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Winter Birding in Virginia

By Bruce Ingram

An image of a man holding a child who is holding binocular's both individuals are looking left.

Winter is an outstanding time to birdwatch as typically most all of the migratory bird winter residents have arrived and the cold weather also causes “winter visitors” to appear as well. I asked Kent Davis, president of the Roanoke Valley Bird Club, if he could give some potential destinations around the state where birders could see or hear some of these species. Davis is just one of seven Virginians who has birded in all 137 of the state’s jurisdictions.

First, Davis recommends that state birders consult eBird to determine where to go. Managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird compiles information on sightings from around the Old Dominion, thus resulting in the ability, according to the site, to “document bird distribution, abundance, habitat use, and trends through checklist data collected within a simple, scientific framework.” Bird clubs and individuals report this information, and their findings are there for everyone to benefit from.

An image of a woodcock hidden amongst fall leaf litter

Woodcocks are late winter visitors to Virginia. Photo by Bruce Ingram.

Davis relates that the Roanoke area, for example, is a possible destination for those wanting to find such species as evening grosbeaks, pine siskins, winter wrens, hermit thrushes and purple finches. Another quality Western Virginia hot spot is Highland County where bald and golden eagles as well as rough-legged hawks are possibilities.

On eBird, however, birders can find even more specific information. For example, let’s say that an individual not only wanted to bird in Tidewater but also specifically at Camp Pendleton in the Virginia Beach area. It’s easy to navigate the website to that specific place and learn that on recent December outings such birds as a red-throated loon, Northern gannet, and orange-crowned warbler were recorded there, as well as five brown pelicans.

Or let’s say a birdwatcher lives in Virginia’s Central Piedmont and desires to visit some close to home hot spots. He could go to eBird and learn what the Walmart Ponds in the Colonial Heights area has to offer. And that individual would find that in December, such noteworthy species as Northern shovelers (5), laughing gulls (8), and great black-backed gulls (7) made appearances. That individual could even learn the number of common birds that appeared on December 23: 55 black vultures and 25 herring gulls.

There is no off season for the Old Dominion’s birdwatchers, and the winter is certainly a fine time to venture outside.

  • January 23, 2019