Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in Winter

This weekend Sharon and I joined the Williamsburg Bird Club and others for a boat trip to the islands of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. We left out of Lynnhaven Inlet in Virginia Beach. The boat dock was opposite Pleasure House Point Park so we were able to see a different view of the flats in Lynnhaven Inlet as we waited for the boat to load and leave. There were many Greater Black-backed Gulls on the dock. One of them picked up a fish remains from a neighboring fish cleaning station. That brought out the thief in his companions. There was a lot of commotion.

And finally one of the gulls escaped with part of the fish for a quiet breakfast.

One the way out of the inlet we passed this pair of Brants. We were surprised that these were the only Brants seen during the day.

At Island #1 there were many hundreds of gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. Among the many gulls on the rocks we found this Lesser Black Backed Gull.

At Island #2 Sharon and I had our first life bird of the trip, Great Cormorants (the ones of the left edge).

At this island we had our first harbor seal

and Northern Gannet. I particularly like the shadow style of the image.

Island #3 held the best finds of the day. From a distance we could see a large number of seals hanging out on the rocks and swimming in the current.

One of the target birds for the trip was Harlequin Ducks. They like rocky shores of which Virginia is generally lacking. But the artificial islands of the bridge tunnel provides their desired habitat so many winters we will have a few hang out. They are one of the most interestingly colored birds of North America. Unfortunately, we ended up looking into the sun so the photos aren't great.

While searching for the ducks, Ernie spotted a Black-legged Kittiwake. Right afterwards most of the gulls flushed but resettled. It took several minutes but the bird was refound. This is a terrible picture but the all black wing tips are diagnostic so the picture wasn't a total waste of electrons.

On the way back in the crew threw some chum into the water. It attracted a lot of Great Black Backed Gulls and then probably a hundred Gannets. All the birds passed really close to the boat allowing for some interesting shots. Here are a few of my favorite photos.

The birds diving into the water were really near to see. Like the Great Black Backed Gull coming in for a landing

Or these gannets diving into the water after fish remains.

And the final great bird of the day was an Iceland Gull that joined the fray near the end.

We ended up with 32 species; each of us with one species the other person missed. Sharon's find was a Razorbill while mine was Brown-headed Cowbirds. I would have gladly traded my find for seeing her's.