The first weekend of June was unpleasant, with dark, ominous clouds and intermittent rain showers. It rained most of the day on Saturday, so by the time Sunday came around I was itching to get out even if only for a short walk. I went to the Richmond Nursery to pick up some plants, and as the rain had stopped by the time I was done, I went to the Richmond lagoons to see what was around.
The first thing I noticed were the swallows – several Tree and Bank Swallows were flitting above the water, catching insects on the wing. The Bank Swallows were new for my year list, and they alone made the stop worthwhile. Although they never stopped flying, it was clear that they were smaller than the iridescent blue Tree Swallows, and the bright white belly with a hint of the brown chest band was visible even in flight.
In the ponds, I counted about 30 mallards, most of which were males. I was surprised to find a pair of Northern Shovelers at the back of the second pond. The male was unmistakeable with his bright white body, chestnut flanks, green head, and over-sized black bill. I can’t recall seeing any shovelers in June before, and think it will be worth checking back here to see if they breed.
Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroats, Yellow Warblers and a single Alder Flycatcher were all singing conspicuously despite the gray day. I found a Gray Catbird in the shrubs near the entrance and a single Cedar Waxwing sitting on top of a tree. I didn’t see many insects due to the rainy weather, but a single Viceroy butterfly flew by and a number of Virginia Ctenucha moths were perching on wet blades of grass. I also noticed a pair of Soldier beetles and a firefly.
It was starting to drizzle a bit, and so I headed home to drop off my plants, stopping off at the Moodie Drive Quarry pond on the way. There I found a cormorant trying to dry off on the large rock at the back and three Common Terns hunting beyond the spit. Later, after the rain stopped I went to Sarsaparilla Trail to check out the pond. A Purple Finch was singing near the boardwalk, Red-winged Blackbirds were calling in the marsh, and the only waterfowl species of interest was a female Hooded Merganser swimming on the pond. There were no Great Blue Herons on the pond, which made me realize I still haven’t seen one here this year. However, a low, persistent call in the reeds beside me alerted to the presence of a Least Bittern. This was the exact same spot I saw one last fall…coincidence?
It started raining in earnest again so I headed back toward the parking lot. However, I realized a thrush was singing somewhere near the picnic shelter so I headed that way instead, noticing a groundhog near the outhouse as I passed by. While I was standing beneath the picnic shelter it sounded as if the bird – a Wood Thrush, I realized now – was singing in the trees right above me. I enjoyed the song for a while before trying to catch a glimpse of the singer, and a glimpse was all I got as he flew away. It was a neat experience, especially as the Wood Thrush was a new bird for Sarsaparilla Trail.
Despite the gloomy weather I managed to find a few good birds around – the Bank Swallows and Northern Shovelers at the Richmond Lagoons, the Common Terns at the Moodie Drive quarry, and the Wood Thrush and Least Bittern at Sarsparilla Trail, both of which were year birds for me even if I wasn’t able to see them. I think it’s good to out in the rain sometimes, if only to remind myself that life doesn’t stop simply because the weather is unpleasant.