Bird breeding season is here!
Now that migrating birds have settled down, breeding season is well underway. (For most resident bird species such as Cardinals, breeding season begins a couple weeks sooner, and there's often a second brood in mid-summer.) Here's a quick review of my more significant birding adventures over the past three month, since the spring semester ended.
On Saturday May 16, I joined other Augusta Bird Club members in their annual picnic-brunch. Like last year (which I was unable to attend), it was held at Natural Chimneys, in northern Augusta County. Our group saw a number of interesting birds during a 45-minute walk along a trail, the best one being a Yellow-throated Vireo. That's a bird I have only seen a few times, and in fact I considered myself lucky to have seen one at Sweet Briar College the last day I went birding there in early May. Other birds seen at Natural Chimneys included Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Towhee, Black & White Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Goldfinch, Red-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrush, and Pileated Woodpecker. It was a very pleasant day, in contrast to the very windy conditions which were experienced there a year earlier.
On Friday May 22, Jacqueline and I went for a short walk to the recently-rebuilt dam and reservoir on Coles Run, in the Big Levels area. There weren't many birds around in the afternoon, but I did see an Osprey perched on a tree limb, as well as a Blue-headed Vireo.
On Monday May 25, I hiked about half-way up the Road Hollow trail, beginning at the Ramsey's Draft picnic area in western Augusta County. Among the birds I saw were Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Black & White Warblers, Eastern Towhee, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler (WOW!), Pine Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. I also heard Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, and Scarlet Tanagers, but didn't see any.
On Saturday May 30, after mowing the grass at church (!), I hiked for about a mile south of the Confederate Breastworks, which is very near the Road Hollow trail. I had been on that trail once before, but did not go as far. I would have gone farther, but had to turn back when it started to rain. Along the way I saw Ovenbirds, Black & White Warblers, Eastern Towhee, Red-eyed Vireos, and Scarlet Tanagers.I also heard but did not see Black-throated Green Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, a Great Crested Flycatcher, and a probable Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
On Monday June 1, I went for a hike up Furnace Mountain trail, beginning at the Madison Run trail head entrance to the Shenandoah National Park east of Grottoes. Birds of note that I saw included Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Towhee, Prairie Warbler (a big surprise), Indigo Bunting, Goldfinch, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-headed Vireos.
On Saturday June 6, I went looking for a new way into the Big Levels area, hoping to reach a parking area marked on my trail map, which unfortunately turned out to be faulty. The road in question dead-ended at a private property line, so I had to take a detour all the way to the entrance to St. Mary's Wilderness, about four miles south. I ended up doing a lengthy excursion from there all along Coal Road all the way to the entrance near the campground south of Stuarts Draft, which is how I usually approach the Big Levels area. I stopped briefly at a couple trail heads, and spent well over an hour hiking about a mile up Forest Road 162, which zig-zags back and forth. I saw several Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Blue-headed Vireos, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Towhee, and Indigo Bunting. While hiking I observed a lot of disturbed or excavated earth, which made me wonder if the Dominion people have begun doing work to lay the controversial natural gas pipeline. (It hasn't been approved yet, so it must be something else.)
Finally, on Sunday June 7, Jacqueline and I drove up to the Reddish Knob area at the corner between Augusta County, Rockingham County, and West Virginia. We were disappointed by the overcast skies, but the venture proved very worthwhile nonetheless. On the way up we stopped at the Briery Creek reservoir, and heard some Northern Parulas. Before long I coaxed one into close range and got a very good photo of it in a bush. That was a surprise bonus. As we reached the higher elevations, we found lots of Chestnut-sided Warblers, as expected, but no Black-throated Blue Warblers, which I had seen there last year. We also saw Scarlet Tanagers, Blackburnian Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Indigo Buntings, and a Veery! Several others (most notably, Black-throated Green Warblers) were heard but not seen. It's a wonderful place to go birding, and I was amazed at the variety and number of interesting birds all around.
The above photos, and many more, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.