Northern Neck, VA Trip Report – March 12, 2016

Twelve participants met in the Walmart parking lot, East of Fredericksburg, at 8:00am on Saturday, March 16 for our scheduled outing to the Northern Neck. Club members were Bev and Jim Arnold, Joella and Mike Killian, Joyce and Michael Bathke, Michael Ferrantino and son Matthew, Brenda Chase, Sally Knight and new members, Courtney and Warren French. Courtney and Warren have moved down from Massachusetts to open a Wild Birds Unlimited store in Central Park and we look forward to working together and seeing a lot more of them. Welcome!

After a week of temps in the upper 70’s, and even low 80’s, it was a bit of a shock to realize it was cool enough for gloves and a fleece! Still, despite the clouds it was not raining.

Our first stop was La Grange Road to scope the gravel pits for ducks and shore birds. We concentrated on the ponds to the west of the road and easily seen, right off the bat, were several Northern Shovelers with their rather comical looking paddle shaped bills and the male’s contrasting rufous flanks, white breasts and green heads. Also seen, were several Gadwall, Ring-­neck Ducks and Mallard. There was a nice grouping of Tundra Swans in the back corner and we found a lone Pied-billed Grebe and a Spotted Sandpiper. One adult and one Juvenile Bald Eagle were seen sitting on the sand bars. There was some debate on what a grouping of shore birds with long bills were, before we determined they were Snipe – Wilson’s. Located on the far side, and not apt to sit still for long, it was a bit of a challenge!

There was less action on the ponds to the East where we only had more Ring-neck Ducks and Bufflehead. However, Joyce had their scope on the top of a communications tower where there was a large black raptor, which turned out to be an Osprey – first of the season for many of us. After slightly less than an hour here, we drove East to George Washington’s Birthplace.

On arrival, walking towards the visitor center, Joella and Mike spotted a Red Fox curled up on the bank next to the parking lot. It wasn’t until they were quite close, before it got up shook itself off and slowly moved away. Made them wonder what state of health it was in. Above the visitor center, in a tall dead snag we got to see our second Osprey of the day, where it sat for some time.

Scanning the water with the naked eye, it looked empty and the usual mob of Canada Geese were not present, but once we got our scopes out we realized there was plenty to see. Most numerous, not surprisingly since they like sheltered coves, were the Ruddy Ducks, upwards of 1,000 we decided. Conspicuous, against the small Ruddies, was a male Common Merganser, a nice find, we later saw several more both male and female. When I wondered if we may be looking at Red–?breasted Mergansers at one point, Joyce made the observation that they were not having a bad hair day! So they had to be Common Mergansers.

As we started to walk the trail beside the water we got to see large numbers of Canvasback with a few Redhead’s mixed in, there were also Ring-neck’s, Bufflehead and Scaup, most lesser we think. At the same time we were hearing all manor of chips, trills, and song challenging our rusty “by-ear” ID’ing skills. “Was it a Chipping Sparrow or a Pine Warbler?” Turns out we saw both. One melodic song we kept hearing but never did figure out – very frustrating. The ground was alive with Juncos and the Eastern Cedars were full of Yellow-rumped Warblers. We saw Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. Carolina Wrens, Chickadees, and Tufted Titmice were busy and very vocal, while a Northern Mockingbird blended in to its perch atop a bleached thicket only giving itself away by its repetitive song. A Fox Sparrow was busy scraping leaves looking for food, and we heard the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher close by.

Looking out across the water to where the bay meets the river there were large numbers of Tundra Swans – did we agree on 362, or was it 361, Jim A? Spawning a discussion on how to accurately count large flocks. Mixed in, were probably a couple hundred Ring-billed Gulls, and a Bald Eagle flew overhead. We made it to the bridge across the marshy inlet before turning around and making our way back to the visitor center for a group photo.


By this time it was 11:45am and lunch was the next priority, so we drove over to the picnic area situated atop a high bluff overlooking the water. While here, we observed an Osprey bringing nesting material into the top of one of the tall pines, a place where they have nested in previous years.

Unfortunately, Brenda and I had to cut out at this point but left the others in good hands. Both Bev and Joyce reported back that they drove to Longwood Road and then back to GWBP to scan the beach. Additional species picked up were Northern Gannet, Common Goldeneye, and Horned Grebes. A little beach combing also netted some shark’s teeth!

A total of 43 species were seen on the trip. Thanks to all participants – a good time was had by all.


Sighting List

Double-crested Cormorant

Wilson’s Snipe

Tundra Swan

Ring-billed Gull

Canada Goose

Mourning Dove


Belted Kingfisher


Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

American Widgeon

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Northern Shoveler

Northern Flicker

Green-wing Teal

American Crow


Carolina Chickadee


Tufted Titmouse

Lesser Scaup

Carolina Wren

Ring-neck Duck

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Common Goldeneye

American Robin


Northern Mockingbird

Common Merganser

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Ruddy Duck

Pine Warbler

Turkey Vulture

Northern Cardinal


Chipping Sparrow

Red-tailed Hawk

Song Sparrow

Bald Eagle

Fox Sparrow

Spotted Sandpiper

Dark-Eyed Junco

Red-winged Blackbird

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