Peak bird migration season (?)
The final days of April and early days of May are traditionally the busiest in terms of neotropical migrant birds passing through Virginia. Having more free time this spring than in past years, I was hoping to get out and look for migrating birds much more often, but I just haven't done as much as I had hoped. My main focus has been Bell's Lane, in particular the beaver pond at the north end, where Wilson's Snipes were seen since early April. The last time I saw it there was April 26, which was also the first day this year ("FOY") that I saw four bird species: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Louisiana Waterthrush. (I saw two of the latter species along the Middle River a mile or so west of Verona, a location I went to specifically in search of them.) It was a sunny day, and I got good photos of all those species, as well as the two species of sandpipers that I had had a hard time distinguishing on earlier visits to the beaver pond.
On Friday April 28 I joined four other bird club members on a field trip to Chimney Hollow that had been rescheduled because of rain showers on Monday. As usual for this time of year, there were many small wildflowers in bloom, but relatively few birds. We saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler (FOY), and a Northern Parula (FOY), with glimpses of a few other birds. The weather was cool but slowly warmed later in the morning; we dodged a bullet in terms of more forecast wet weather that day.
After the other members returned to Staunton, I headed west on my own to Ramsey's Draft, which was quite busy with birds of all kinds. Goldfinches and Chipping Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. I spotted five kinds of warblers (American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Ovenbird), the first two of which were my first sightings this year. In addition, I saw a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest on a tree branch; I'll have to go back and check on that nest again soon. Finally, I saw a FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) at the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.
BIG Spring Day
The very next day, April 29, was "Big Spring Day," when Augusta Bird Club members go out and systematically count all the birds they see or hear within certain bird-friendly locations. I was assigned to cover two places in Staunton, and got started in Montgomery Hall Park just after 8:30. I was encouraged to see my first Indigo Bunting of the year within a few minutes, a male singing from the top of a tree branch. A while later I heard the characteristic buzzing call of that species and then saw two males engaged in a low-altitude "dog fight." After driving up from the lower part of the park to "YuLee's Trail" (named for YuLee Larner, Staunton's "bird lady" for many years), I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops. Another FOY! To my surprise, a Double-crested Cormorant flew past in the distance, but the only photo I got was too blurry for a positive ID. I also saw a American Redstart, but it flew away before I could take a good photo, and all that you can see is the tail. I also had a nice view of a Pileated Woodpecker and the first Cedar Waxwings I had seen in several months. But the unquestioned highlight of that area was a Kentucky Warbler, which drew my attention by its harsh-toned song which I couldn't quite identify -- and then I saw its face!
Next I went over to Betsy Bell Hill, and was delighted to hear a nearby Wood Thrush as soon as I got out of my car. I had high hopes for getting a good photo, but to my surprise never even saw it. They can be elusive. I walked toward adjacent Mary Gray Hill where were a number of warblers singing high up in the trees (especially Redstarts), but it was hard to get photos. Back on Betsy Bell Hill itself, there wasn't much going on until I drove to the very top, where the observation deck is located. There I saw a few more birds, including a Worm-eating Warbler, my ninth warbler species of the day. Not bad!
Here are the two "official reports" I submitted for the day:
Montgomery Hall Park, Staunton, Virginia, US Apr 29, 2017 8:40 AM - 11:20 AM Protocol: Traveling 1.0 mile(s) Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club 44 species Canada Goose 1 Double-crested Cormorant 1 Black Vulture 5 Turkey Vulture 2 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2 Mourning Dove 3 Red-bellied Woodpecker 1 Downy Woodpecker 3 Hairy Woodpecker 1 Northern Flicker 1 Pileated Woodpecker 1 Eastern Phoebe 1 Great Crested Flycatcher 2 Blue-headed Vireo 2 Red-eyed Vireo 2 Blue Jay 7 American Crow 3 Fish Crow 1 Carolina Chickadee 7 Tufted Titmouse 9 White-breasted Nuthatch 2 House Wren 1 Carolina Wren 10 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3 Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1 Eastern Bluebird 2 Wood Thrush 1 American Robin 5 Northern Mockingbird 1 European Starling 12 Cedar Waxwing 5 Black-and-white Warbler 2 Kentucky Warbler 1 Seldom seen here; photographed. American Redstart 2 Yellow-rumped Warbler 2 Chipping Sparrow 1 Field Sparrow 3 Song Sparrow 3 Eastern Towhee 11 Scarlet Tanager 1 Northern Cardinal 20 Indigo Bunting 3 Two males were fighting. Brown-headed Cowbird 1 American Goldfinch 5 View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36415477
Betsy Bell Hill, Staunton, Virginia, US Apr 29, 2017 11:45 AM - 1:30 PM Protocol: Traveling 1.5 mile(s) Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club 27 species Turkey Vulture 6 Red-tailed Hawk 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker 3 Downy Woodpecker 1 Pileated Woodpecker 1 Blue-headed Vireo 1 Red-eyed Vireo 1 Blue Jay 5 American Crow 1 Tufted Titmouse 2 White-breasted Nuthatch 3 Carolina Wren 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1 Wood Thrush 2 American Robin 1 European Starling 4 Worm-eating Warbler 1 Black-and-white Warbler 1 American Redstart 4 Northern Parula 1 Blackburnian Warbler 1 Black-throated Blue Warbler 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler 4 Black-throated Green Warbler 3 Eastern Towhee 2 Scarlet Tanager 2 Northern Cardinal 3 View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36417911 This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)
Since I was making a formal count, I figured I should post a second photo montage of that day, for the record. These photos aren't that impressive, so I didn't bother to post the montage on Facebook, as I usually do.
The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Finally, I heard and then saw a few Bobolinks at the high part of Bell's Lane on May 1, but skies were cloudy and I couldn't get a good photo. The sun was out when I returned yesterday, but they weren't there. A couple Solitary Sandpipers remain at the beaver pond, but that was about it.
Construction & destruction
While at the top of Betsy Bell Hill on Big Spring Day, I had a good view of the Construction site at the entrance to the Frontier Culture Museum on the east side of Staunton. We have been aware of such plans for a long time, but I am dismayed by the extent of tree removal that has taken place. Construction vehicles were busily excavating land right up to the parking lot where the Bluebird Trail sign is located. In terms of habitat for birds, it's a veritable disaster. In the photo below, you can also see the construction site on the other side of Richmond Road, where a new motel / commercial complex is being built on the site where Western State Hosptial formerly stood.