Just after 6 a.m. Friday, we walked slowly to a pond off Coffee Road to search for our first bird of the day.
Sure enough, five wood ducks were swimming quickly away from us. Wood ducks usually fly at the slightest motion, but these birds stayed in the water with their three youngsters.
A male wood duck is one of the most striking birds in the world, with its green head, black face, white bridle, green back, yellow sides and chestnut breast and rump.
This was the first stop on our route to help with the 48th annual Breeding Bird Survey of the Lynchburg Bird Club.
Birders fan out across a 15-mile diameter circle centered on the University of Lynchburg campus in late May or early June when birds have stopped migrating.
Michael and I spent five hours with Bob Epperson and his mother, Betty, to bird roads near our house.
Bob had birded another part of this section two days before and found a whopping 74 species, the most in his six years of doing the route. Bob knows where the birds are.
To confirm whether a bird is breeding, we look for birds carrying nesting material or food, seeing an active nest or watching fledglings being fed by a parent.
Birding with Bob is always educational; he can identify birds by sound before most people even hear them.
Our find of the day was a repeat from last year, only this time we got confirmation.
Summer tanagers, neotropic birds that generally nest farther east in the Piedmont, have found a spot they like here.
The male summer tanager is a stunning, all-red bird, while the more common male scarlet tanager is red with black wings. Both females are mostly yellow though the summer has olive green wings while the scarlet’s wings are blackish.
On Friday, we hit the jackpot when I watched the male summer head to his nest high in a white oak with an insect in his mouth.
Just up the hill, we heard the continuing call of a barred owl we had called in minutes earlier. The owl had swooped over our heads and landed in a nearby tree to keep an eye on us.
During the survey, birders are asked to refrain from using phone apps to call birds, but an exception is made for finding owls.
Another stop yielded a pair of red-headed woodpeckers repeatedly going into a hole in a dead tree, evidence of a nesting pair.
We also saw a red-tailed hawk, perched atop a snag, being harassed by Baltimore orioles and a mockingbird.
We heard, and finally spotted, a yellow-breasted chat, a colorful yellow and olive green bird, a first for me.
Once again, I found a nest by watching a male Baltimore oriole carry food to his young.
We finished shortly after 11 a.m. with 57 species and 17 breeding confirmations, adding five new species to Bob’s total, which will be tallied with those of other birders to help track how birds are faring.
Shannon Brennan is a Central Virginia Master Naturalist, a Lynchburg Tree Steward and a volunteer for the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club and the James River Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.