Birding in mid-to-late May
The weather has been pretty cooperative during the second half of May, and once again I took advantage of it. During a random country drive with Jacqueline on the 16th I stopped at Leonard's Pond (about three miles north of Weyer's Cave), and was pleased to see the Wilson's Phalarope that had been reported there earlier in the week. I also saw Solitary Sandpipers, a Spotted Sandpiper, and a Semi-palmated Plover or two. After we got back to Staunton, three Black Vultures were cleaning up a tragic mess on the street. The next day an Eastern Wood Pewee showed up in back of our apartment and posed in the sun for me! We haven't had many migrating birds out back this spring, and only one warbler species: a Palm Warbler.
In preparation for the the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas program (VABBA-2), on May 18 I explored the Hearthstone Lake area for the first time ever. It is located in the mountains of northern Augusta County a few miles east of Todd Lake and a few miles west of Natural Chimneys. I discovered to my dismay that the main road is closed for about a half mile either side of the Hearthstone Lake dam. So, I had to walk from the "Road Closed" gate, and the extra effort paid off because I saw two American Woodcocks very close by! It was the first time I had seen that species [in several years], and was probably my best view ever. They were too quick for my camera and got away, unfortunately. Just in case, I prowled around, and briefly saw one of them flying overhead a few minutes later. They make an odd whirring sound as they fly, rather like Mourning Doves. In addition, I had nice views of Ovenbirds, Hooded Warblers, and Eastern Towees, as well as some Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in the tree tops. On the way back I stopped briefly at the Wild Oak trail, where Penny Warren led a field trip last fall. I heard a Wood Thrush, but otherwise it was fairly dull. At a farm pond north of Churchville I saw a Great Blue Heron, a Solitary Sandpiper, and two Killdeers. I will lead a VABBA-related field trip to the Hearthstone Lake area on June 8, but I may have to modify the itinerary because of the road closure.
On May 20 I went to Montgomery Hall Park in hopes of seeing or at least hearing some Blackpoll Warblers, but did not succeed in my quest. In fact, I haven't seen any of them at all yet this year, which makes three bad years in a row for that species. But I did see some Indigo Buntings, Red-eyed Vireos, and an Eastern Wood Pewee, as well as Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Later that day on Bell's Lane, I had a nice view of a Yellow Warbler, and saw a Brown Thrasher, an Eastern Phoebe, and an Eastern Kingbird as well. I may have seen an Orchard Oriole, but a truck drove by and scared it off before I could be sure.
I went back to Bell's Lane the very next morning, along with Jacqueline. I heard the familiar "fitz-bew" call of a Willow Flycatcher near the southern bend and soon spotted it on a wire. My first one of the year! I also heard a singing Orchard Oriole, and it turned out there was both a first-year male and a full adult male in that same area. Another (definite) first of the year! A few minutes later, a Green Heron flew past toward a nearby pond, and I just managed to snap an in-flight photo. On my way out I saw some Cedar Waxwings, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher at very close range. I also saw an Indigo Bunting and a Great Crested Flycatcher, and heard some Eastern Phoebes and a (probable Yellow-billed) Cuckoo.
Pocosin Cabin trail
On Friday one week ago (May 24), Ann Cline and I went to the to the Pocosin Cabin trail in the Shenandoah National Park, hoping to get good photos of all the neotropical migrants that abound there. (She has a newer model of the Canon PowerShot zoom camera that I bought six and a half years ago.) Just like the last time I was there (on a solo hike) two years ago, it was yet another great day of birding, with fine weather. It was quite windy at the overlooks, but the tall trees around that trail muffled the winds. Unlike the last time (thankfully), I didn't see any bears! We saw many warblers, including American Redstarts, Chestnut-sided Warblers, a Cerulean Warbler, and best of all, a Canada Warbler*! We also heard a Black-throated Green Warbler, some Hooded Warblers, and several Ovenbirds. I was lucky to spot a female Redstart was in her nest, and I got an adequate photo which I submitted to the eBird VABBA portal. Among the other highlights: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak*, a Scarlet Tanager with many yellow feathers (a possible first year male?), Eastern Towhees, Veeries*, Red-eyed Vireos, and several flycatchers: some Least Flycatchers*, an Acadian Flycatcher*, and Eastern Wood Pewees.
* The first of that species I have seen this year. (5 total)
On Wednesday (May 29) I went to the Shenandoah Wetland Bank south of Stuarts Draft, hoping to see or at least hear Virginia Rails or Soras, but without luck. I did see some pretty good birds, nevertheless: Cedar Waxwings, Orchard Orioles, Green Herons (which kept flushing and flying away every time I got near), and one each of: Eastern Towhee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Brown Thrasher.
For additional photos, see the Wild Birds yearly page. In a few hours, I will be attending the Augusta Bird Club's annual picnic brunch along the Blue Ridge Parkway!