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.
October 2, 2018 [LINK / comment]
The peak of fall migration season
The weather has improved somewhat over the past week, just as fall migration season has reached a peak, possibly delayed, as many southbound birds probably waited for the rain to stop. I have tried to take maximum advantage of better conditions, despite a lingering sore heel. Late in the morning on September 26, I checked out Bell's Lane, but aside from the usual birds, all I saw was three Solitary Sandpipers, one of which walked right next to a turtle. Photo op! When I went to on Betsy Bell Hill, however, I saw an American Redstart and a Magnolia Warbler, as well as a Red-eyed Vireo. It was hard to get good photos, or even any photos at all. In our back yard, the Cape May Warbler returned, and along Mountain View Road (by the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad that I used to frequent several years ago) I saw some Yellow-throated Vireos and a Black-throated Green Warbler, and both cooperated while I captured their photographic images, just before yet another rainfall later in the day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and Cape May Warbler. (September 26, 2018).
After a heavy rain on Thursday night, the sun came out in the morning of September 28, and the Cape May Warbler was still out back as well as a young Northern Cardinal. I was constrained by the obligation of finishing the Augusta Bird Club bulletin, however, and that was completed in the mid-afternoon. So I then paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane in the late afternoon. Before long I had seen a Black-throated Blue Warbler (F) and a Black & White Warbler, as well as a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. In the upland area I saw what I thought was a hawk fly past me, but soon realized it was actually an adult male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier! Further to the north I also saw a Northern Flicker and a Magnolia Warbler, both hiding in the bushes, and I duly noted those sightings on the Augusta Bird Club chalkboard. The lowland portion of Bell's Lane was a real mess that day (and still is), full of debris caused by an evident flood.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee, Black & White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Cape May Warbler, juvenile Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker (F), Magnolia Warbler, and in center, Northern Harrier (M). (September 28, 2018).
The weather on Saturday was ideal, but I was inside on the computer for most of the day. I went back to Bell's Lane in the afternoon, and soon saw my first Palm Warbler of the season. (Somebody had written on the chalkboard that they saw one there a few days ago.) In the vicinity of the beaver pond, there were also the usual Eastern Phoebes, Killdeers, and Solitary Sandpiper, plus a Kingfisher, Redstart, another Palm Warbler, and a probable Tennessee Warbler near the top of a sycamore tree.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper, Killdeer, and Tennessee Warbler (prob.). (September 29, 2018).
On Sunday I went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in spite of the cloudy conditions. It was the first time I'd been there in a few weeks, but hardly any birds were to be seen at the usual hot spots such as the Humpback Rocks visitor center and picnic area. So I went to the Hawk Watch on Afton Mountain, the first time I had been there in ove a year, I believe. Just as I had hoped, the sun finally came out soon after I arrived, enabling me to get a decent photos of a low-flying Turkey Vulture and a Broad-winged Hawk (one of a group of a dozen or so) pass of the other raptors that came into view. At one point, a Peregrine Falcon flew right in front of us, but I just couldn't get the camera to focus on it. That was a big disappointment.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Turkey Vulture, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and Northern Harrier. (September 30, 2018).
On Monday I visited Bell's Lane in the late afternoon, and saw a probable Willow Flycatcher, "posing" in the sunlight for my camera. Not much else, however.
This morning, after dropping off the bird club bulletins at the post office and then doing recycling chores, I went to check out Montgomery Hall Park. For a long while, however, it seemed like a complete waste of time. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. At one point I played a Screech Owl call on my iPhone app, which attracted a few common birds but more importantly, it elicited vocal responses from two Screech Owls, in opposite directions! Well, that was something. On my way out of the park, I glimpsed some yellowish birds in the trees next to the road, figuring they were probably Goldfinches. Not! It was actually a family of Scarlet Tanagers, and I was lucky to get a photo of one of them before they flew off toward the softball fields.
Next I went to the new park trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, hoping for one of the Yellow-billed or Black-billed Cuckoos that seen there yesterday by two bird club members, Jo King and Bonnie Hughes. No luck there. (I had stopped there once or twice over the past year, and talked to the parks & rec official about Augusta County's plans to expand that trail into a lengthy network of asphalt trails spanning Verona.) But when I visited Bell's Lane on the way home, things started buzzing -- literally! A Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew past as I was photographing a probable Willow Flycatcher (perhaps the same one as yesterday) east of the lane at the beaver pond; a young Green Heron was on the west side. In the upland pastures portion, I saw some Palm Warblers acting like sparrows foraging along the side of the lane, and then all of a sudden, a Cuckoo flew past! Fortunately, I was able to get a photo (which indicated it was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, possibly young based on the relative lack of yellow color in the bill) before a passing bicyclist scared it away. Not a bad start to the month!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Palm Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Green Heron (J), and in center, Willow Flycatcher (prob.). (October 2, 2018).
I counted seven warbler species in the photo montages above, and adding Redstarts I have seen, that makes eight altogether this fall season. Hopefully I'll see at least a few more warblers in the weeks to come...
NOTE: Most of the text above was copied from my Facebook posts, and then edited for clarity and context. Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
September 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in (& near) West Virginia
Even though birding was a secondary purpose of the trip to West Virginia which Jacqueline and I took on September 19 (see the travel blog post from earlier today), we did have a few interesting sightings along the way. The Kestrel in the montage below was actually in Highland County, Virginia, a few miles west of Monterey. Further along Route 250 at the intersection with Bear Mountain Road, we saw another Kestrel as well as some American Goldfinches, and heard an Eastern Towhee.
It was right on the West Virginia state line that things got really interesting. I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch but never was able to see it, unfortunately. But I did see some Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-throated Green Warblers, and other birds flitting around the tree branches. Near a picnic area a couple miles further, there were many Goldfinches and a probable Red-tailed Hawk.
Most of the rest of the birds we saw that day were in or near the Dolly Sods wilderness area, where the elevation is well over 4,000 feet and one is apt to see bird species normally found in Canada. For a while, I had just a few glimpses of birds here and there, but when we got to the South Prong trail head, I spotted some Dark-eyed Juncos and a Common Yellowthroat in the bushes. That was rewarding. On the road back down from the plateau, we stopped at a place with a lot of bird activity and I finally got close enought to photographically identify a Pine Warbler. (The black streaks raise the possibility it was a Cape May Warbler, but it was in pine trees.) I also saw and photographed an Eastern Wood Pewee, and some Black-capped Chickadees, one of which had a white spot above each eye. I'll have to find out if that is a regional plumage variation or just an aberration. Back at Seneca Rocks on the return leg of our trip, we saw several Turkey Vultures soaring past the rock outcroppings, but no hawks or eagles, unfortunately.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Kestrel (F), Dark-eyed Junco, Pine Warbler, Black-capped Chickadee, Eastern Wood Pewee, Common Yellowthroat (M), and Black-throated Green Warbler. (September 19)
With all the rain we have had this month, there haven't been many chances to go out and look for migrating birds heading back south. Fortunately, however, we have had Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at our back porch feeder fairly regularly since late August. A young male dominates it, and occasionally it chases away an interloper. A bigger find was a Cape May Warbler that showed up on September 17:
Cape May Warbler (Staunton, September 17)
After more heavy rains, several local rivers flooded last week, and as a side effect, a number of shorebirds were reported by Allen Larner in flooded lowlands east of Stuarts Draft. So I drove down there on September 18, but came up empty. Later in the day I got lucky, tallying four (4) different flycatcher species: a Willow Flycatcher and Eastern Phoebe on Bell's Lane, and an Eastern Wood Pewee and a probable Least Flycatcher in "our" back yard in north Staunton. I was also saw another warbler in the trees, but based on the underside of the tail, it was probably just a female or juvenile Cape May Warbler, the same species I had seen there the day before.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Willow Flycatcher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Least Flycatcher (?), Cape May Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Eastrn Phoebe. (September 18)
To see more photos, go to the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
September 16, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Dowell's Draft
"It was a dark and stormy morning..." Such a description could apply to almost any day this month, as birding activities have been curtailed by persistent rainy weather. But on Saturday September 8, I managed to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Dowell's Draft during a relative brief respite from the rains. I first "discovered" Dowell's Draft, located near Braley Pond in western Augusta County, on June 30 while working on the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project; see my July 15 blog post. The skies were mostly cloudy except for a few interludes of sunlight, so it was hard to get good photos. We spent about ten minutes along the road by the trail head looking westward toward where the gas pipeline will be built, and saw a few birds at the tops of dead trees. Some people thought they were Eastern Wood Pewees, but I'm inclined to think they were Eastern Phoebes. To my surprise, a Red-eyed Vireo landed there briefly.
As we started hiking, I mentioned that I had previously seen a variety of birds just a short distance ahead, and very soon one popped into view. I'm certain that it was one of the "Empidomax" flycatchers, probably a Least Flycatcher, but it was too elusive for me to get a good photo. After that encouraging start, there wasn't much to see or hear for a while other than a Pileated Woodpecker flying overhead. The trail (actually a fire road) was in pretty good condition considering all the rainfall, except for a short section crossing a stream where we had to avoid big puddles. Shortly thereafter, we saw one or two small yellow birds in a tall tree about 75 yards away, uphill. At first I thought it might be a female oriole or Scarlet Tanager, but after looking at the photos, I think it was probably a Prairie Warbler, or perhaps a Pine Warbler. It was the same location that I saw some Prairie Warblers earlier this summer. Then we continued on, and turned left along an abandoned fire road which I had not explored before. After about 100 yards we turned back, and then did likewise along the main fire road, stopping as it approached a very wet stream crossing. We heard a few birds in that area and glimpsed some, but the only clear sighting was a pair of Eastern Wood Pewees. It was disappointing that this "hot spot" from my previous visits turned out so empty. We had better luck with mushrooms, however; see below.
Afterwards, we went over to Braley Pond, which is less than a half mile away from the trailhead. On the way, there were a dozen or so American Goldfinches along the road. The lake was unusually brown, fill of silt runoff from all the recent rain. We didn't see any birds around the lake, and the only notable sightings were a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flitting about the meadow flowers and a few Worm-eating Warblers in the trees above the parking area.
The following list is NOT complete, but merely shows the highlights of what we saw at the two locations:
- Eastern Phoebes (probable)
- Eastern Wood-Pewees
- Least Flycatcher (probable)
- Red-eyed Vireo
- American Redstart (F/J)
- Prairie Warbler (probable)
- Ruby-throated Hummingbird
- Pileated Woodpecker
- American Goldfinches
- Worm-eating Warblers
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Phoebe (juv.) (prob.), American Goldfinch (F), Least Flycatcher (prob.), and Prairie Warbler (prob.). (September 8, 2018)
Cloud-covered Braley Pond, brown with silt from all the runoff from the recent heavy rains. (September 8, 2018)
Given the wet conditions, it was no surprise that we saw many mushrooms along the way. One of those in attendance, Diane Holsinger, identified some of the mushrooms, including this attractive one below. We also saw a wildflower which Diane identified as "Ladies' tresses."
Chanterelle mushroom, which is supposed to be edible.
Ladies' tresses, a kind of wild orchid.
Red caterpillar, species unknown.
On the way back to town, we stopped for a nice lunch at White's Wayside restaurant, which features locally-produced food. It was delicious! There is a nice, homey atmosphere inside and the owner is a big advocate of environamental causes. Their electricity runs on a big solar panel out back.
Recent visits to Bell's Lane, etc.
In the morning on August 28 I went to Bell's Lane, and noticed on the blackboard that Penny Warren had seen a Blue Grosbeak in that area. (I had spotted one there exactly one month earlier.) Sure enough, I heard the distinctive song at the Ford farm entrance, spotted the male at a distance, and lured him closer with my iPhone. I thought I saw a juvenile of that species on the driveway, but it was probably a young or female House Finch. I also saw some Warbling Vireos in that same big tree, but the photos were only so-so. Earlier I had seen many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher by the lowland stream crossing, as well as 6-7 Killdeers flying overhead.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: House Finch (F/J), Ruby-throated Hummingbird (JM), Blue Grosbeak (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Warbling Vireo, and Killdeer. (August 28, 2018)
My next visit to Bell's Lane was in the afternoon of September 6 (quite hot), and the highlights included two House Wrens (one being a juvenile), a Common Yellowthroat or two (mere glimpses), a Great Blue Heron, and two Green Herons (one being a juvenile). I also saw a flock of Canada Geese, an indication that fall migration is underway. I photographed a couple Common Nighthawks on the evening of September 2, but didn't seen any more after that.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Blue Heron, Northern Mockingbird, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (juv. male, in "our" back yard), House Wren (juv.), Canada Goose, Downy Woodpecker (F), Green Heron (juv.), and in center, Green Heron (adult). (September 6, 2018)
On the morning of September 12, there was a Waterthrush out back, but I couldn't get a good photo, so I'm not sure whether it was a Louisiana or a Northern; we have had both species here before. Jo King thinks it was a Northern Waterthrush, based on the photo below. In the afternoon I went to Bell's Lane and saw the usuals plus a Killdeer and a probable Spotted Sandpiper or two at a distance.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron (adult), Wood Ducks (F), Gray Catbird (juv.), Eastern Phoebe, Northern (or Louisiana?) Waterthrush, and Blue Jay (juv. or molting adult?). (September 12, 2018)
A brief visit to Bell's Lane as it started to rain on Friday September 14 yield a nice surprise: a Great Egret in the beaver pond! I also saw Killdeer, a Wood Duck, two Green Herons, and an Eastern Meadowlark in the distance.
Great Egret, at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, September 14.
Finally, on Saturday September 15 Jacqueline and I went for a drive in the country, hoping to beat the impending rain, but we faced intermittent drizzle almost the whole way. The big find was a Northern Harrier swooping low over a field along Cattleman's Road in the Swoope area. That species breeds north of Virginia, so this was certainly an early migrant returning south. I backed up and tried to get a photo, but it got away. Perhaps it decided to leave after seeing the Red-tailed Hawk in the photo below. At the Smith pond* there was a lone Great Blue Heron, but nothing else. There were many swallows (Tree, N. Rough-winged, and Barn) and Mourning Doves in various locations, but little else until we returned to the Bell's Lane beaver pond, where there were several Killdeers and a Solitary Sandpiper plus many more swallows.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Killdeer, Solitary Sandpiper, and Great Blue Heron. (September 15, 2018)
Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
* That pond is near the recently-fallen tree where the resident pair Bald Eagles have nested for the past several years. Allen Larner shared the sad news with the local birding community a few days ago. Hopefully the Bald Eagles will find another suitable (and visible!) nesting location next year.
August 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Beautiful days to enjoy nature
The weather for the last few days has been just perfect, almost making me wish I still rode a bicycle. (I certainly could use the exercise.) After attending to chores, late on Thursday morning I went for a brief but vigorous hike along the Falls Hollow trail, located a few miles east of Augusta Springs on Route 254. Birds were predictably scarce given the time of year, though I did glimpse a probable Worm-eating Warbler and a Broad-winged Hawk. The only other birds I saw were an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and some Tufted Titmice and Black-capped Chickadees. But the venture was worth it, as I saw in abundant assortment of mushrooms! That kept me busy with the camera.
Mushrooms: Species yet to be determined...
As I returned along the trail, I came across an older fellow with a big bag and plastic bucket full of reddish-brown fungi, which he called "Leatherback" mushrooms. He almost insisted that I take some home with me to try, and I obliged him. I did a quick Internet search (wikipedia), and confirmed that the Lactifluus volemus are not only edible but are a tasty species that can be used in casseroles. I fried a few, carefully tested a small amount one night, and then had a meal-sized portion this evening. No problem (so far)!
On Friday morning I went to Bell's Lane, which was pretty quiet at first, just a Brown Thrasher hiding in the bushes and a few Hummingbirds that I photographed. (The latter are not included in the montage below.) It seemed to get busier after about 11:00, however. A juvenile Goldfinch just north of the Ford farm entrance was making alarm calls as I approached (photo at lower right), and its father came to help. I also glimpsed a Yellow Warbler and saw a family of E. Phoebes nearby; I think the photo here (left) is of a juvenile. By the beaver pond I was startled to see a female Orchard Oriole close by. At first I wasn't sure what that bright yellow bird was! There were one or two Kingbirds mixed in with the hordes of swallows (Tree, N. Rough-winged, and Barn), as well as a Kingfisher and Green Heron in the distance. I also saw (and heard) two Red-tailed Hawks.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: House Finch (M), Orchard Oriole (F), American Goldfinch (juv.), Belted Kingfisher, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Phoebe (juv.), and Eastern Kingbird. (August 24, 2018) Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
August 23, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in (& en route to) Annapolis
Birding was not a priority during our weekend trip to Annapolis, but we did see some species that we would not see otherwise, and I got a few photos. On our way up there on Saturday afternoon, at the southern end of the Potomac River bridge on Route 301, we saw an Osprey nest, and I managed to get some quick photos. In the distance, there were a number of Double-crested Cormorants flying just above the water, but my photos of them were not very good.
In the water by the docks in downtown Annapolis there were many Mallards, and I photographed a female at close range. Once or twice I heard and saw what I believe were Boat-tailed Grackles, the range of which extends along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Just as we got started on a boat tour of the Annapolis harbor at noon on Sunday, a small grayish bird landed in our midst, causing a flurry of commotion. It turned out to be a recently-fledged Barn Swallow, and I took a photo of it. One of the crew members placed it on the roof of the boat, in hopes that it might recover and/or regain contact with its parents. On the roof of one of the Naval Academy buildings, I saw many gulls, including a Great Black-backed Gull. I saw a few Laughing Gulls, identified by their distinctive black heads, but only got mediocre photos of them. Then during the return leg of the boat excursion, there was another bird photo-op: we passed an Osprey nest that had been built on a small navigation tower. There were three juveniles (presumably already fledged) in the nest, and one adult Osprey perched alongside. The other gulls were probably Ring-billed Gulls. There were also a few Double-crested Cormorants.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Barn Swallow (juv.), Ospreys (juv.), Laughing Gull, Great Black-backed Gull (and other gulls), and Double-crested Cormorant. (August 19, 2018) Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.