Spring bird migration 2014
Well, here it is the middle of June, and I haven't had a blog post about birds for over six weeks? What gives? Ironically, May was quite a spectacular month for bird watching, and June has been pretty good as well. I was so busy birding and posting photos of birds to this Web site and to Facebook that I didn't have time to write about it via the blog. Weird. I'm afraid I didn't manage to visit either Piney Grove (where the Red-cockaded Woodpeckers live in a protected habitat) or to Dismal Swamp (where Prothonotary Warblers and Swainson's Warblers abound), as I had planned. And once again, I failed to make a visit during migration to Warbler Road, near Buchanan, Virginia. But let's concentrate on the positives:
On Saturday April 26, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow, in western Augusta County. The skies were clear, but because of all the rain on Friday, the trail was sopping wet and we couldn't even make the first stream crossing, so we had to turn back. But even so, we had some great encounters with some interesting birds. Early on, we heard Louisiana Waterthrushes singing loudly, but we never did see one for sure. We also heard a first-of-year Northern Parula (or two) singing not far away, and after a while, we finally got some great closeup views, and photos. (See link below.) Very rewarding! We also saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Blue-headed Vireos, a Broad-winged Hawk, a Pileated Woodpecker, and White-breasted Nuthatches. Finally, we heard but didn't see a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
Then we headed over to nearby Braley's Pond, where we saw two Spotted Sandpipers (first of year) zipping across the water. I spotted a first-of-year Blackburnian Warbler in the tree tops, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch that came very close to us, quite a thrill. We also saw some more Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, another Broad-winged Hawk, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Phoebe. Finally, we heard but didn't see some Pine Warblers.
Frontier Culture Museum
In late April and early May I paid several visits to the Frontier Culture Museum, where I saw quite a few Palm Warblers, Yellow Warblers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. I was surprised by the great numbers in that particular location. Also I saw a first-of-year Kingbird there.
Betsy Bell Hill
I went to Betsy Bell Hill on Monday morning [May 5], and encountered a dazzling array of migrating birds passing through. Warbler fallout! Light conditions were mediocre, so it was hard to get good photos, but this montage at least gives you an idea. I saw multiple first-of-year birds -- Wood Thrush (M), Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Canada Warbler -- as well as a Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Scarlet Tanager (F), Ruby-crowned Kinglet (singing loud), Towhees, and Red-eyed Vireos.
Then I headed over to Bell's Lane, where I soon saw a first-of-year Baltimore Oriole and Orchard Oriole (both male). I also saw a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Yellow Warbler made an appearance, but the light wasn't very good.
Piney River, Rockfish Valley
On May 6 I stopped at Piney River [on the southern edge of Nelson County] in hopes of getting better photos of two special birds. Right away I heard the rising "zee, zee, zee, zee" song of the Prairie Warbler, and had no trouble coaxing it into view with my iPod. Getting it to stay put long enough for the camera to focus was another thing, but I managed a couple pretty good shots in the end. As for the White-eyed Vireos, I heard at least three, but could only manage mediocre pictures in spite of stalking them through the brambles.
But once I got to the Rockfish Valley Trail [about 20 miles further north], my luck improved. For a while, I was having a hard time getting a good look at the White-eyed Vireo that kept doing its odd clicking "song." Finally, I coaxed it into view with my iPod, and snapped a great closeup photo:
Sweet Briar College
There were lots of warblers, etc. etc. at Sweet Briar College on the morning of May 8 (after I had finished giving the final exam to my students), but the only real decent photo I got was of this (first-of-year) male Blackpoll Warbler. Good enough! There were also some Black-throated Blue Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Scarlet Tanager, and Towhees. On the way home, I stopped at the Long Mountain Wayside (Rt. 60 & Appalachian Trail), and came upon another bunch: Hooded Warblers, Redstarts, Red-eyed Vireos, Worm-eating Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Cerulean Warbler that came very close. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo of it with good lighting conditions. On the Blue Ridge Parkway, finally, I found more Redstarts, B&W Warblers, Ovenbirds. What a day!
I was heading out to Augusta Springs around noon [on May 10], and stopped at one of the trail heads to Elliott's Knob, and immediately heard a loud warbler song. My hunch was right, and before long I spotted and then photographed the Kentucky Warbler, the first one I've seen in years. Then it started to rain, or else I would have tried to get a better photo. In the morning, and later in the afternoon, I went to Bell's Lane, where I saw the two remaining Blue-winged Teals in the mud puddle, plus a Grasshopper Sparrow, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, Goldfinches, and a lone male Bobolink in the distance.
Shenandoah Nat. Park
I made several trips to the Shenandoah National Park in May and June. Most days, it was nothing spectacular, just the "usual suspects" -- Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos, Hooded Warblers, B&W Warblers, etc. One day in early May there were two slightly "late" first-of-year birds: Scarlet Tanager and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a Pileated Woodpecker that swooped past just ten or so feet above my head.
More recently, I came across two Scarlet Tanagers that were embraced in, shall we say, carnal delight. I was surprised to see Red-headed Woodpeckers up there, in an area with lots of dead (burned) trees. That's the favored habitat of that species. I'm still waiting to see my first bear of the year.
On May 16, the day after a torrential rain that flooded many low-lying areas, I drove up Briery Branch Road in Rockingham County to the vicinity of Reddish Knob, a known warbler hotspot. Indeed, I saw and photographed many Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, and Black-throated Green Warblers, among others. It was a spectacular day, and I really got lucky with the camera for once.
On Wednesday May 21, Jo King led a field trip to McCormick's Mill. Right away we saw both kinds of orioles as well as a Warbling Vireo, just like past such trips to that location. But the best part was when we went to nearby Willow Lake, and saw a Greater Yellowlegs, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, and two Bald Eagles. We also got a great closeup look at a Yellow Warbler.
[Of course, I paid many visits to Bell's Lane throughout the spring.] In late April I saw some lingering White-crowned Sparrows and eight or so Blue-winged Teals in the (flooded) mud puddle close to one of the farm entrances. In early May, the Yellow Warblers came back, as did both species of orioles, Willow Flycatchers, Indigo Buntings, Grasshopper Sparrows, Tree Swallows, etc., etc. Red-winged Blackbirds seem to be all over the place this time of year.
In April, someone reported that a Purple Gallinule had been injured by a cat in Waynesboro, so they took the poor bird to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. [It was the first one of its species ever seen in Augusta County; their normal range is in Florida and adjacent states in the southeast.] The bird was treated and released in Back Bay NWR near Virginia Beach, but it turns out that it may have left behind a mate. Another Purple Gallinule was reported near the South River across from the old DuPont/Invista plant, and I was fortunate to see and photograph it. I had seen that species once before, when I was in the Everglades in December 1985, but I didn't know what it was at the time. Years later, after I had become a birder, I happened to look at the photo just by chance and thus added one more to my Life Bird List.
I'll have to wait until I get back from my trip out west (including Arizona!!??) to describe my birding activities in June. For now, you can at least see the photos on the Wild Birds, yearly photo gallery page.