A diary of birds I've observed, spiced up with photos and occasional commentary. Clockwise from top left: Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Gallinule, Summer Tanager, Gray Hawk, Virginia Rail, and (in center) Magnolia Warbler.
September 7, 2020 [LINK / comment]
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.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Goldfinch (F), Willow Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting (M), N. Mockingbird, Orchard Oriole (M), and Cedar Waxwing. (Bell's Lane, August 4.)
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.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-billed Cuckoo, American Goldfinch (M), Scarlet Tanager (M), and Carolina Chickadee. (near Braley Pond, August 8.)
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.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Killdeer (J), Great Egret, House Finch (F/J), and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Mill Place & Leonard's Pond, August 16.)
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.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Osprey, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting (JM), and Barn Swallow. (Peaks of Otter & Blue Ridge Pkwy., August 18.)
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.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Blue Heron, Brown Thrasher, Cooper's Hawk, and Eastern Bluebird (J). (Mill Place, Bell's Lane, & Rt. 254 west; August 22.)
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!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Kingbird, Acadian Flycatcher (?), Worm-eating Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, American Redstarts, Eastern Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Augusta Springs, August 30.)
As always, more bird photos for the past month, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page.
August 10, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding in July: hot, hot, HOT!
Bird breeding season is quickly winding down, and it seems that only birds still engaged in raising young are the goldfinches (late breeders) and bluebirds (sometimes two broods a year). That means that there aren't many males singing to attract mates or establish territorial rights, and the relative quiet makes it harder to locate birds. After a very busy late May and June (see my July 12 blog post, when I covered birding from April through June), I settled down into a more normal pace in July.
On July 2, three other Augusta Bird Club members (Peter Van Acker, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline) joined me for an informal field trip to an "undetermined location." In other words, we decided where to go on the spot, and the consensus was the trail along the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, on the western edge of Augusta County. With the covid-19 social distancing rules still in place, we each drove in separate cars. The forecast was for hot weather, so high altitude and an early start were essential in order to enjoy the outing. As soon as we arrived there were birds all around. We hiked for about 1/3 mile north of the Confederate Breastworks and back, and then for about 1 1/2 miles south, to the Georgia Camp trail crossing (and back). There weren't any spectacular findings, but we had a few good bird views and very pleasant temperatures. We heard several Scarlet Tanagers, but I don't think we actually saw a single one. There were multiple families of Eastern Towhees, Indigo Buntings, and American Redstarts. We had a few looks at a Black-throated Green Warbler and a Blue-headed Vireo or two, and heard just a few warbler species aside from the very common Ovenbirds. Broad-winged Hawks and one Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead. After we were done hiking, we stopped briefly at Ramseys' Draft (a much lower elevation), where I saw some more Redstarts, a Chipping Sparrows, and a Red-tailed Hawk, and then I went alone to the nearby Georgia Camp trailhead, where there were some Northern Parulas, an Eastern Wood Pewee, and an Acadian Flycatcher. I logged about five miles according to my iPhone.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, American Redstart (F/J), Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Towhee (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and Broad-winged Hawk. (Shenandoah Mtn. trail, July 2)
On the morning of the Fourth of July, most of the regular birds in the Bell's Lane area were very vocal. The big highlight was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but Aside from the other birds in the montage for that day (Indigo Bunting, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Brown Thrasher, and Field Sparrow), I also had distant views of an Eastern Kingbird and an Orchard Oriole. Unfortunately, I still couldn't find any Yellow Warblers or Grasshopper Sparrows, two species that are known to have bred in that area almost every year. That's not a good sign.
On Thursday July 9, Jacqueline and I did a day trip to the Richmond, Virginia area, mostly touring various battlefields to the east and south. I figured I would squeeze in some birding here and there, and it paid off with some nice surprises. We started off at the Gaines Mill battlefield, seeing some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Phoebes, and Eastern Bluebirds. Near Malvern Hill I heard and finally lured into view a male Common Yellowthroat that had established a breeding are in a moist weedy clearing next to a bicycle trail. (We saw a lot of bikers.) Then at the historic Shirley Plantation, I was amazed to see a Blue Grosbeak, and was lucky to get a quick photo of itat over 50 yards distance. While driving across a bridge on the James River, we saw a family of Ospreys, with the young ones in a nest. There was no place to stop and take a picture, however. But the biggest highlight of the day came after lunch in mid-afternoon when I heard and then saw a Summer Tanager in the treetops at Petersburg National Battlefield. It sounded like a Scarlet Tanager, which are common in the Shenandoah Valley, but its song was more melodic. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw one in Virginia was in 1999 or so, in the Charlottesville area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Summer Tanager (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), Common Yellowthroat (M), Blue Grosbeak (M), Eastern Phoebe, and Brown-headed Cowbird (M). (East & south of Richmond, VA, July 9)
On July 12, for the first time, I explored the North River Gorge Trail, where Penny Warren led a field trip a couple years ago. It's beautiful, scenic, and shady, featuring a large wooden suspension bridge over the river. I saw quite a few other hikers and bikers along the way, so it is obviously a popular destination. It's located east of Todd Lake and south of Hearthstone Lake, where I have birded several times this year and last year. I must have heard eight or ten Acadian Flycatchers along the way, but didn't actually see any until I was heading back. Overall, there were fewer warblers than I had hoped. The Hooded Warbler in the photo montage finally made a rather late appearance at the very farthest point, about two miles from the beginning. (About five miles total hiking for the day.) Other highlights: a Louisiana Waterthrush, several Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, and Blue-headed Vireos. Since the trees obscured the sky I didn't notice it was getting overcast, and then it started to rain! So, I had to trot back to my care for the final 1/3 mile to avoid getting soaked. A quick stop at Bell's Lane on the way home yielded a Green Heron, just as it started to rain -- for the second time that day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, Green Heron, and Red-eyed Vireo. (North River Gorge Trail, July 12)
July 19 started off nicely, as I saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird out back for the first time this year. (I have seen them a few times elsewhere.) It was going to be another very hot day, so I headed for the high hills to escape the high heat, braving the rugged Hite Hollow Road west of Augusta Springs. (I would definitely NOT recommend that road except for a Jeep or SUV.) I hiked along the same trail that Penny Warren, Ann Cline, Allen Larner, and I did seven years ago; see my June 30, 2013 blog post. This time, however, I only walked about a mile because I heard some loud rustling in the bushes and decided that was far enough. (Bear?) Along the way I saw most of the usual birds, and heard some Yellow-throated Vireos, as well as Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers. As a sign that breeding season was coming to an end, I didn't hear any singing by Scarlet Tanagers, and I saw just one. There were lots of butterflies, and I got my best-ever photo of a Pipevine Swallowtail. I returned via Deerfield, figuring (correctly) that the road wasn't as bad on that side. A brief stop at Chimney Hollow yielded a loud family of Tutfted Titmice, an Ovenbird, and an Acadian Flycatcher (heard only).
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (M), Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (M), Black-and-White Warbler (F), Blue-headed Vireo (J), Ovenbird, Indigo Bunting (M), and Eastern Towhee (M). (North Mountain Trail, July 19)
On July 20, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s, Jacqueline and I tried to escape the heat by hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. I only had loose plans, however, and we suffered as a result. We parked at the Big Meadows visitor center (recently reopened to the public), and hiked about 1/3 mile to the Dark Hollow Falls trail head. I correctly surmised that the parking area there would be full, so the extra hiking to get there made sense. (The last time we had gone to Dark Hollow Falls was in June 2005, but I did stop briefly at the trail head in June 2013.) It was a longer hike to the main falls that I thought, and we were a little alarmed by the crowded conditions. Many people were wearing masks, in fact. In order to minimize personal contact and to avoid the steep, difficult climb, we took the long way back, hiking along a side trail that eventually connected with the Appalachian Trail. I soon regretted our decision not to bring water bottles, since I originally planned on just a short hike to the falls and back, followed by a longer hike elsewhere. Even in the mountains it was extremely hot, and by the time we were done hiking the five mile circuit, we were dangerously dehydrated. There really wern't very many birds until near the end of our trek, but we did see a Black Bear -- the third one this year! Avian highlights included a Louisiana Waterthrush, several American Redstarts, several Dark-eyed Juncos (juvenile here). Towhees seemed to be everywhere, and there were also dozens of Barn Swallows around the Big Meadows maintenance sheds. At one of the overlooks on our way home, I saw a Chestnut-sided Warbler up close.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Dark-eyed Junco (J), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), American Redstart (M), and Louisiana Waterthrush. (Shenandoah National Park, July 20)
Later that month, I went to Leonard's Pond on July 25, hoping to see some shorebirds, but the only one present was a Solitary Sandpiper. Eastern Kingbirds were visible at several place north and west of Verona. On July 29 I drove up to Route 610 (parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway) in hopes of seeing the Kentucky Warbler that Marshall Faintich had reported there on the day before. Marshall was at the designated location, but not the Kentucky Warbler. I did have some nice consolation prizes, however: good views of an American Redstart and a Cerulean Warbler! (It was my first decent photo of the latter species this year.) I also saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flying overhead and we heard multiple Wood Thrushes singing nearby. A few E. Towhees rounded out a very brief bird outing. Finally, on July 30 Jacqueline and I stopped in the Shenandoah National Park on our way to Charlottesville. I was given a short period to look for birds, so all I saw was a frazzled-looking male Hooded Warbler, who was obviously starting to molt. It's another sign that the seasons are about to change...
NOTE: Much of the above text is based on Facebook posts that I made in July, with a few corrections, deletions, and additions. More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. I'll do a separate blog post (with scenic photos) about travels in July in the near future...
July 12, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from April through June
With this post about the second three months of this year, I'm almost caught up on blogging about birding. Given that it covers the relatively recent past there is more long-hand prose (including text posted on Facebook) than in my last three birding blog posts: Aug.-Sept. 2019 on June 28, Oct.-Dec. 2019 on June 30, and Jan.-Mar. 2020 on July 5. The subsection for each month below begins with a summary list of my outings.
Birding in April
April marked the first full month since the covid-19 lockdown began, and there were no Augusta Bird Club field trips. (The April meeting and June picnic were canceled as well, of course.) Instead, most of us went on solo bird outings, or sometimes in pairs or very small groups, maintaining social distancing. The Shenandoah National Park was closed for the whole month, and other recreational facilities were closed or had restricted access as well. Being busy with teaching, most of my trips were modest in scope, in and around Staunton.
- Apr. 3: Mill Place, Bell's Lane -- Tree Swallows, N. Rough-winged Swallows*, Wood Ducks
- Apr. 4: Shen. Wetlands -- Brown Thrashers*, House Wren*; Cheese Shop -- Purple Martins*; Big Levels -- Pine Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo
- Apr. 7: Bell's Lane -- Am. Goldfinches, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Apr. 11: Dowell's Draft -- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher*, Black-and-White Warbler*
- Apr. 16: Bell's Lane & Staunton H.S. -- Red-bellied Woodpecker, Chipping Sparrow, C. Grackle
- Apr. 17: Betsy Bell Hill & Front. Cult. Mus. -- Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
- Apr. 18: South River, Waynesboro -- Great Blue Heron, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chimney Swifts*
- Apr. 19: Ramsey's Draft -- Blackburnian Warbler*, Black-throated Green Warbler*
- Apr. 22: Bell's Lane -- Green Heron*, Great Blue Heron, E. Meadowlark
- Apr. 23: Staunton -- Gray Catbird*
- Apr. 24: Bell's Lane -- Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Thrashers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, E. Phoebe
- Apr. 25: South of Staunton -- Baltimore Orioles & Orchard Oriole
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Brown Thrasher, Blue-headed Vireo, Pine Warbler, Swamp Sparrow, Purple Martin, and in center, Belted Kingfisher. (Shen. Wetlands, Cheese Shop, & Big Levels, April 4)
On Saturday, April 11, Jacqueline and I hiked about four miles in the Dowell's Draft area, since Braley Pond had been shut down completely. (Only the picnic area was off limits when I led a field trip there on March 28.) We saw three of the early-arriving migrants from the bird club's March 28 field trip to Braley Pond, as well as two first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-and-White Warbler. Several E. Towhees were heard, and one popped into view. Also seen: White-breasted Nuthatch, N. Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-and-White Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Towhee, Blue-headed Vireo, and Pine Warbler. (Dowell's Draft, April 11)
On April 19 Jacqueline and I went to Ramsey's Draft, in western Augusta County. Not surprisingly, the picnic area was closed, but at least the trails were open. We hiked up Road Hollow Trail, and soon saw my first Black-throated Green Warblers of the year -- at least 5 or 6 of them! Blue-headed Vireos were all around, it seemed, and several Black-and-white and Pine Warblers made appearances as well. I also saw a distant Hairy Woodpecker, but the big highlight was a Blackburnian Warbler high in a tree top. The only photo I got was barely recognizable, unfortunately. On the way back to Staunton, Jacqueline spotted a Black Bear on the slope next to Route 250 -- the first one I've seen in almost two years! I stopped briefly at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see much other than a couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, Downy Woodpecker, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Black-and-White Warbler. (Road Hollow Trail & Ramsey's Draft, April 19)
On April 25 I went to a private home south of Staunton to see a Western Tanager that had been reported (only the third one ever in the Augusta County area!), but I apparently just missed it. As with the private home where the Scott's Oriole had been seen a few weeks earlier, the hostess was very friendly and gracious, but wanted to protect her privacy, so only a limited number of birders were able to enjoy it. I had great consolation prizes, however: Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both the first ones of the year for me, and a wide variety of other birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole (M), White-throated Sparrow, N. Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Towee, and Baltimore Oriole (M). (south of Staunton, April 25)
Birding in May
I really didn't want to miss the peak migration season, so I managed to do two significant birding trips during the first week of May. I had free time from May 13 on
- May 2: Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge -- Indigo Bunting*, American Redstarts*, Cerulean Warblers*, Ovenbirds*, Worm-eating Warbler*, Red-eyed Vireos*, Yellow-throated Vireo*
- May 7: Ridgeview Park -- Northern Parulas*, Common Yellowthroat*, Red-headed Woodpecker*, Yellow Warbler*
- May 10: Bell's Lane extended -- Great Crested Flycatcher*, Green Heron, Baltimore Oriole Common Yellowthroat (H), White-throated Sparrow (late!) in back yard
- May 12: N. Staunton -- Downy Woodpeckers juveniles being fed!
- May 13: N. Staunton -- Ruby-throated Hummingbird*; Bell's Lane -- Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-billed Cuckoo*
- May 15: Bell's Lane -- Orchard & Baltimore Orioles, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher*, E. Kingbird, Green Heron
- May 16: Shen. Mtn. Trail -- Scarlet Tanager, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Bay-breasted Warblers*; Ramsey's Draft -- Northern Parula ##
- May 17: Natural Chimneys -- Rose-breasted Grosbeak*, Eastern Wood Pewee; Hearthstone Lake -- Hairy Woodpeckers; Elkhorn Lake -- American Redstarts
- May 18: Leonard's Pond -- Spotted Sandpipers; back yard -- Swainson's Thrush
- May 22: Bell's Lane -- Baltimore & Orchard Orioles, Cedar Waxwings. Back yard -- Swainson's Thrush, Warbling Vireo (heard)
- May 25: Augusta Springs -- Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore & Orchard Orioles, Canada Warbler*
- May 26: Bell's Lane -- Willow Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole
- May 28: Bell's Lane -- Orchard Oriole, E. Phoebe; back yard -- N. Flicker
- May 30: Cowbane Pasture -- Orchard Orioles, E. Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Brown-headed Cowbirds
- May 31: Pocosin Cabin (SNP) -- Black-billed Cuckoo*, American Redstarts, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Hooded Warbler ##
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On May 2 (on what would have been the "Big Spring Day" count, which was canceled) Ann Cline and I went birding along Route 610 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was sunny and cool, almost perfect. We saw numerous neotropical migrants, including seven first of the year species for me! We also heard Hooded Warblers and a Great Crested Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstarts, Ovenbird, Cerulean Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo,and (in center) Worm-eating Warbler. (Rt. 610 / Blue Ridge, May 2)
On May 7 I had to go to Fishersville, and I figured that since Waynesboro is close, I might as well go to Ridgeview Park. On the way there I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk on a wire being harassed by various smaller birds. Once at the park, near Serenity Garden I heard and saw Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Parulas*, Red-eyed Vireos, etc. Along the wooded trails there were several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Gray Catbirds, and a Common Yellowthroat*. As I was about to leave I was startled to see a Red-headed Woodpecker*, as well as a family of Canada Geese, several Cedar Waxwings, and a Yellow Warbler*.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Cedar Waxwings, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Canada Goose (baby), Red-eyed Vireo, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Fishersville, Ridgeview Park, May 7)
From May 12 and the next few days, we had a family of Downy Woodpeckers at our suet feeder, with the father feeding his new offspring. On the afternoon of May 13 I finally had some free time (grading duties were completed), and in northern Staunton I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year! At Bell's Lane I saw an E. Phoebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Yellowthroat, and my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year!
On May 15 at Bell's Lane, I heard a N. Parula and Yellow-rumped Warbler singing, but didn't see either one, but did see two Eastern Kingbirds making a nest just south of the Moore farm entrance, and a Willow Flycatcher (FOY!) was doing his "FITZ-bew" song nearby. Also notable: both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both Great Blue and Green Herons, a loud Brown Thrasher, a Downy Woodpecker at a nest hole, and an E. Phoebe; most of those were by the beaver pond. I was also happy to see two bird club members whom I had not seen for two months: Allen Larner and Josephine King.
On May 16 Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I went hiking along the Shenandoah Mountain trail south of the Confederate Breastworks, and it lived up to our high expectations. I finally saw my first Scarlet Tanager and Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year, and we were amazed to see a group of Bay-breasted Warblers (also FOY) in the tree tops! Later at Ramsey's Draft picnic area we saw a Northern Parula. On the way home I saw a Louisiana Waterthrush and two Wood Thrushes at Chimney Hollow. Altogether we saw nine warbler species total, and heard three others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, American Goldfinch, Scarlet Tanager, Worm-eating Warbler, Wood Thrush, Bay-breasted Warbler, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. (Shen. Mtn. Trail, Ramsey's Draft & Chimney Hollow, May 16)
The very next day, May 17, Penny, Ann, and I ventured into the mountain woods, and we had some very nice finds even though the overcast skies made it hard to see. Our first stop was Natural Chimneys, where we heard and eventually saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak* -- my first one of the year! An Eastern Wood Pewee* also came down to pose in a convenient position, while a Yellow-billed Cuckoo proved more elusive. Later at Hearthstone Lake (the road was still closed, to my annoyance) we saw or heard several Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, and Hooded Warblers. The highlight there was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers bringing food to noisy babies inside the nest hole. Our final main stop was the entrance to Elkhorn Lake, which was extremely crowded! We heard several Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parulas, Pine Warblers, but couldn't see much other than some American Redstarts. Penny showed us where she had seen some rare Yellow Lady Slippers, and that was a great photo op. All in all, though, it was quite a rewarding day.
On May 25 I went to Augusta Springs in hopes of seeing the Mourning Warbler that Vic Laubach saw yesterday, but no such luck. I did see my first Canada Warbler of the year, at least, but otherwise it was mostly what you would expect there during breeding season. Other than what is shown here, I also saw Ovenbirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, E. Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, and an Eastern Phoebe at the parking lot kiosk, guarding its nest with at least one baby in it.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Pine Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Red-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, and (center) Worm-eating Warbler. (Augusta Springs, May 25)
On May 31 Roz Holt, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I took advantage of the perfect weather with a trip to Pocosin Cabin in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We heard many different warblers, but other than the American Redstarts, they were hard to see. Highlights included Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (mating pair!), Least Flycatchers, E. Wood Pewees, and best of all, a Black-billed Cuckoo! It was spotted by Diane Lepkowski, whom with met along the way with Greg Moyers and another guy. On the way back we stopped at Madison Run, and were dumbfounded to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will singing very close by! Unfortunately, we never did see it. We also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher there, and heard some Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, as expected. It was a wonderful day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Wood Pewee, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Least Flycatchers, and (center) Ovenbird. (Pocosin Cabin / Shen. Nat. Park, May 31)
Birding in June
I kept up my intensive pace of birding throughout June, with mostly good weather.
- June 1: Shen. Nat. Park: Hooded Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler
- June 3: Dowells Draft -- Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, 9+ Ruffed Grouse!
- June 6: Elkhorn Lake, Puffenbarger Pond -- Blackburnian Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch
- June 8: Hightop Mountain (SNP) -- Acadian Flycatcher, Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-throated Vireo
- June 10: Hearthstone Lake -- Wood Thrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-thr. Hummingbird ##
- June 12: Dowells Draft -- Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, Scarlet Tanager #
- June 18: Bell's Lane -- Willow Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwings, Wood Ducks, Belted Kingfisher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
- June 20: Falls Hollow -- Hooded Warblers, Indigo Buntings, Black-throated Green Warbler
- June 26: Dowells Draft -- E. Wood Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Cedar Waxwings, Wood Thrush
- June 27: Highland County -- House Wrens; Reddish Knob -- Chestnut-sided Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warbler*; Briery Branch Reservoir -- Northern Parula #
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
# = attempted unofficial "field trip" (solo); ## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On the first of June, Jacqueline and I took advantage of perfect weather with a drive along Skyline Drive in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We stopped at a few overlooks and went for a couple short walks, but that was enough to get some great looks at birds. Bird-wise, a Chestnut-sided Warbler was probably the highlight, but a Black Bear provided the biggest thrill. On the way back home we stopped at the Cheese Shop in Stuarts Draft, and I enjoyed watching the Purple Martins. Another wonderful day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Purple Martin (M), Pine Warbler, and in center Red-eyed Vireo. (Shen. Nat. Park, June 1)
On June 3 I explored the Dowell Draft trail, which had been on my "to-do" list for a long time. (Several of us have birded the fire road at Dowell Draft in the past.) I hiked about three miles each way, climbing about 900 feet in the process. There was quite a difference as you reach the (slightly) cooler higher elevations where Mountain Laurels thrive. Based on sound, I confirmed that there are Northern Parulas and Prairie Warblers in the low open areas once again, but never saw the latter. The expected warblers, etc. were seen along the trail, as well as some Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which I heard but didn't see. The big highlight was on my way back: a family of Ruffed Grouse right in front of me!! I heard strange squeals from the mother, and at least eight fledglings flying away from me. I was utterly enchanted!
On June 6: I explored a new area of Augusta County on the West Virginia border, Puffenbarger Pond. Gabriel Mapel had reported hearing Mourning Warblers there, but I did not. On the way I stopped at the road leading to Elkhorn Lake and saw the usual American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, Blackburnian Warbler, and heard a Hooded Warbler. The road leading to Puffenbarger Pond abounds with a variety of birds, as this montage attests: (Not pictured: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blackburnian Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, American Redstart. (Elkhorn Lake & Puffenbarger Pond, June 6)
On June 8 Jacqueline and I went for a vigorous hike to the top of Hightop Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. We heard or saw most of the expected warblers, but none of the very vocal Cerulean Warblers actually made an appearance. Bird highlights included Yellow-throated Vireos, Acadian Flycatchers, and (at the summit) Dark-eyed Juncos.
On June 10 Tom Roberts and I went to the Hearthstone Lake area, and were greeted almost immediately near the map kiosk by a Wood Thrush that was singing and foraging for grubs. Soon thereafter we came upon a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on top of the very same dead tree where it was seen repeatedly last year! (I assume it's the same individual.) Other highlights included a Pine Warbler, numerous Ovenbirds, E. Wood Pewees, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! There were also two Eastern Phoebes and a nest at the same stream crossing where we saw one last year, but in the other culvert. Finally, we heard but did not see Acadian Flycatchers, Hooded Warblers, and Red-shouldered Hawks. I was glad to learn that Tilghman Road is now totally open, as the construction barriers have been removed! We drove to the "lake" behind the newly refurbished dam, but it is still empty for some reason.
On June 12, a delightfully cool morning, I returned to Dowell's Draft, and it didn't take long before I heard and saw a Northern Parula, probably the same one I saw there last week. It was the first of four that I saw or heard, and one of them was singing like a Cerulean Warbler, which had me confused until I actually saw it. There were several loud Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, but neither made an appearance. Likewise for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but I saw one of them at least. Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Red-eyed Vireos were numerous and visually prominent. There were also a few Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Eastern Wood Pewees along the way. A family of Tufted Titmice with a few fledglings was making lots of noise. Finally, I saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near a nest that may have been his/her own. I was disappointed not to hear the Prairie Warbler that was there last week, and didn't see the Ruffed Grouse either.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Scarlet Tanager, Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Black-throated Green Warbler, and in center Worm-eating Warbler. (Dowells Draft, June 12)
June 20 was the date of a semi-formal field trip to Highland County which I had tried to organize, but the rainy forecast forced me to abandon those plans. Instead I hiked the Falls Hollow Trail, on Rt. 254 near Elliott Knob before you get to Augusta Springs. There were plenty of warblers and vireos, as expected, but none of the Black-throated Blue Warblers which I had hoped. The highlights were seeing two females: Hooded Warbler and Indigo Bunting. I heard several singing male Scarlet Tanagers, but none of them came down into view; I saw a probable female, though. The falls were a raging torrent thanks to the recent heavy rain.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting (F), Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler (F), and in center, Blue-headed Vireo. (Falls Hollow trail, June 20)
But wait, there's more! I heard something strange out back about 9:00 that same evening, and it turned out to be a family of Screech Owls!!! My neighbor had a high-intensity lantern, which proved to be perfectly suited for this situation. This juvenile was being fed by one of its parents while perched on a tree limb.
Eastern Screech Owl. (north Staunton, June 20)
My final birding expedition in June (on the 27th) was to the Reddish Knob area at the northern tip of Augusta County. It was supposed to be a semi-formal field trip, but no one else showed up. For the first time, I took an indirect route to get there, via Highland County (where I rescued a Box Turtle in the middle of Rt. 614 and saw a pair of House Wrens at a nest in a dead tree) and West Virginia. While ascending the big mountain slope back toward Virginia, I observed a Pine Warbler at a clearing. Soon after reaching the "famous" (to birders) crossroads at the top, I saw some Chestnut-sided Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and two young Dark-eyed Juncos. Hiking along the road toward Bother Knob, a beautiful cool alpine meadow lined with spruce trees, I saw Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat. There wasn't much at the summit of Reddish Knob, but on my way back down I saw some Black-throated Green Warblers and my very first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year -- finally! Then at the Briery Branch Reservoir I had a great view of a Northern Parula, marking my ninth (or perhaps tenth) warbler species of the day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Cedar Waxwing, Pine Warbler, and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler. (Reddish Knob & Briery Branch Res., June 27)
And that's that! More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page
July 5, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from January through March
In my continuing effort to get caught up on blogging about birding (and other subjects), here is another brief summary of my outdoor nature activities during the first three months of this year. As before, I merely list dates and places when noteworthy sightings were made; long-hand prose is used for field trips and other significant outings.
- Jan. 1: Bell's Lane -- Bald Eagles; mating pair!
- Jan. 11: Highland & Bath Counties -- Bald Eagles, Gr. White-fronted Geese
- Jan. 20: Bell's Lane -- Short-eared Owls, Northern Harrier
- Jan. 25: Mill Place & Bell's Lane -- Hooded Mergansers, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier
On Saturday, January 11, Allen Larner led the Augusta Bird Club's annual winter field trip to Highland County, and I was one of the three others who participated. Three Golden Eagles were seen early on, and two more later, as well as two Bald Eagles. It wasn't very active, though, so around noon we decided to head south from Monterrey. Soon after crossing into Bath County, a wide variety of ducks and geese were seen at a pond, most notably a pair of Greater White-fronted Geese. That species has rarely if ever been seen in Bath County. The final destination was Lake Moomaw, where a Common Loon, Horned Grebes, and several Red Bats were seen.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hermit Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Ring-billed Gull, Common Mergansers, Horned Grebes, and (center), Greater White-fronted Geese. (Highland & Bath Counties, January 11)
Birding in February
February began and ended with sightings of Bald Eagles during excursions made by Jacqueline and me. At the nest in Swoope, the Bald Eagle nest presumably yielded one or two offspring. The only really significant bird outing was the Great Backyard Bird Count (on the 15th), when I finally got a decent photo of a Short-eared Owl, one of three I saw.
- Feb. 1: Swoope & Augusta Springs -- American Kestrel, Bald Eagle (at nest), Brown Creeper
- Feb. 4: Mill Place & Bell's Lane -- Red-tailed Hawk, E. Meadowlark, Hooded Mergansers
- Feb. 15: N. Staunton & Bell's Lane -- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Short-eared Owls
- Feb. 29: Potomac River at Rt. 301 bridge -- Bald Eagles
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Amer. Robin, Short-eared Owl, Amer. Crow, Carolina Chickadee, and in center, N. Cardinal. (Bell's Lane, February 15)
Birding in March
March started off with a real bang, as I was among a select group of birders invited to to a private residence where a Scott's Oriole had been seen for a few weeks. I was a bit skeptical, since that bird normally ranges in Mexico and Texas, but after a while, I saw the bird with my own eyes -- the first one ever for me! (See my Life bird list.) The bird feeders at the residence were busy with American Goldfinches, House Finches, various woodpeckers, and a Red-tailed Hawk overhead.
- Mar. 1: Swoope -- Scott's Oriole
- Mar. 6: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harriers, Short-eared Owls (also a Red Fox!)
- Mar. 9: Bell's Lane -- Tree Swallow*, E. Phoebe*, Brown-headed Cowbirds*
- Mar. 14: Murphy Deming Trail -- Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler
- Mar. 20: Verona & Silver Lake/Dayton -- Blue-winged Teals, Lesser Scaups, Buffleheads
- Mar. 24: Bell's Lane -- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Mar. 25: Staunton -- Sharp-shinned Hawk
- Mar. 27: Cowbane Prairie, Stuarts Draft, & Staunton -- Sharp-shinned Hawk, C. Grackles*
- Mar. 28: Braley Pond (ABC) & Chimney Hollow -- Winter Wren, La. Waterthrush*, E. Phoebe*, BH Vireo*, Pine Warbler*
- Mar. 29: Madison Run, Bell's Lane -- Pine Warbler, La. Waterthrush,
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Downy Woodpecker, Scott's Oriole, Red-tailed Hawk, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, House Finch and American Goldfinch. (Swoope, March 1)
As the month progressed, more early spring migrants arrived. I recorded three first-of-year birds on March 9 and several more toward the end of the month. On March 14 I made my first real hike along the Murphy Deming Trail in Fishersville, adjacent to the Murphy Deming School of Health, which is associated with Mary Baldwin University and Augusta Health. There is a new, rapidly growing community of condominiums at the top of the hill, with a very nice view of the area. I had a very good view of a Red-shouldered Hawk in a nearby tree, and I heard (but didn't see) an E. Towhee for the first time this year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, E. Meadowlark, Belted Kingfisher, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Murphy Deming Trail, March 14)
On Saturday, March 28, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Braley Pond, with two other participants. It was two weeks after the covid-19 emergency measures went into effect, and each person drove separately to the destination, adhering to the "social distancing" guidelines. The temperature was mild but skies were overcast with a hint of lingering mist. Right from the start, we heard two early-arriving migratory species singing near the parking area: Pine Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos. Also, two Eastern Phoebes were building a nest under the kiosk. After setting off on the trails, we saw Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Winter Wrens, Belted Kingfishers, and more Pine Warblers and Blue-headed Vireos as we hiked a short way upstream from the pond. We ended the trip with 20 species total, not including the Brown Creeper that Debbie Pugh saw after returning in the afternoon, and not including an early-arriving Louisiana Waterthrush at Chimney Hollow and other birds at Dowell's Draft. (Text from the article I wrote for the April bird club newsletter.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Phoebe, Winter Wren, Belted Kingfisher, Pine Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo. (Braley Pond & Chimney Hollow, March 28)
One day later (Sunday the 29th) Jacqueline and I went hiking along the Madison Run road on the western edge of the Shenandoah National Park, and we saw two of the early migrants that I had seen the day before.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.