Field trip to Madison Run
Bad weather forced the cancellation or postponement of two Augusta Bird Club field trips in January, including the scheduled trip to Highland County. But conditions improved on January 27, as ten club members (and friends) went hiking along the Madison Run Fire Road, on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park near the town of Grottoes. Approximately 22 species were identified by sight or sound, including some at a nearby house with a feeder. The highlight was a brief view I had of a Ruffed Grouse that flushed from the bushes along the road. A Hermit Thrush and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were also seen by some members, but not me. Afterwards, some of the participants paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane and saw two Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Northern Harrier.
Other birds of note
On January 7, Jacqueline and I were in Waynesboro, so I stopped at the pond along Rt. 254 on northeast edge of town where I had seen the Trumpeter Swan the week before, and this time got some nice, well-lit photos.
On January 23, we were on a casual country drive north of town, and spotted an American Kestrel on a fence post near Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. It was a great photo op, and perhaps my best photo ever of that species.
I was in Harrisonburg on January 24, so I stopped at the JMU Arboretum for the first time in several months, and was rewarded with nice views of a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Then I drove to Bridgewater in hopes of seeing something special [on the North River], but only saw a couple Pied-billed Grebes and an American Coot. Back home, one of our canaries started giving an alarm call, and I soon realized there was a Cooper's Hawk in a tree out back, so I snapped a quick picture before it flew off.
February birding blues
Except for the Short-eared Owls (see below), there wasn't really much birding activity for most of this month. On February 9, I went to a neighborhood in Waynesboro in hopes of seeing a Baltimore Oriole that has been there for over a month, but I struck out. There were plenty of Robins, Cedar Waxwings, and other birds at least. On February 23, I drove up to Dayton, hoping to see a White-winged Scoter on Silver Lake, but it was already gone. I did at least get another look at the Long-tailed Duck that I had seen there in December. I also had distant views of Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and a Bufflehead. A few American Coots were farther away. By the White Wave plant [in Mount Crawford] on the way home, I saw a group of Common Grackles, another sign that spring is drawing near!
Field trip to Montgomery Hall Park
On Saturday, February 24 I led a field trip to Montgomery Hall Park, with seven club members attending altogether. Temperatures were mild, but it was overcast, resulting in mediocre visibility. Approximately 30 species were seen or heard over the course of two and a half hours walking through the woods. Many birds were singing and calling, but most of them remained out of sight. Among the most notable birds we saw were a dozen or so Cedar Waxwings, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a couple Killdeers in the field to the south. We also heard Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pileated Woodpeckers, and a Hermit Thrush. On a farm pond about 200 yards to the south, we spotted some Gadwalls, along with Canada Geese and Mallards.
More Short-eared Owls!
To the amazement and delight of local birders (and visitors), the Short-eared Owls that took up seasonal residence in the Bell's Lane area late in November have remained there throughout the winter. I took average-quality photos of them on January 16, February 14, as the skies were getting dark after dusk. But I finally lucked out on February 26, when the owls came out before the sun went down. Even though I couldn't get any [close-range] photos in the sunlight, I had some great photo ops when some of them obliged me by perching in the nearby dead tree before it got too dark. I saw as many as five owls at one point, and some birding folks visiting from upstate New York were quite thrilled. They didn't know which owl species it was until I told them. They were just randomly passing by Staunton, and couldn't have picked a better time and place!