Spring bird migration 2018: a review
Well, here we are in the latter part of June already, and I haven't managed to summarize my birding experiences on this blog since the end of March. So, on the first day of "summer" (the solstice), here's a very brief review what happened in the spring months of April and May. A separate blog post covering birds in June will follow soon.
Throughout April I made periodic visits to Bell's Lane to check on late-lingering winter birds and newly arriving migrants. The last day I saw a Short-eared Owl there was on April 3, and the last Northern Harrier was on April 5. It was on that day that I saw my first Brown Thrasher of the season, but it may have been the same one that had been seen by other folks in that area throughout the winter months. On the beaver pond, I saw two female Hooded Mergansers (but not the Common Mergansers which Penny Warren had reported), as well as three Blue-winged Teals and two pairs of Wood Ducks. At one point, the males engaged in a dramatic "race" across the pond to impress their mates. I also heard and saw a singing male Goldfinch, as well as a gurgling Brown-headed Cowbird. There were even more at the Bell's Lane beaver pond yesterday, 6-8 total I'd say. Plus the same as before, as well as two distant, two singing loudly. In the mini-garden behind our back patio, a male Eastern Towhee showed up several times in late March and early April; we hardly ever see them here in town.
The highlight of my brief April 12 visit to Bell's Lane was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M) in back of the Augusta Bird Club kiosk. I got a nice photo showing it pecking a series of small holes in a tree from which to lap up oozing sap. (Technically, they should be called "Saplickers," not "Sapsuckers.") At the beaver pond there were at least six Wood Ducks, plus the Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals and a female Hooded Merganser. Back home, a male Northern Flicker was calling out from a tree top out back. I also saw a Kinglet, but I'm not sure which one it was.
On April 14 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro. The unquestioned highlight of the day was a Prairie Warbler; I had hoped to see many more warblers, but it was not to be. Aside from those shown below, we also saw Blue-headed Vireos. Afterwards, Peter Van Acker showed us the unfinished trail along the South River, and we walked along it for about a half miles, to North Park. There we saw an Osprey and glimpsed a White-eyed Vireo.
On April 18 Jo King led a field trip to McCormick's Mill, and we were delighted to see a Green Heron, the first one of the year for me. Most of us saw a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing his brilliant red crown, but I just couldn't get a good photo. The Osprey was awkwardly positioned toward the sun, hence the poor image quality. Later on I went to Montgomery Hall Park and spotted a House Wren, my first of the year.
On April 22 I went back to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, and just like at the field trip, there were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. But this time I had a nice view of a Palm Warbler, my first of the year. Also seen were Cedar Waxwings, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Blue-headed Vireo. At North Park (along the South River), I saw my first Northern Parula and Black-and-White Warbler of the year, as well as an Osprey.
Saturday April 28 was a beautiful day, perfect for the annual Riverfest event in Waynesboro. On my way there, I took a detour to Bell's Lane, where I saw my first Solitary Sandpiper of the year, and heard a Grasshopper Sparrow (FOY) for the first time. Then I made what I had planned to be a brief visit to Madison Run (near Grottoes), but ended up spending an hour and a half there. I saw almost all the "usual suspects," including five first-of-year birds: Broad-winged Hawk, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush (?), and Worm-eating Warbler. I also saw my first Pine Warbler, which I had heard but without seeing at Chimney Hollow on March 31. Other highlights are in the photo montage below.
April 30 was another beautiful morning, so I went out to Augusta Springs, and saw virtually the same set of birds that I had seen along Madison Run on Saturday. Once again, Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere, it seemed. I was thrilled to get a nice closeup of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but to my surprise, there were no Redstarts, Great-crested Flycatchers, or Scarlet Tanagers. It gave me the impression that some of those migrants had delayed their arrival.
Around noon on May 1 I went to Betsy Bell Hill, and almost immediately heard a Wood Thrush singing, my first one of the year. Before long, I had one in view and snapped a quick photo. I also heard a Great Crested Flycatcher (also first-of-year) and Blue-headed Vireo, and likewise eventually spotted both of them in the branches above me. Over at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, I saw a Greater Yellowlegs and Wilson's Snipe, as well as a lingering Blue-winged Teal.
The next day I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and sure enough there were warblers and other neotropical migrants almost everywhere you looked. BINGO! I saw five species for the first time this year: Scarlet Tanager, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. With all those colors, it was almost like a rainbow. I also briefly saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (also first-of-year) along Coal Road near Big Levels, and a male of that species in our back yard!
The next morning (May 3) I went to Montgomery Hall Park, and after a while came across a small flurry of bird activity. I had great views of a House Wren, and poor views of three first-of-year birds: Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Overhead a Broad-winged Hawk screamed menacingly. Just as I was about to leave, I had a nice view of a Great Crested Flycatcher, and back home I saw a Swainson's Thrush for the first time this year.
Our club picked May 5 as this year's "Big Spring Day," when we do a systematic tally of as many migratory and resident bird species as we can find. I was covering the Chimney Hollow, Braley Pond, and Elkhorn Lake areas, and had pretty good luck. In fact, I woke up to the enchanting song of a Wood Thrush right out back, a very good omen! With the occasional rain and overcast skies, it wasn't good for taking photos, but the weather probably helped boost the number of migrating birds. I tallied 13 warbler species altogether, and came across a female Wild Turkey along Rt. 250. Another nice surprise was seeing Penny Warren and Lisa Hamilton at the store in West Augusta, after we had finished our respective routes. One of the hottest hot spots was along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from Braley Pond (the first time I had hiked that far on it), where I saw several warbler species, most notably Northern Parulas. Another hot spot was near the restroom at the road that leads to Elkhorn Lake, where I saw Blackburnian Warblers, among many others.
In the morning of May 7 I went to Bell's Lane and finally saw my first Yellow Warbler of the year, as well as some Orchard Orioles, Bobolinks (also first-of-year), Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Ducks, Solitary Sandpiper, and Brown Thrasher. The latter birds were around the beaver pond. Then I headed to Betsy Bell Hill and was amazed to see several Cape May Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Eastern Wood Pewee (all three first-of-year), as well as a Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula and some Yellow-rumped Warblers. I could hear other warblers in the tree tops, but had a hard time seeing or identifying them by species.
Two days later (May 9) I joined Penny Warren on another foray to Betsy Bell Hill, and we were simply overwhelmed. I had never seen so many Bay-breasted Warblers before, and certainly not at such close range! Likewise, I was amazed by how often we heard the staccato song of a Tennessee Warbler (which I had also seen there two days before), but today we only had brief, distant views of that species. We counted 13 warblers altogether (inclduing my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, etc. Just as we were about to leave, I could not believe my eyes when a Red-headed Woodpecker flew past. It was an enchanting, most memorable morning!
On Saturday, May 12, Allen Larner led a field trip to the Shenanadoah Wetlands Bank near Stuarts Draft, under a special arrangement. (Access is strictly limited.) We heard Virginia Rails (one of the target birds) calling from the thick reeds, but never did see any. Among the notable birds that I managed to photograph (see below), we also had glimpses of a Great Blue Heron, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Louisiana Waterthrush.
Almost every spring, I see at least a few warblers and other interesting neotropical migrants in the trees in back of where we live in Staunton. This year was different, however, and I'm pretty sure it's the first year that I have not seen or heard either Yellow-rumped Warblers or Blackpoll Warblers out back. Blackpoll Warblers seemed very scarce in general, and other birders noticed the same thing. But on Thursday, May 17 (a very wet morning), I heard a loud, unusual song out back, and for a long while I was convinced it was a Wilson's Warbler, which I had seen in the same location one year earlier. It took hours of intermittent stalking before I finally realized what it really was: a Northern Waterthrush! It was the best view I had ever had of that species, and luckily I finally managed to get a nice closeup photo showing the characteristic streaked throat which usually serves to distinguish it from a Louisiana Waterthrush. There was also a Swainson's Thrush, a species which I had seen there a week or so ago, as well as a brief appearance by a Great Crested Flycatcher. (I couldn't get a photo of that one, however.) It was a successful day of very local birding!
The rainy spell finally ended on Sunday, May 20, and I saw the Swainson's Thrush out back for the last time, one day after my last sighting of the Northern Waterthrush. As the glorious sun finally reappeared, I made a quick visit to the lower part of Montgomery Hall Park, and saw my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the season -- two noisy males, in fact. Other males showing off their vocal talents included Great Crested Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, and American Redstart (first year). Then I hurried to church.
On May 24 I led a field trip to the Shenandoah Mountain trail, which passes through the Confederate Breastworks on the Augusta-Highland County line. Notwithstanding the name, it is not part of the Shenandoah National Park. The trip was originally scheduled for May 26, but I learned that I had a sudden family obligation that day, so I had to "prepone" the trip and was delighted that so many folks showed up --seven! Among the highlights that I managed to photograph (with only mediocre results) were Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, and Eastern Wood Pewee. We heard at least two Yellow-billed Cuckoos and eventually glimpsed one of them flying above. We also saw a Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Blue Warblers, an American Redstart, and an Ovenbird just a few feet away from us! Was there a nest nearby? Three of us went over to the nearby Confederate Breastworks afterwards, and were rewarded with three additional birds, including a Raven that was squawking loudly at a probable Red-tailed Hawk (immature) flying above.
On May 28 I visited Bell's Lane, but had only modest expectations given the overcast skies and rainy forecast. But then I crossed paths with Penny Warren, who told me about some Orchard Orioles, and sure enough I soon heard and saw them all around. I also saw a male Baltimore Oriole chasing a crow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird, a fascinating conflict. Further along the road, I came across three other birders -- Steve Talley, Peter Cooper, and Sanda Howland -- and eventually saw my first Grasshopper Sparrow of the year as well as many other birds. Aside from those pictured here, I saw American Goldfinches and House Finches, and heard a couple Yellow Warblers but only glimpsed one briefly. All in all, not a bad day!
Well, that takes care of that! Most of the narrative text above consists of postings I made to Facebook, edited for context and brevity. Many other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. As noted in the opening paragraph, a separate blog post covering birds in June will follow soon...