Birding in August: an early end to summer
After the high heat that lasted for most of July, the temperatures in August were closer to normal, but this relative moderation was punctuated by several heavy rain storms. On the first of the month Jacqueline and I went hiking on the Wildcat Ridge trail in the Shenandoah National Park, about a mile and a half in each direction. There was a Black and White Warbler, but none others in that category made an appearance. We did see both male and female Scarlet Tanagers, as well as Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. Eastern Towhees and Indigo Buntings were at some of the overlooks on the way back. Then followed another quick trip to Charlottesville...
Under clear blue skies on the morning of August 4, I headed out to Bell's Lane for the first time in weeks, and the effort paid off. I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and heard (but didn't see) a Bald Eagle. Perched on wires near the corner toward the south side were an Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, and a family of Eastern Bluebirds: dad and three youngsters! An Indigo Bunting came very close as well. Near the Ford farm entrance I saw a Northern Mockingbird doing its amusing wing display, plus a distant Red-tailed Hawk. On the north end were some Cedar Waxwings, an Orchard Oriole, and a pair of American Goldfinches. The female is pictured below.
On August 8 I went for a hike along the 3-mile loop trail that goes upstream from Braley Pond, but the birds were even scarcer than I had anticipated for this time of year. (Most warblers and other migratory songbirds are molting, and thus are less active.) There were a bunch of White-breasted Nuthatches at one point, but I didn't see any warblers or vireos at all. The highlight was the Yellow-billed Cuckoo, which was darting among the branches in the treetops. This hike was basically in preparation for a field trip to this location which I plan to lead later in September. My only previous hike around that entire trail (November 10, as recounted on June 30) was very productive.
Little did I realize that day that the evening of August 8 would bring one of the worst floods to hit the city of Staunton in many years. It started to rain in the late afternoon, and it was like a monsoon for almost two hours straight! The next day I drove out to Bell's Lane where I could see how the torrential current flattened the reeds and tall grass along the stream. It was mostly the same birds as before, but I did get an amusing photo of an Orchard Oriole in which a passing Ruby-throated Hummingbird blocks the view.
On August 10 Jacqueline and I drove to Swoope, where we saw an American Kestrel, a Willow Flycatcher, a few Eastern Kingbirds, and a lone Wild Turkey, among other birds.
On August 12 I drove to various ponds today in hopes of finding shorebirds or wading birds, and found a Great Blue Heron (juvenile) by the Eagles Nest airport (between Fishersville and Waynesboro), plus an Eastern Kingbird. I discovered that the Invista pond in Waynesboro is now almost entirely obstructed by trees and shrubs, and is thus no longer really worth the effort, I'm afraid. It has been the regular "home" of Black-crowned Night Herons. On Bells' Lane I saw a young Northern Mockingbird and two Belted Kingfishers that were apparently fighting over territory. There was nothing at all at the FedEx pond in Verona, but I finally hit pay dirt at the Hardees' pond, where a lone Great Egret was feeding along the north side. Nice!
On August 16 Jacqueline and I went for a casual Sunday drive, stopping first at the pond behind Hardee's in Verona just in case the Great Egret was still there. I looked all along the shore but didn't see it until I happened to look down the slope in front of me, and there it was, only about 60-70 feet away. Wow! At Leonard's Pond we saw a family of Killdeers very close by: an adult and two youngsters. There was also a young Song Sparrow (I think) perched on a wire. Back home, we are now seeing hummingbirds on a regular basis, after a few weeks of occasional visits.
On August 18, Jacqueline and I went on a major day trip, driving south along I-81 to the town of Buchanan, and then ascending to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The skies were clear and temperatures were mild -- almost perfect! On the way up I stopped to rescue a Box Turtle that was sunning himself in the middle of the highway. I took it to the side in which it was pointed, which is supposed to minimize the chances that it might return and get crushed by a passing vehicle. Once at the top, we spent a couple hours strolling around the lake at the Peaks of Otter, and later picnicking. There weren't many birds as I had hoped, but Jacqueline spotted an Osprey perched in a tree by the lake, which was a nice surprise. Then we drove a few miles north and hiked down to the Fallingwater Cascades, which were very impressive. We totalled about 3.5 miles on foot that day. Later on, Jacqueline called my attention to a Bald Eagle flying past one of the overlooks, but it was too fast for my camera. The young male Indigo Bunting below was on the north side of the James River Foot bridge (which is actually named for a guy named Foot!), on our way home to Staunton.
After a visit to the Augusta County recycling center on August 19, I headed over to Quillen's Pond in Lyndhurst, hoping to see some of the many shorebirds that had been spotted there. Unfortunately, all I saw was one Lesser Yellowlegs (first of year?), plus a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron. Next, I visited the pond near Target south of Waynesboro where I saw a Belted Kingfisher, and then went home.
On the morning of August 22, the day before school started, I went to the Mill Place trail in Verona, and before I even got there, I noticed a strange bird in a bare tree about 80 yards from the road. It turned out to be a Green Heron! At the pond I accidentally came within 15 or so feet of a semi-concealed Great Blue Heron, and carefully backed away so as not to spook it. A family of E. Bluebirds was very active, and the usual N. Mockingbirds. At Bell's Lane I saw some Amer. Goldfinches, a Brown Thrasher, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. In the afternoon, I saw a Cooper's Hawk land on a telephone pole along Rt. 254 west of town, and just managed to get a photo. Not bad for this time of year! (We endured another heavy downpour while at our destination, Skipping Rock Brewing.)
The beginning of the fall semester meant fewer opportunities to go birding. But on Sunday, August 30 I took the time to serve as a guide for the Tinkling Springs Presbyterian Church youth group in a nature hike at Augusta Springs. (Their music director, John Dull, is a friend and fellow musician who frequents the Queen City Brewing open mic nights.) Among the highlights (see caption below) was a Worm-eating Warbler and a probable Acadian Flycatcher, but it may have been a Yellow-bellied [Flycatcher] or one of the other members of the Empidomax family; it was hard to tell given the lack of light. I also saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler (prob.), some Red-eyed Vireos, a Red-tailed Hawk, and heard a Green Heron and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The weather was just spectacular!
As always, more bird photos for the past month, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page.