

Family Nymphalidae-Brush-footed Butterflies:
  • Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
  • Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)
  • Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
Clouded Sulphur. 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

Read Brian Taber's note about an interesting thrasher that appeared in Williamsburg in December.
Answers to bird IDs in top photo collage
Clockwise from upper left: Carolina Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, House Finch, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Thrasher; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird beneath Carolina Wren, American Goldfinch under Northern Cardinal, female Red-winged Blackbird under the Eastern Towhee. The bird in the center is a Red-bellied Woodpecker. Many thanks to Jim Easton!