Field trip to Highland County
This past Sunday, January 6 (Day of the Epiphany!), I joined Allen Larner and two other members of the Augusta Bird Club on a field trip to Highland County. (The club generally has a trip there each June and January.) The weather forecast was excellent, with clear skies and temperatures in the 50s, but it turned out to be rather breezy, probably reducing the number of birds we saw. We departed Staunton at 8:05, reached Monterey at about 9:30 and headed north to the Blue Grass area. It was slow going at first, with hardly any birds at the former home of the O'Bryans, on the Virginia-West Virginia line. After we drove a few miles to the west side of Snowy Mountain, however, we spotted three Golden Eagles in the distance. My photos of them were barely even identifiable, but soon thereafter, we spotted a young Golden Eagle swooping over a field to the west and being harrassed by two Red-tailed Hawks, with the sunlight at a perfect angle for photos! I finally realized one of my fondest photographic ambitions, getting good-quality photos of that species, at a relatively short range. I estimate the raptors were only about 100 yards away. It was almost exactly six years ago that I first photographed a Golden Eagle (from quite a distance) with my then-brand-new Canon PowerShot SX50 camera!
Next we headed south through the village of New Hampden, but didn't see much there, so we continued farther south. We went looking for a Loggerhead Shrike that was reported on Dug Bank Road, without success. Striking out again and again, we decided to go to Bath County, much farther to the south. At a farm pond along Route 220 we finally saw a big cluster of interesting birds: Common Mergansers, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, and various other ducks and geese. It was there that we saw a young Bald Eagle to the southeast, toward the sunlight, so it was hard to get a good view. Next we drove to Lake Moomaw, and on the way in we saw lots of Juncos, White-breasted Nuthatches, a Winter Wren (glimpse), Brown Creeper, and Golden-crowned Kinglet. On the lake itself there were seven Horned Grebes and three Buffleheads, but not much else.
One of the biggest surprises of the day came near the end of our visit to Lake Moomaw. We saw some strange tiny critters swooping all around the road we were driving on, and quickly realized what they were: bats! We stopped two or three times so that I could try to get some photos, but it turned out to be almost futile, as those little things are not only fast, they change direction instantaneously! But at least I captured a few recognizable images, good enough to identify the species:
Our return trip home was relatively uneventful, and we didn't even stop at Augusta Springs or Swoope, both of which we passed along the way.
Evening Grosbeaks? No.
On December 29, I drove up to the Union Springs area in Rockingham County, in hopes of seeing the Evening Grosbeaks that had been reported there by Kevin Shank. (He is a nature photographer who publishes an excellent magazine called Nature Friend.) I spent about two hours there, but it wasn't my day. I did see lots of Juncos, Goldfinches, and other birds, at least.
Additional photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.