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A Mid-Summers Update on the VA Breeding Bird Atlas

By Ashley Peele

Eastern meadowlarks in a field

Eastern Meadowlarks CO Betty Sue Cohen

The summer is winging past and the summer solstice has already arrived!  Many mark this as the first true day of summer, but birders might argue that our summer begins when the Neotropical migratory birds return and set up shop for the breeding season.  When the trees are full of singing warblers and vireos, I always feel like summer has arrived and so I think we’ll call this our ‘Mid-Summer’ update.

So despite this being the ‘first’ day of summer, the Atlas project is now 3 months into it’s first breeding season.  Let’s take a look at how we’re doing so far…

  • 8,672 eBird checklists submitted statewide
  • 352 VA BBA eBird portal users
  • 270 Priority blocks and 1,231 Atlas blocks total receiving data
  • 150 confirmed breeding species, 223 total species reported statewide

Fantastic data results for our first few months of this project!   If you’re curious, here are the VA counties lead the charge with greatest number of effort hours so far…

  • Eastern counties: Fairfax, Fauquier, and James City
  • Western Counties: Highland, Rockingham, and Shenandoah
  • Independent Cities: Virginia Beach and Richmond City

Thanks so much to all the folks working hard to gather data on breeding birds in these and ALL counties and cities, whether you’re working hard in the mountain valleys or rolling Piedmont plains or amongst the dunes and islands of the Eastern Shore.  Each of your contributions are critical to the success of this effort.

Exciting species and breeding confirmations

The data reported by the Virginia birding community has already yielded some interesting results.

  • Mississippi Kites confirmed breeding by Richmond and Virginia Beach area
    A magnolia warbler on a branch

    Magnolia Warbler by Dick Rowe

    birders – this species was not present in VA, during the first Atlas project.

  • Magnolia Warbler also confirmed as a breeding species for the first time in Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas history by the SW regional coordinator.
  • Chuck-Will’s-Widow confirmed breeding in Isle of Wight county – the one and only breeding confirmation of this species from the first Atlas occurred on the Eastern Shore.
  • Bobolink, Double-crested CormorantBrown Pelican, and Hooded Mergansers have been confirmed in more Atlas blocks now than in the first Atlas.

Tips and Suggestions for Breeding Code Use

Hopefully most atlas volunteers have reviewed the Atlas Handbook and become well acquainted with how and when to use the breeding codes.  However, this is a learning year for everyone involved with the project, so mistakes will naturally be made.  These shouldn’t be a source of frustration, but rather a chance to learn and remember for the next year.

To help with this learning process, here are some common breeding code misuses that coordinators are working to help folks correct:

  • Using P (Pair in suitable habitat) when a species has identical males/females and no other behavioral indicators suggesting two birds are actually a ‘pair’.  This code should only be used when you are certain that two birds are a mated pair.
  • Using NB (Nest-building) for cavity-nesting or dummy-nesting species (woodpeckers, wrens, chickadees, etc.).  You should always use the B code when you observe a woodpecker excavating a cavity or a wren building a nest.
  • Entering checklists distances greater than 2 miles.  This is only acceptable if you completed a route circuit within the same block and have never crossed block boundaries.  Even in this case, checklists should really not exceed 3 miles.

The best suggestion is to err on the side of caution.  If you’re uncertain on a species ID or what code to use, don’t enter it until you’ve checked with a coordinator.  Remember that you can always go back and edit data you’ve previously entered.  In fact!  We ask that you always go back and correct errors made on earlier lists.

Bird the season out!

Remember that breeding activity will continue through August!  Now is the time when you’ll start adding more and more breeding confirmations based on FL (Recently Fledged Young) or FY (Feeding Young).  Fledglings are jumping the nests and parents are working frantically to keep them fed.  All great evidence for an Atlas volunteer to snatch up!

Remember too that many of our resident breeders are thinking about or working on brood number 2!  Keep your eyes peeled for the earlier season signs of breeding, as well.

Most of all, keep getting out there, enjoying the beautiful Virginia summer and watching all those beautiful birds.  The coordinators are here to support you and answer all your questions, so please keep that resource in mind if you are ever uncertain about data entry or observations.

Happy Birding, Virginia!

  • June 20, 2016