August 17, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in the dog days of August
I have only had three bird outings of any significance this month, and although I made a few satisfying "discoveries," I didn't see any more of that Blue Grosbeak which showed up on Bell's Lane on July 28.
On August 4, Jacqueline and I took a day trip south through the small towns of Middlebrook and Brownsburg, and birding was a lower priority. The two highlights were a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a fence post not far from the road, and a Grasshopper Sparrow that was only about 20 feet away. Unfortunately, it was in a bad position relative to the sun, so the photos I took were full of harsh glare. My camera battery died, to my chagrin, so there wasn't much point to doing much birding in the picturesque Goshen Pass or Augusta Springs locations which we visited on the return leg of our drive home.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, American Goldfinch, Grasshopper Sparrow, and a Chipping Sparrow flanked by two views of a Red-tailed Hawk; not the same one seen at the top left. (August 4, 2018)
The very next day, Jacqueline and I went for a hike on the Shenandoah Mountain trail, retracing the steps of the Augusta Bird Club field trip which I led there back on May 24. As expected, bird activity was pretty subdued, but we did see a family of Scarlet Tanagers flittering about. (I believe the one below is a juvenile, based on the frazzled appearance, especially the tail.) Other highlights were an Eastern Wood Pewee singing nearby and a Black-throated Blue Warbler -- the only warbler (other than an Ovenbird) that we saw that day! A surprise rain shower forced us to hurry back, or else I might have seen or photographed more birds.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Broad-winged Hawk, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, and Red-eyed Vireo. (August 5, 2018)
The next few days were rather rainy, curtailing outdoor activity. But it was mild and sunny on Wednesday, so I went out to Bell's Lane and had some nice surprises: a Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler, both of which of have seemed scarce in that area this summer. I also saw a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, an Indigo Bunting (they aren't singing much if it all any more), Red-tailed Hawk (juv.), a family of Eastern Phoebes , dozens of swallows of various kinds, many Goldfinches, a Wood Duck, and best of all, a Pied-billed Grebe! This area is on the southern fringe of its breeding range, and we hardly ever see them in the summer. One of the Phoebes had the yellowish tint characteristic of that species in the colder months, making me think for a minute that it might be a Great Crested Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Willow Flycatcher, Red-tailed Hawk (juv.), Pied-billed Grebe, Indigo Bunting, Eastern Phoebes, and in center, a Yellow Warbler -- probably a female or juvenile. (August 15, 2018) Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
Yesterday, we saw an Osprey flying over Barrenridge Road on the west side of Fishersville, as well as Goldfinches and Cedar Waxwings here and there. Today we had a hummingbird at our back porch feeder for the first time this year! Presumably they will be regular visitors until late September or so.
August 6, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Birding in July: not bad!
Mid-to-late summer is usually one of the dullest times of the year for bird enthusiasts, but occasionally you run across some nice surprises. On the morning of the Fourth of July (Wednesday), I went to Bell's Lane for the first time in a while, and saw two unusual species: a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that darted past me into some big bushes, and a Warbling Vireo in a sycamore tree near the beaver pond. I had a hard time placing the song of the latter but eventually figured it out. Unfortunately, they both eluded my camera lens, but I was more than consoled when a Green Heron posed for me at the beaver pond in perfect light not far away. Some juvenile and adult female Wood Ducks were also there, along with quite a few adult and juvenile Tree Swallows and Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I had a distant view of a Willow Flycatcher, but but not see or hear any Yellow Warblers or Eastern Bluebirds. The apparent lack of breeding success of those two species in the prime habitat offered by Bell's Lane is cause for concern. Finally, I was amused by a Brown Thrasher taking a dust bath in the middle of the road.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Goldfinch (M), Eastern Kingbid, Green Heron, Indigo Bunting (M), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (J), Wood Duck (F), Mallard (J), and in center, Willow Flycatcher and Brown Thrasher. (July 4, 2018)
Determined to take advantage of the spectacular weather, on Tuesday July 10 I went back to three locations near West Augusta that I have been monitoring for the VABBA project. The Chimney Hollow trail was obstructed by several fallen trees, but at least I had a nice view of an Acadian Flycatcher there. At Braley Pond I spotted a Pine Warbler and Northern Parula, as well as some Indigo Buntings and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. On the Dowell's Draft trail / fire road (which I had explored for the very first time on June 30), I saw even more Northern Parulas, two of which are pictured here, but none of the Prairie Warblers which I had seen there on June 30. Ovenbirds and Worm-eating Warblers were seen or heard at multiple locations.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Indigo Bunting (M), Northern Parulas (M), Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Worm-eating Warbler, Acadian Flycatcher, and Pine Warbler. (July 10, 2018)
A couple days later, fellow Augusta Bird Club member Penny Warren asked me how to get to the Dowell's Draft trail, and I ended up joining her and Ann Cline for another visit there, on Saturday July 14. After a slow start, the excursion turned out to be a big success. Near the second stream crossing just past the second "hot spot" from my first visit, I thought I heard a Prairie Warbler song, and eventually we not only saw one but got some good photographs of it! (Ann's were better than mine, so I put them on the ABC website.) According to VABBA criteria, the repeated observation of a singing male in one location indicates probable breeding. We also saw a Black-throated Green Warbler (F or J?), among other warblers, and had amazing closeup views [and photos] of a Northern Parula. We did the rounds on Bell's Lane after we returned to Staunton, and saw a family of Eastern Kingbirds about 15 feet away, as well as families of Green Herons and Cedar Waxwings at or near the beaver pond. We will almost definitely have a regular field trip to Dowell's Draft in early September, as long as there is no pipeline construction activity, that is.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler (F or J?), Eastern Phoebe, Northern Parula, Green Heron, Cedar Waxwing, Louisiana Waterthrush, Eastern Kingbirds (adult & juvenile), and Prairie Warbler. (July 14, 2018)
The skies were cloudy one week later (July 21), but I had some good luck with birding anyway. After trying unsuccessfully to find a way into the Shenandoah National Park via Sawmill Run east of the town of Dooms (north of Waynesboro), I caught a glimpse of a large bird perched in a dead tree along Rt. 611, so I did a U-turn. I was astonished to have a nice view of a Broad-winged Hawk, and snapped a couple photos before it flew away. Then I headed to the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, where I had nice views of an Eastern Towhee and a Scarlet Tanager, and brief glimpses of an Ovenbird and Wood Thrush. Taking a stroll on the trail east from the Humpback Rocks parking lot, I heard and eventually saw a Wood Thrush and a Hooded Warbler, and heard a Cerulean Warbler or two in the tree tops. Unfortunately, the light was inadequate for good quality photos. I also heard a Barred Owl in the distance, the first in many months for me.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee (M), Indigo Bunting (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Broad-winged Hawk, Wood Thrush, and Scarlet Tanager (M). (July 21, 2018)
Finally, on the afternoon of July 28 (Saturday) I went to Bell's Lane and saw most of the expected species, and then just south of the Ford farm entrance (the high point), I saw something odd eating a caterpillar on the road, and soon realized to my astonishment that it was a male Blue Grosbeak. Even in the most familiar places, you never know what you're going to find! Fortunately I got some decent photos of it, but could never determine whether it has a mate or offspring. Other highlights: Orchard Oriole, Great Blue Heron, Solitary Sandpiper (my first one of the "fall" migration season, which begins early for shorebirds), and lots of American Goldfinches, some gathering thistle down for their nests.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-winged Blackbird (M), Indigo Bunting (M), Blue Grosbeak (M), Solitary Sandpiper, Orchard Oriole (F or J?), Great Blue Heron, and American Goldfinch (M). (July 28, 2018)
All in all, July was not a bad month at all! More photos of some of the birds in the montages above can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
July 15, 2018 [LINK / comment]
June: a month (of birding) to remember!
June may have been forgetable in other ways (such as baseball), but in terms of birding, it was definitely a month to remember! In my never-ending quest to get caught up on documenting my various activities, here is a summary of what I did in June, in chronological order.
On June 2, I went on an Augusta Bird Club field trip around the Swoope area, as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. John Spahr led the trip and us tips on how to use the eBird app to submit observations via an iPhone. There are specific codes for different kinds of breeding behavior: male singing, nests being occupied, etc. The big highlight was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest very close to the road, and before long I spotted the mother-to-be in the nest. In a nearby tree, two Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be preparing a nest. We also saw two Yellow-billed Cuckoos nearby, but I wasn't able to photograph them. It was one of the few times I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at two different locations on the same day.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-headed Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole (1st-yr. male), Willow Flycatcher, Bobolink, Eastern Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird (F) in nest!, American Goldfinch, and in center, Eastern Bluebird. (June 2)
On June 6 (the 74th anniversary of the "D-Day" invasion of France), I led two other Augusta Bird Club members went on a hastily-improvised field trip to Highland County, taking advantage of momentary good weather. (With all the rain, we just couldn't be sure about scheduling such a trip more than a few days in advance.) We succeeded in spotting three main target species. At the Blue Grass cemetery, several Bobolinks were singing and displaying. A few miles north, close to the West Virginia state line, there was a guy with a huge camera on the side of the road, and we figured that he was trying to get a photo of a Golden-winged Warbler, since it was very close to our destination. So we stopped, and sure enough, we saw one after a few minutes. Then we proceeded to the house where Margaret O'Bryan once lived; for many years that has been a regular stop for Augusta Bird Club field trips. We saw the usual variety of warblers up there, including a Chestnut-sided Warbler, but not until we were about to leave did we finally hear and then glimpse a Golden-winged Warbler. We did see a female Yellow Warbler in her nest, very useful photographic data for VABBA. Next, we drove out to Paddy Knob, on the southwest corner of Highland County, right on the West Virginia state line. It was the first time that any of use had been there, and we were trying to follow the directions by Marshall Faintich, a prominent local bird photographer who regularly posts reports of his ventures. We lost track of distance, however, and went a few miles beyond the primary "hot spot" destination. Finally, we did see an elusive Mourning Warbler, and I managed to get a decent photo in spite of obstructing bushes. We also saw Black-throated Blue Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Least Flycatcher.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Mourning Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Bobolink, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Least Flycatcher, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler (F) in nest!, and in center, Chestnut-sided Warbler. (June 6)
Saturday, June 9th was the Augusta Bird Club's annual spring picnic brunch, for the first time at Humpback Rocks Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was great and attendance was high. Crista Cabe and I led two separate groups on hikes along nearby trails, and a nice variety of birds were heard and seen. Among the highlights were Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Cerulean Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blue-headed Vireos. I had intended to return to that area to get better photos of Cerulean Warblers, but haven't managed to do it thus far.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, Cerulean Warbler, Indigo Bunting, American Redstart, Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Red-tailed Hawk. (June 9)
On June 16, John Spahr led five other Augusta Bird Club members on a second field trip related to the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. (See the June 2 report above.) The main destination was Braley Pond, near the village of West Augusta, but most of the time was spent along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from the pond. That trail turned out to be very rich in terms of likely breeding birds, and a number of Northern Parulas, Worm-eating Warblers, and Indigo Buntings (including a female with nesting material) were heard and/or seen. Afterwards, some of us stopped for lunch at the nearby convenience store, where a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to a feeder. Finally, we spent a while at the Chimney Hollow trail, where we saw an Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as some juvenile Eastern Phoebes.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Northern Parula, Eastern Phoebe, Black-and-white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Indigo Bunting (F & M). (June 16)
On June 23 I went on my first solo venture as part of VABBA. It had rained in Staunton the day before, but apparently it was much heavier in the West Augusta area, as the Chimney Hollow trail was flooded for much of the way. I made it as far as the first stream crossing, but that proved to be totally impassible, so I waited for a while and then turned back. I spotted the Acadian Flycatcher but not much else. Next I went to nearby Braley Pond, where I saw an Ovenbird (male by definition) singing repeatedly near the parking area. As expected, there was a nest in the informational kiosk. At the pond there were two big surprises: a Great Egret and an Osprey.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Egret, Indigo Bunting, Acadian Flycatcher, Ovenbird, Osprey, Eastern Phoebe, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. (Braley Pond, June 23, 2018)
On June 30, I went on a follow-up trip to the same area for VABBA, and started off by taking a look at a trail with which I was not familiar: Dowell's Draft. The trailhead is easy to miss as you drive along the road which heads north toward Elkhorn Lake, which I had covered on Big Spring Day, May 5. If it weren't for VABBA, under which specific rectangular plots of land measuring about three miles by five miles are assigned to volunteer observers, I might not have discovered that trail at all! Dowells Draft happens to be located right next to the pipeline clearing, and I saw many signs along the way, such as "noxious weeds" and "waterbody crossing." I began at about 9:45 and intended to spend under an hour there before going to nearby Braley Pond and Chimney Hollow, but I soon realized that Dowells Draft itself was so thick with birds that it took up my whole day (well, five hours) of birding! One discovery led to another, as I explored that area for the first time. Early on, I had great views of Northern Parulas, Ovenbirds, etc. There is a side trail on the left that connects Dowells Draft to other trails farther north, but instead I continued along the fire road which roughly parallels the pipeline right of way. I was "lured" by the distant song of a Prairie Warbler, and before long I saw at least one and probably two at fairly close range. That species favors semi-open countryside, and the clearing of trees for the pipeline might actually be beneficial for them. Soon I came upon another "hot spot," where several different warbler species were very active, including probable families of Black and White Warblers and American Redstarts. Then I crossed a stream and began a long uphill climb, gaining about 600 feet in elevation. Along the way, I saw Scarlet Tanagers and heard Pine Warblers, among others. As I approached the summit of Chestnut Oak Knob, I decided to turn back since it was already 1:00 PM and I didn't have any food or water with me. (Rather foolish, I admit, but that is not how I had planned my day.) Fortunately, I found blackberries to munch on, and that kept me going. I returned to the trailhead about 3:00, tired but very satisfied with a great day of birding and adventuring.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-eyed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, Northern Parula, Prairie Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, and in center, Indigo Bunting and Red-bellied Woodpecker. (Dowell's Draft, June 30, 2018)
Well, that takes care of that! Most of the narrative text above consists of postings I made to Facebook, edited for context and brevity. (The latter two paragraphs were written from scratch.) Many other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. A separate blog post covering birds in [July] will follow soon...
June 21, 2018 [LINK / comment]
Spring bird migration 2018: a review
Well, here we are in the latter part of June already, and I haven't managed to summarize my birding experiences on this blog since the end of March. So, on the first day of "summer" (the solstice), here's a very brief review what happened in the spring months of April and May. A separate blog post covering birds in June will follow soon.
Throughout April I made periodic visits to Bell's Lane to check on late-lingering winter birds and newly arriving migrants. The last day I saw a Short-eared Owl there was on April 3, and the last Northern Harrier was on April 5. It was on that day that I saw my first Brown Thrasher of the season, but it may have been the same one that had been seen by other folks in that area throughout the winter months. On the beaver pond, I saw two female Hooded Mergansers (but not the Common Mergansers which Penny Warren had reported), as well as three Blue-winged Teals and two pairs of Wood Ducks. At one point, the males engaged in a dramatic "race" across the pond to impress their mates. I also heard and saw a singing male Goldfinch, as well as a gurgling Brown-headed Cowbird. There were even more at the Bell's Lane beaver pond yesterday, 6-8 total I'd say. Plus the same as before, as well as two distant, two singing loudly. In the mini-garden behind our back patio, a male Eastern Towhee showed up several times in late March and early April; we hardly ever see them here in town.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Gadwall (M), Blue-winged Teal (M), and Wood Ducks (M & F). (Bell's Lane, April 10, 2018)
The highlight of my brief April 12 visit to Bell's Lane was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M) in back of the Augusta Bird Club kiosk. I got a nice photo showing it pecking a series of small holes in a tree from which to lap up oozing sap. (Technically, they should be called "Saplickers," not "Sapsuckers.") At the beaver pond there were at least six Wood Ducks, plus the Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals and a female Hooded Merganser. Back home, a male Northern Flicker was calling out from a tree top out back. I also saw a Kinglet, but I'm not sure which one it was.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (M), Hooded Merganser (F), Northern Flicker (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, and in center, Northern Cardinal (M) and White-throated Sparrow. (Bell's Lane and north Staunton, April 12, 2018.
On April 14 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro. The unquestioned highlight of the day was a Prairie Warbler; I had hoped to see many more warblers, but it was not to be. Aside from those shown below, we also saw Blue-headed Vireos. Afterwards, Peter Van Acker showed us the unfinished trail along the South River, and we walked along it for about a half miles, to North Park. There we saw an Osprey and glimpsed a White-eyed Vireo.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwing, Prairie Warbler, Pied-billed Grebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Osprey, and Brown Thrasher. (April 14, 2018)
On April 18 Jo King led a field trip to McCormick's Mill, and we were delighted to see a Green Heron, the first one of the year for me. Most of us saw a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet flashing his brilliant red crown, but I just couldn't get a good photo. The Osprey was awkwardly positioned toward the sun, hence the poor image quality. Later on I went to Montgomery Hall Park and spotted a House Wren, my first of the year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, House Wren, American Goldfinch, Blue-winged Teal, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Osprey. (April 18, 2018)
On April 22 I went back to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, and just like at the field trip, there were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. But this time I had a nice view of a Palm Warbler, my first of the year. Also seen were Cedar Waxwings, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a Blue-headed Vireo. At North Park (along the South River), I saw my first Northern Parula and Black-and-White Warbler of the year, as well as an Osprey.
Saturday April 28 was a beautiful day, perfect for the annual Riverfest event in Waynesboro. On my way there, I took a detour to Bell's Lane, where I saw my first Solitary Sandpiper of the year, and heard a Grasshopper Sparrow (FOY) for the first time. Then I made what I had planned to be a brief visit to Madison Run (near Grottoes), but ended up spending an hour and a half there. I saw almost all the "usual suspects," including five first-of-year birds: Broad-winged Hawk, Ovenbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Louisiana Waterthrush (?), and Worm-eating Warbler. I also saw my first Pine Warbler, which I had heard but without seeing at Chimney Hollow on March 31. Other highlights are in the photo montage below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Black and White Warbler, Pine Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Blue-headed Vireo. (Madison Run, April 28, 2018)
April 30 was another beautiful morning, so I went out to Augusta Springs, and saw virtually the same set of birds that I had seen along Madison Run on Saturday. Once again, Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere, it seemed. I was thrilled to get a nice closeup of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but to my surprise, there were no Redstarts, Great-crested Flycatchers, or Scarlet Tanagers. It gave me the impression that some of those migrants had delayed their arrival.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, hawk, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Ovenbird. (Augusta Springs, April 30, 2018)
Around noon on May 1 I went to Betsy Bell Hill, and almost immediately heard a Wood Thrush singing, my first one of the year. Before long, I had one in view and snapped a quick photo. I also heard a Great Crested Flycatcher (also first-of-year) and Blue-headed Vireo, and likewise eventually spotted both of them in the branches above me. Over at the Bell's Lane beaver pond, I saw a Greater Yellowlegs and Wilson's Snipe, as well as a lingering Blue-winged Teal.
The next day I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and sure enough there were warblers and other neotropical migrants almost everywhere you looked. BINGO! I saw five species for the first time this year: Scarlet Tanager, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, and Indigo Bunting. With all those colors, it was almost like a rainbow. I also briefly saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (also first-of-year) along Coal Road near Big Levels, and a male of that species in our back yard!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cerulean Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, and Indigo Bunting -- all males. (Blue Ridge Parkway, May 2, 2018)
The next morning (May 3) I went to Montgomery Hall Park, and after a while came across a small flurry of bird activity. I had great views of a House Wren, and poor views of three first-of-year birds: Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Overhead a Broad-winged Hawk screamed menacingly. Just as I was about to leave, I had a nice view of a Great Crested Flycatcher, and back home I saw a Swainson's Thrush for the first time this year.
Our club picked May 5 as this year's "Big Spring Day," when we do a systematic tally of as many migratory and resident bird species as we can find. I was covering the Chimney Hollow, Braley Pond, and Elkhorn Lake areas, and had pretty good luck. In fact, I woke up to the enchanting song of a Wood Thrush right out back, a very good omen! With the occasional rain and overcast skies, it wasn't good for taking photos, but the weather probably helped boost the number of migrating birds. I tallied 13 warbler species altogether, and came across a female Wild Turkey along Rt. 250. Another nice surprise was seeing Penny Warren and Lisa Hamilton at the store in West Augusta, after we had finished our respective routes. One of the hottest hot spots was along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from Braley Pond (the first time I had hiked that far on it), where I saw several warbler species, most notably Northern Parulas. Another hot spot was near the restroom at the road that leads to Elkhorn Lake, where I saw Blackburnian Warblers, among many others.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, Wild Turkey (F), American Redstart, Spotted Sandpiper, Indigo Bunting, and in center, Blackburnian Warbler -- almost all males. There were so many warblers that day that I had to put the others in a separate "montage" group photo: Yellow-rumped, Black & White, Worm-eating, and Ovenbird, plus Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos. Click on that image to see them. (Western Augusta County, May 5, 2018)
In the morning of May 7 I went to Bell's Lane and finally saw my first Yellow Warbler of the year, as well as some Orchard Orioles, Bobolinks (also first-of-year), Green Heron, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, Wood Ducks, Solitary Sandpiper, and Brown Thrasher. The latter birds were around the beaver pond. Then I headed to Betsy Bell Hill and was amazed to see several Cape May Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Eastern Wood Pewee (all three first-of-year), as well as a Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Parula and some Yellow-rumped Warblers. I could hear other warblers in the tree tops, but had a hard time seeing or identifying them by species.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Orioles (first-year male and adult male), Scarlet Tanager, Yellow Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Red-tailed Hawk. (Bell's Lane and Betsy Bell Hill, May 7, 2018)
Two days later (May 9) I joined Penny Warren on another foray to Betsy Bell Hill, and we were simply overwhelmed. I had never seen so many Bay-breasted Warblers before, and certainly not at such close range! Likewise, I was amazed by how often we heard the staccato song of a Tennessee Warbler (which I had also seen there two days before), but today we only had brief, distant views of that species. We counted 13 warblers altogether (inclduing my first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Scarlet Tanagers, Wood Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, etc. Just as we were about to leave, I could not believe my eyes when a Red-headed Woodpecker flew past. It was an enchanting, most memorable morning!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Bay-breasted Warbler (M), Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (M & F), Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), and in center, Red-headed Woodpecker. (Betsy Bell Hill, May 9, 2018)
On Saturday, May 12, Allen Larner led a field trip to the Shenanadoah Wetlands Bank near Stuarts Draft, under a special arrangement. (Access is strictly limited.) We heard Virginia Rails (one of the target birds) calling from the thick reeds, but never did see any. Among the notable birds that I managed to photograph (see below), we also had glimpses of a Great Blue Heron, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Louisiana Waterthrush.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Towhee, Pileated Woodpecker, Willow Flycatcher, and two views of a Veery. (Shenanadoah Wetlands Bank, May 12, 2018)
Almost every spring, I see at least a few warblers and other interesting neotropical migrants in the trees in back of where we live in Staunton. This year was different, however, and I'm pretty sure it's the first year that I have not seen or heard either Yellow-rumped Warblers or Blackpoll Warblers out back. Blackpoll Warblers seemed very scarce in general, and other birders noticed the same thing. But on Thursday, May 17 (a very wet morning), I heard a loud, unusual song out back, and for a long while I was convinced it was a Wilson's Warbler, which I had seen in the same location one year earlier. It took hours of intermittent stalking before I finally realized what it really was: a Northern Waterthrush! It was the best view I had ever had of that species, and luckily I finally managed to get a nice closeup photo showing the characteristic streaked throat which usually serves to distinguish it from a Louisiana Waterthrush. There was also a Swainson's Thrush, a species which I had seen there a week or so ago, as well as a brief appearance by a Great Crested Flycatcher. (I couldn't get a photo of that one, however.) It was a successful day of very local birding!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swainson's Thrush, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Waterthrush, Gray Catbird, and in center, another view of the Northern Waterthrush. (North Staunton, May 17, 2018)
The rainy spell finally ended on Sunday, May 20, and I saw the Swainson's Thrush out back for the last time, one day after my last sighting of the Northern Waterthrush. As the glorious sun finally reappeared, I made a quick visit to the lower part of Montgomery Hall Park, and saw my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the season -- two noisy males, in fact. Other males showing off their vocal talents included Great Crested Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, and American Redstart (first year). Then I hurried to church.
On May 24 I led a field trip to the Shenandoah Mountain trail, which passes through the Confederate Breastworks on the Augusta-Highland County line. Notwithstanding the name, it is not part of the Shenandoah National Park. The trip was originally scheduled for May 26, but I learned that I had a sudden family obligation that day, so I had to "prepone" the trip and was delighted that so many folks showed up --seven! Among the highlights that I managed to photograph (with only mediocre results) were Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, and Eastern Wood Pewee. We heard at least two Yellow-billed Cuckoos and eventually glimpsed one of them flying above. We also saw a Scarlet Tanager, Black-throated Blue Warblers, an American Redstart, and an Ovenbird just a few feet away from us! Was there a nest nearby? Three of us went over to the nearby Confederate Breastworks afterwards, and were rewarded with three additional birds, including a Raven that was squawking loudly at a probable Red-tailed Hawk (immature) flying above.
On May 28 I visited Bell's Lane, but had only modest expectations given the overcast skies and rainy forecast. But then I crossed paths with Penny Warren, who told me about some Orchard Orioles, and sure enough I soon heard and saw them all around. I also saw a male Baltimore Oriole chasing a crow, along with a Red-winged Blackbird, a fascinating conflict. Further along the road, I came across three other birders -- Steve Talley, Peter Cooper, and Sanda Howland -- and eventually saw my first Grasshopper Sparrow of the year as well as many other birds. Aside from those pictured here, I saw American Goldfinches and House Finches, and heard a couple Yellow Warblers but only glimpsed one briefly. All in all, not a bad day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Willow Flycatcher, Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, Grasshopper Sparrow, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrasher, and in center, Great Crested Flycatcher. (Bell's Lane, May 28, 2018)
Well, that takes care of that! Most of the narrative text above consists of postings I made to Facebook, edited for context and brevity. Many other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. As noted in the opening paragraph, a separate blog post covering birds in June will follow soon...