May 15, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Wilson's Warbler in Staunton!
Just when I thought that migration season was just about over, I had a pleasant surprise out back four days ago. This was near the outset of the steady rain that we had from Thursday until early Saturday morning. (Rain often is beneficial to bird watchers, since it forces migrating birds to pause in their northerly journey.) I heard some kind of warbler singing in the trees, and soon spotted a first-year male American Redstart, probably getting warmed up for breeding next year. While tracking it down for a photo op, I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops and some other warbler that was bright yellow. Within a few minutes I had a great closeup view of a Wilson's Warbler, one of the less common birds of this category. Getting a photo of it proved to be exceedingly difficult, and not until Saturday afternoon did I get a reasonably clear shot. I had another glimpse of it on Sunday morning, and finally got a good photo after I returned from the hike which is described below. Triumph!
Wilson's Warbler, in Staunton, May 14.
I had a glimpse of a Wilson's Warbler in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park one year ago, but before that the last time was when I was visiting Colorado in 2009. The last time I saw one here in Staunton was May 2008, on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. (That trail was once used regularly by the Lee High School long-distance runners, but has become overgrown and almost impassible over the past several years. I hardly ever go there any more.)
Yesterday, as the sun burst through the clouds at last, I attended services in the "Church of the Great Outdoors." At first I was inclined to visit Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg (where many warblers have been reported), but decided at the last minute to go to Falls Hollow Trail, where I had been scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip the day before. (It was rained out.) That trail is on the east slope of Elliott's Knob, and I had great success there about a year ago. This hike got off to an auspicious start when I saw a nearby Blue-gray Gnatcatcher apparently gathering caterpillar webs as a nesting material. I saw and photographed nearly all of the expected birds that are known to breed along that trail, but some species (notably, Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush) I only heard -- somewhere along the stream below. There were several muddy spots, but it wasn't too bad until I reached the upper part of the trail, which was a virtual stream. It was in that general vicinity that I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which are occasionally seen in the Shenandoah Valley during the winter, but only in certain high mountain areas during the summer. I never did see it, however. Getting an official breeding record of that species would be a big deal, so I intend to return there soon.
On the way back to Staunton, I passed through Swoope just in case the Bald Eagles have been raising eaglets at the nest without anyone noticing, but saw none of them. That's discouraging news. However, I did get a good look at a Northern Harrier swooping around in that area (near the post office), as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks, and a Red-headed Woodpecker in a tree about a mile to the northeast. You can read my "official" report with a complete listing of what I observed along Falls Hollow Trail at ebird.org.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler.
The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was an adorable baby turtle -- about 1.5" diameter. (I'll have to check to see what species it is.) It was in the middle of the trail, so I gently relocated it to the side, in hopes that it wouldn't be stepped on.
One of the clearings along the Falls Hollow Trail, looking toward Elliott's Knob (west) in the background.
May 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Migration season nears an end
The month of May began with a fairly significant sighting by me: a group of Bobolinks singing their weird metallic songs along the high point of Bell's Lane. I couldn't get a good photo, however, and they weren't there when I returned two days later.
A key sign that spring bird migration season is almost over is when the Blackpoll Warblers show up, and indeed I saw one last week (May 4) at Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater. My visit there was prompted by an e-mail alert from Greg Moyer about a Common Loon at Silver Lake in nearby Dayton, which I just couldn't resist. I got some good photos, including one with the Loon struggling to swallow a large fish it had caught. On the way back, I had high hopes for Cook's Creek, where I had seen many neotropical migrants about a year ago, but it was much quieter this time.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackpoll Warbler, American Goldfinch*, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Loon, White-crowned Sparrow*, and in center, Bobolink*. (The three birds with asterisks were seen May 1, and the others were seen May 4.)
On Saturday May 6, the Augusta Bird Club held its annual spring brunch Lofton Lake in southern Augusta County, graciously hosted by Kathy Belcher and Joe Thompson. Highlights included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Green Heron, American Goldfinches, Kingbird, and a few others. Light drizzle probably curtailed the number of birds seen during the walk around the lake.
On Monday, May 8 I joined Penny Warren and two other birders on an Augusta Bird Club field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I had not yet visited this spring. We heard a wide variety of neotropical migrants in the trees, and had a few good views at the various stopping points. The two big highlights of the day were both at the same location, at mile marker 7.5: Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler (the latter was the first of the year for me). We would not have seen the latter bird but for the fortuitous encounter with Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer from the Crozet-Nelson County area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
The very next day, Penny hosted another ABC field trip, this time to Betsy Bell Hill on the east side of Staunton. Like the day before, we heard a lot more birds than we actually saw, but we did get some nice views. I spotted a Swainson's Thrush in a distant tree (FOY for me), but it was hard to see and not everyone managed to get a view. We all had a very good, extended look at one or two Chestnut-sided Warblers, another FOY for me.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and in center, Swainson's Thrush.
The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Today I heard an unusual bird song out back, and soon spotted an American Redstart darting around the tree branches. I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Wilson's Warbler (FOY), but unfortunately could not get a photo of it. I'll try again tomorrow...
May 4, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Peak bird migration season (?)
The final days of April and early days of May are traditionally the busiest in terms of neotropical migrant birds passing through Virginia. Having more free time this spring than in past years, I was hoping to get out and look for migrating birds much more often, but I just haven't done as much as I had hoped. My main focus has been Bell's Lane, in particular the beaver pond at the north end, where Wilson's Snipes were seen since early April. The last time I saw it there was April 26, which was also the first day this year ("FOY") that I saw four bird species: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Louisiana Waterthrush. (I saw two of the latter species along the Middle River a mile or so west of Verona, a location I went to specifically in search of them.) It was a sunny day, and I got good photos of all those species, as well as the two species of sandpipers that I had had a hard time distinguishing on earlier visits to the beaver pond.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler (M), Grasshopper Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and in center Louisiana Waterthrush *. (On Bell's Lane, except ( * ) on Middle River W. of Verona, Apr. 26)
On Friday April 28 I joined four other bird club members on a field trip to Chimney Hollow that had been rescheduled because of rain showers on Monday. As usual for this time of year, there were many small wildflowers in bloom, but relatively few birds. We saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler (FOY), and a Northern Parula (FOY), with glimpses of a few other birds. The weather was cool but slowly warmed later in the morning; we dodged a bullet in terms of more forecast wet weather that day.
After the other members returned to Staunton, I headed west on my own to Ramsey's Draft, which was quite busy with birds of all kinds. Goldfinches and Chipping Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. I spotted five kinds of warblers (American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Ovenbird), the first two of which were my first sightings this year. In addition, I saw a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest on a tree branch; I'll have to go back and check on that nest again soon. Finally, I saw a FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) at the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Northern Flicker, American Redstart (M), Yellow Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, and (in center) Gray Catbird and Northern Parula. (Apr. 28)
BIG Spring Day
The very next day, April 29, was "Big Spring Day," when Augusta Bird Club members go out and systematically count all the birds they see or hear within certain bird-friendly locations. I was assigned to cover two places in Staunton, and got started in Montgomery Hall Park just after 8:30. I was encouraged to see my first Indigo Bunting of the year within a few minutes, a male singing from the top of a tree branch. A while later I heard the characteristic buzzing call of that species and then saw two males engaged in a low-altitude "dog fight." After driving up from the lower part of the park to "YuLee's Trail" (named for YuLee Larner, Staunton's "bird lady" for many years), I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops. Another FOY! To my surprise, a Double-crested Cormorant flew past in the distance, but the only photo I got was too blurry for a positive ID. I also saw a American Redstart, but it flew away before I could take a good photo, and all that you can see is the tail. I also had a nice view of a Pileated Woodpecker and the first Cedar Waxwings I had seen in several months. But the unquestioned highlight of that area was a Kentucky Warbler, which drew my attention by its harsh-toned song which I couldn't quite identify -- and then I saw its face!
Next I went over to Betsy Bell Hill, and was delighted to hear a nearby Wood Thrush as soon as I got out of my car. I had high hopes for getting a good photo, but to my surprise never even saw it. They can be elusive. I walked toward adjacent Mary Gray Hill where were a number of warblers singing high up in the trees (especially Redstarts), but it was hard to get photos. Back on Betsy Bell Hill itself, there wasn't much going on until I drove to the very top, where the observation deck is located. There I saw a few more birds, including a Worm-eating Warbler, my ninth warbler species of the day. Not bad!
Here are the two "official reports" I submitted for the day:
Montgomery Hall Park, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 8:40 AM - 11:20 AM
Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
Canada Goose 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Black Vulture 5
Turkey Vulture 2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 2
Mourning Dove 3
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 3
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Eastern Phoebe 1
Great Crested Flycatcher 2
Blue-headed Vireo 2
Red-eyed Vireo 2
Blue Jay 7
American Crow 3
Fish Crow 1
Carolina Chickadee 7
Tufted Titmouse 9
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
House Wren 1
Carolina Wren 10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1
Eastern Bluebird 2
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 5
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 12
Cedar Waxwing 5
Black-and-white Warbler 2
Kentucky Warbler 1 Seldom seen here; photographed.
American Redstart 2
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Field Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 3
Eastern Towhee 11
Scarlet Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 20
Indigo Bunting 3 Two males were fighting.
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
American Goldfinch 5
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36415477
Betsy Bell Hill, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 11:45 AM - 1:30 PM
Comments: Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
Turkey Vulture 6
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker 3
Downy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo 1
Blue Jay 5
American Crow 1
Tufted Titmouse 2
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Carolina Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
Wood Thrush 2
American Robin 1
European Starling 4
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 1
American Redstart 4
Northern Parula 1
Blackburnian Warbler 1
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 4
Black-throated Green Warbler 3
Eastern Towhee 2
Scarlet Tanager 2
Northern Cardinal 3
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36417911
This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (http://ebird.org)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Pileated Woodpecker (F), Indigo Bunting (M), Blackburnian Warbler (M), Black-and-White Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Kentucky Warbler (M), and the tail of an American Redstart (M). (Apr. 29)
Since I was making a formal count, I figured I should post a second photo montage of that day, for the record. These photos aren't that impressive, so I didn't bother to post the montage on Facebook, as I usually do.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Downy Woodpecker, Worm-eating Warbler, and in center, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Apr. 29)
The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Finally, I heard and then saw a few Bobolinks at the high part of Bell's Lane on May 1, but skies were cloudy and I couldn't get a good photo. The sun was out when I returned yesterday, but they weren't there. A couple Solitary Sandpipers remain at the beaver pond, but that was about it.
Construction & destruction
While at the top of Betsy Bell Hill on Big Spring Day, I had a good view of the Construction site at the entrance to the Frontier Culture Museum on the east side of Staunton. We have been aware of such plans for a long time, but I am dismayed by the extent of tree removal that has taken place. Construction vehicles were busily excavating land right up to the parking lot where the Bluebird Trail sign is located. In terms of habitat for birds, it's a veritable disaster. In the photo below, you can also see the construction site on the other side of Richmond Road, where a new motel / commercial complex is being built on the site where Western State Hosptial formerly stood.
Construction site as seen from Betsy Bell Hill. (Apr. 29) Roll your mouse over the image to compare it to a photo of the same view (zoomed out) that I took last September.
May 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Stevie Nicks in concert!
Time for me to get caught up with blogging about music! Several weeks ago (on March 25), Jacqueline and I went to a Stevie Nicks concert at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. The Pretenders were supposed to be the opening show, but Chrissie Hynde was sick and had to cancel several performances. Frankly, she and her group were a higher priority for me, since we had just seen Stevie Nicks as part of a Fleetwood Mac concert at the very same venue (John Paul Jones Arena) two years earlier, in March 2015; my blog post about it was on July 18, 2015.
Unlike some rock musicians, Stevie Nicks has not lost her voice or skill as she has aged. I was very impressed not just by the quality of the music as well as by her earnest engagement with the audience. She is not some bigger-than-life goddess, she is a talented and creative artist who wants to share her passion about life. Most of the songs she did were preceded by a brief explanation of the circumstances by which she wrote them. In particular, I learned that "Gypsy" was about Stevie's early life in the trendy counter-culture scene in San Francisco. Then she met Lindsey Buckingham and before you knew it, those two had joined Fleetwood Mac! Overall, it was a wonderful performance, very uplifting and satisfying.
I tried to find the names of her musicians on her website, but couldn't find them there. As usual, I made a point to write down the song titles as she song them, but I had to consult the Internet to fill a couple gaps in the set list
- Gold and Braid **
- If Anyone Falls
- Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (#TP)
- Belle Fleur **
- Gypsy (#FM)
- Wild Heart
- Enchanted **
- New Orleans
- Star Shine **
- Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream) **
- Stand Back
- Crying In the Night
- If You Were My Love
- Gold Dust Woman (#FM)
- Edge of Seventeen
- Rhiannon (#FM)
- Landslide (#FM)
The last two songs were the encore.
** Song titles from setlist.fm.
#FM: Song originally appeared on a Fleetwood Mac album. All songs were written by Stevie Nicks except:
#TP: Written by Tom Petty and Michael Campbell
The song "New Orleans" was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" was written about the movie Twilight (2008). I was a little disappointed that Stevie didn't sing "Leather and Lace," which was originally recorded with Don Henley of Eagles fame. The same goes for "Sara," which was on the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. But she did sing two of my very favorite Fleetwood Mac songs: "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," inspiring me to play those at an open mic event a couple weeks later. (See below.) Otherwise, she did just about every big hit song from her "Bella Donna" (1981) and "The Wild Heart" (1983) albums, as well as the Fleetwood Mac hits for which she is best known.
Before the concert started, I bought the Pretenders' new CD Alone, but I have only listened to it once so far.
This wide-angle view of the concert was the only photo I took in which Stevie Nicks (on the video monitor to the right) was recognizable. My iPhone camera is fine in normal conditions, but can't handle sharp contrasts between dark and light.
A closer-in view of Stevie Nicks in concert.
The most recent concert Jacqueline and I had been to before this one was Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the Rockingham County Fair on August 19, 2015; blog post January 29, 2016.
Guitar under repair
I bought my Conn acoustic guitar way back in 1975 or so, from a friend of a friend at the University of South Dakota named Carey Hofer. While I was inspecting it (and wondering if I really wanted to spend that much money!), he taught me to play the intro part of "Stairway to Heaven." It has served me well for these past four decades, and while I have considered replacing it with something better, the rich sound of an all-wood guitar is better than most mid-range guitars these days, since most of them have a body that is part plastic.
What happened was that one of the wooden braces inside the body suddenly broke while I was playing a song, without any warning. [This was on March 21, a Tuesday.] There was no bumping involved, it was apparently just the result of cumulative built-up stress. The process of getting it repaired took longer than my patience could tolerate, and I ended up taking it to a guy named Danny Dolinger who has a guitar repair shop in Bridgewater. After a few days, I had it back as good as new, thank goodness! Danny is not just a highly skilled and conscientious craftsman, he is also a local musician who performs with other guys on occasion. He looked familiar, and said he remembers me playing the Moody Blues song "Tuesday [Afternoon]" at an open mic event several months ago.
My newly-repaired Conn acoustic guitar, in front of our CD/DVD rack.
More open mic events
My first open mic performance at Queen City Brewing after returning from South America and Florida (March 15) focused on the theme of returning home after a long absence. "Back In the U.S.S.R." was especially appropriate since I had flown into Miami. (Contrary to the first line of that song, there is no airport in Miami Beach itself.) I enjoy playing the harmonica on "Take the Long Way Home," a prime example of bending notes.
- Fly Away Home (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Back Home Again (John Denver)
- Back In the U.S.S.R. (Beatles)
- Take the Long Way Home (Supertramp)
Since my guitar was in the shop on March 22, I brought my charango, even though it has a warped neck that makes it impossible to play certain notes. I did my best, but it frankly sounded horrible, so I just gave up halfway through "El Condor Pasa," which was a real bummer. (That's an adaptation of a South American folk song.) Later on, Open Mic Host Fritz Horisk graciously lent me his guitar so I could play a nice Eagles song.
- El Condor Pasa (Simon & Garfunkle)
- Saturday Night (Eagles)
I skipped the next week open mic event because my guitar was still in the repair shop. Not until April 5 was it available [to me again], and I made the most of it, playing two songs I had done before and then "Landslide," in recognition of the Stevie Nicks concert Jacqueline and I had seen recently. I used the harmonica for the lead guitar part, and people really liked how it sounded. My final song was also based on a concert we had once seen (October 2005), by the Rolling Stones: [on "Sweet Virginia" I played the harmonica in the "proper" way.]
- Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out (Eric Clapton cover)
- Gypsy Forest (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
- Sweet Virginia (Rolling Stones)
On April 12 I started with "Talkin' Baseball," which I had done once before, but I should have done it much better the second time. My rendition of "Bennie and the Jets" wowed the crowd, as I used the harmonica for the lead part, except in this case it was for lead piano. That was the first Elton John song that I had ever played in public, and it was inspired by another guy's performance of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" at the open mic event the week before. I became obsessed with learning "Bennie and the Jets" in the days that followed, and later learned more Elton John songs. My rendition of "All My Loving" uses the arpeggio (finger picking) technique rather than the fast strumming on the original song.
- Talkin' Baseball (Terry Cashman)
- Chicken Train (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Bennie and the Jets (Elton John)
- All My Loving (Beatles)
- Beauty In the River (Ozark Mountain Daredevils)
- Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
On April 19 I started with a challenging Beatles song using the arpeggio technique, but couldn't sustain the rhythm very well, so I'll probably strum that one next time. I thought "Your Song" sounded beautiful, but didn't get as much applause as I was hoping for. I played the other Elton John songs pretty well, but had a hard time with the vocals, having to shift octaves more than once. My voice range obviously pales in comparison to Reggie Dwight's. (That's Elton John's real name!)
- Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
- Rocket Man (Elton John)
- Your Song (Elton John)
- Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Finally, on April 26 I marked the arrival of baseball season once again, but to my chagrin just couldn't deliver on the complex lead guitar part of "Centerfield," in spite of much practice. It's a song I have been working on for a few months, and I'll just have to practice it a lot more before I do it in public again. At least I did better on the other hit song from John Fogerty's Centerfield (1984) album ("The Old Man Man Down the Road"), and on the biggest hit song from his days with Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary"). The latter was one of the first rock songs I learned to play on the guitar back in the early 1970s. I plan to do even more CCR songs I have learned recently at a future open mic event -- perhaps tomorrow!
- Centerfield (John Fogerty)
- The Old Man Man Down the Road (John Fogerty)
- Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
The above songs have been added to my Music page.
Finally, for the record, at the April 10 monthly meeting of the Augusta Bird Club, I was asked to play my "bird song medley" that I did at the club's 50th anniversary dinner last December, so I did, but substituting "Tern, Tern, Tern" (Turn, Turn, Turn")" -- The Byrds for John Denver's "Back Home Again." This time I had the proper cable adapter to show the accompanying photo slide show that I had intended to show at the dinner. As for the music, however, I wasn't as well prepared as the first time.
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