Ten Days In May:* Bird migration season peaks
The weather was very good for the first ten or so days of May, enabling us birders to fully enjoy the peak of migration season. It was raining from Saturday until Monday (May 11-13), and so before things get busy again, I'd better get recent bird events down for the record.
As mentioned in the travel blog post of today, on May 4 Jacqueline and I drove to the Richmond are, and while she was with her sister, I did some birding in the nearby Dutch Gap area along the James River. Whereas the previous time I was there (June 2016) I had a hard time getting good looks (or photos) of my main target bird, the Prothonotary Warbler**, this time I heard and then saw one within 50 feet of the parking lot! There were several more after that, and I got much better photos this time around. I also heard and then saw a White-eyed Vireo**, I heard and finally got my first clear looks at a Red-eyed Vireo** this year. Toward the end of my walk, I heard what I thought was an Indigo Bunting but then realized it lacked the buzzy tone of that bird. Then I remembered that Yellow-throated Warblers** have such a song, so I played it on my Audubon iPhone app, and within a minute or two, one came flying in my direction! Hallelujah!! It was the first time I had seen that species since I was in Florida three years ago, and the first time I have seen one in Virginia in almost ten years, I think. (My records are out of date, but I'm working on fixing that.) Besides the birds in this photo, I also saw a few Ospreys, including one in a nest across the river, as well as Double-crested Cormorants**, a young Bald Eagle, and over one hundred Black Vultures.
* = the first I have seen this year
** = the first I have seen or heard this year
Field trip to Blue Ridge Parkway
Three days later, on Monday May 6, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and was joined by ten other members of the club. Driving the lead car in a caravan of four vehicles (later five), I paused by the Swannanoah golf course to take a photo of a Chipping Sparrow, and was astounded that it turned out to be one of my best-ever shots of that species. Our first major "hot spot" was by the telecommunications tower a couple miles south of the Afton Inn. We heard and/or saw a wide variety of warblers, including my first Hooded** and Cerulean Warblers** of the year, and heard a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Red-headed Woodpecker, and a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the distance. There wasn't much going on at the Humpback Rocks visitor center, so we continued to a stretch of road at Mile Marker 8 with just enough grass to park safely. There we saw a Yellow-throated Vireo**, a couple Goldfinches, and a flock of small birds that turned out to be Pine Siskins. That was a big surprise! The final stop was at Hickory Springs overlook, near Mile Marker 12. There we saw more Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler** There were a couple "misses," but all in all, the trip was a great success!
The very next day, Ann Cline and I returned to the same area, in hopes of getting better photos. Smart move! Once again we saw Hooded as well as Cerulean Warblers at multiple locations. At one point I spotted an Osprey flying high overhead, and managed to snap a quick shot before it was gone. I saw one of the Red-headed Woodpeckers that we had heard the day before, but only briefly from a distance. Soon we met up with two other birders, Pete and Faye Cooper, and later on encountered Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer who lives on the east side of the Blue Ridge. At one point Pete and I had great closeup looks at two male Cerulean Warblers that were fighting over territory, flitting about the shrubs right next to the road. It was a great photo op, and I got my best-ever photos of that species. (They tend to stay high in the tree tops, and only rarely do I see their pale blue backs.) We had better views of the Pine Siskins than the day before, and I had a brief look at a female Indigo Bunting; they tend to stay out of sight during breeding season.
Thursday morning Jacqueline and I went for a walk along Bell's Lane, and I was amazed to see a Yellow-throated Vireo in a nearby tree, not very high up. I glimpsed a Common Yellowthroat**, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and American Redstart in the wetland trees, but could only get mediocre photos of them. I returned in the afternoon, after the sun came out, but didn't see much other than an Eastern Kingbird until I reached the northern portion of Bell's Lane. There I had very good views of a Yellow Warbler and a Baltimore Oriole, both males.
Finally, on Friday May 10 I had to take care of some personal matters in Weyer's Cave, after which I decided to drive a bit farther north, up to Hillandale Park on the west side of Harrisonburg. I heard a variety of songbirds as soon as I left my car, and I soon saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Cerulean Warbler, an American Redstart, and best of all, a Bay-breasted Warbler**! [All were fairly high in the trees.] After that, however, bird activity quickly waned. There were many Common Grackles and Robins, a female Purple Finch, and an Eastern Towee, but not much else. So I headed to Cook's Cove Arboretum in Bridgewater, hoping to see the Eastern Screech Owl** that has been reported there. The first nest box I saw had a squirrel poking its head out, to my annoyance, but the second box was the owl!! I also heard a bird singing in the trees nearby, and soon had a pretty good photo of a Common Yellowthroat. Thus ended an especially rewarding first ten days of the merry, merry month of May!
For additional photos, see the Wild Birds yearly page.
* This is the second time I referred to a movie in the headline of a birding blog post; on April 20 there was a sly reference to a song from the movie The Producers.