September 30, 2013 [LINK / comment]
Fall bird migration reaches the peak
Well, here it is the end of the month, and I really need to document the birding activities for September. Fall migration is hard to predict, but this year there have been lots and lots of warblers. Here are some of the highlights:
On Wednesday, September 4 I stopped at the Rockfish Valley trail on the way home from Sweet Briar College. It was the first time I had entered from the rear (east) side, where there are more moist thickets and bogs that are favorable to warblers. I saw many Indigo Buntings (mostly all brown), Hummingbirds, and a juvenile White-eyed Vireo.
On Saturday morning, September 7, I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We saw some warblers and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at the first overlook we stopped at, but after that there weren't as many birds. In the afternoon, most of us spent a while at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, by the Afton Inn.
On Sunday morning, September 8 I went to Bell's Lane and got decent photographs of a male Magnolia Warbler, a Philadelphia Vireo, a Willow Flycatcher, and a female American Redstart.
On Friday, September 13 I led a field trip to Sweet Briar College, with their biologist Michael Hayslett serving as our guide. He runs the vernal pools conservation program, a very worthwhile outreach effort. It was a beautiful day, and we saw many Killdeers, Bluebirds, and Chipping Sparrows, but only a few warblers. The nature highlight was a Queen Snake, dropped along a low tree branch.
Back on Bell's Lane on September 15, I saw a Lincoln's Sparrow for the first time this year, and also a Double-crested Cormorant. In both cases, I was lucky to get photographs. I went back to the Rockfish Valley trail on September 19, and saw some Hummingbirds, etc.
One of my biggest birding days of the year was September 24, when I walked along the Blackwater nature trail in Lynchburg during the afternoon between classes. I saw several Cape May Warblers, a Tennessee Warbler, a Golden-winged Warbler, and even a Bay-breasted Warbler! (I had glimpsed one on Bell's Lane during the spring migration season.) Also seen: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Scarlet Tanager, a Wood Thrush, Easter Wood Pewees, a Brown Thrasher, a probable Red-shouldered Hawk, several woodpeckers, and the "usual suspects." I got photographs of most of them, to my great delight.
Finally, Jacqueline and I went hiking in the Shenandoah National Park on Saturday, September 28. It was a chilly, overcast day, and I wasn't expecting many birds. To my surprise, I saw a Magnolia Warbler and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler at Jarman's Gap. Later, we were on a trail toward Turk Mountain and saw an Ovenbird and a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. We struggled to get across the boulders at the top of Turk Mountain, and after a while the effort finally paid off. While we were scanning the valley scenery below us, we started seeing a flurry of activity in the nearby bushes, and soon there were Black-throated Green Warblers all around us. One even landed ten feet away from me, and I managed to get a good photograph of it! There was also a Blackpoll Warbler in that group. Altogether, I saw six warbler species that day, a veritable jackpot!
As I wrote on Facebook just a while ago, "These warblers are now officially off limits to the general public, as the Shenandoah National Park (and the rest of the NPS) will remain closed until the budget showdown is resolved. Photographed in Shen. Nat. Park on Saturday." In sum, it was quite a good month of birding! There are many other new items on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
New warbler guide
From Penny Warren, I learned about The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, newly published by Princeton University Press. It looks very impressive; for details, see allaboutbirds.org.