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.
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.
June 30, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding from October through December
In my continuing effort to get caught up on blogging about birding (and other subjects), here is a very brief summary of my outdoor nature activities last fall and the early part of last winter. I took advantage of a nice wooded trail at Blue Ridge Community College, and had a few good finds there. During October I led two Augusta Bird Club (ABC) field trips.
- Oct. 3: Blue Ridge Community College -- Common Yellowthroat (J M)
- Oct. 4: Bell's Lane -- Palm Warbler, Vesper Sparrow
- Oct. 5: Blue Ridge Pkwy (ABC) -- N. Parula, RC Kinglets, YB Sapsuckers
- Oct. 11: Augusta Springs -- Magnolia Warbler, Blk-thr. Green Warbler
- Oct. 18: Bell's Lane & Mill Place -- Palm Warbler
- Oct. 19: Bell's Lane: Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Harrier
- Oct. 26: Madison Run (ABC) & Leonard's Pond -- Long-billed Dowitcher (life bird!)
On October 5, a chilly day, bird club members (and one daughter) saw a wide variety of warblers on the Blue Ridge, but they were hard to see, especially as the skies turned gray. We thought the one in the middle was a Tennessee Warbler, but the yellow color suggests a possible Blue-winged Warbler. The Northern Parula was a nice surprise, and we had two early-arriving winter birds: Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.
October 11 was a gorgeous day at Augusta Springs, and I was astounded by the large number of Cedar Waxwings almost as soon as I arrived. At least 30, maybe 40. I spotted Black-throated Green Warblers and Magnolia Warblers foraging among the tree leaves, but didn't get any good photos. I had better luck, however, with a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Blue-headed Vireo, and some Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The Augusta Bird Club had a field trip there the following day, and they spotted some of the same birds I did.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (J), and in center, Red-eyed Vireo (Augusta Springs, October 11)
The October 26 field trip to Madison Run got off to a great start, with lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a Yellow-throated Vireo, but then it quieted down, and we really didn't see much else. The real birding action came later on, at Leonard's Pond, when two of us saw a Long-billed Dowitcher, which was a life bird for me!
Long-billed Dowitcher (Leonard's Pond, October 26)
Birding in November
- Nov. 1: BRCC, Leonard's Pond, Bell's Lane -- YR Warblers, Wilson's Snipe, RC Kinglet
- Nov. 2: Mill Place -- Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron
- Nov. 10: Braley Pond -- Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 11: Blue Ridge C.C. -- Yellow-rumped Warbler, Am. Goldfinches, House Finches
- Nov. 15: Mill Place & Bell's Lane (ABC) -- Wild Turkey, N. Harrier, Hooded Mergansers
- Nov. 23: Chimney Hollow (ABC) -- Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, GC Kinglets
- Nov. 27: Mill Place, Bell's Lane -- Horned Grebe, Hooded Mergansers
The first day of November I saw several Yellow-rumped Warblers around Blue Ridge Community College once again; they had been there all week. Then over at Leonard's Pond, there was a Wilson's Snipe and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at close range. Finally, at Bell's Lane I had nice views of a Great Blue Heron and a White-throated Sparrow, only my second sighting of the season.
November 10 was a big day for me, as I went for a three-mile hike from Braley Pond upstream along the Johnson Run trail, and then looping back. It was the first time I had done that circuit hike. Early on I heard what I thought was a Brown Creeper singing, but it turned out to be a Winter Wren. I was utterly enthralled! At two different locations along the way I saw several Fox Sparrows, as well as some Golden-crowned Kinglets.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Belted Kingfisher, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Winter Wren. (Braley Pond, November 10)
On Friday, November 15, I was one of five Augusta Bird Club members who went for a walk at Mill Place, where we saw a Swamp Sparrow and two Wild Turkeys. At the Hardee's pond where were four Hooded Mergansers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and others. Finally, at Bell's Lane we saw an adult male Northern Harrier!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swamp Sparrow, Wild Turkey, Cedar Waxwing, Hooded Mergansers, and Northern Harrier. (Mill Place and Bell's Lane, November 15)
Saturday, November 23rd was chilly and overcast, but to my surprise six club members and friends joined me on a vigorous and enjoyable hike along the Chimney Hollow trail. Highlights were multiple Winter Wrens, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. We also had brief glimpses of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Pileated Woodpecker. I only got one bird photo the whole day, however: a Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Birding in December
- Dec. 8: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
- Dec. 14: Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill -- Merlin, Hermit Thrush, YB Sapsucker
- Dec. 28: Waynesboro -- Sharp-shinned Hawk (J)
- Dec. 30: Bell's Lane -- Northern Harrier
Teaching duties occupied most of my time in December, but I managed to find time to do the Christmas Bird Count on the 14th. I was joined by Peter Van Acker and Ann Cline, and almost as soon as we arrived at Montgomery Hall Park, we saw a Merlin perched in a tree! That's a quite uncommon kind of falcon, and coincidentally I had seen one at the same park a year earlier. Other highlights included Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hermit Thrush, Swamp Sparrow, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Merlin. (Montgomery Hall Park & Betsy Bell Hill, Dec. 14)
Later in the month I saw Northern Harriers several times along Bell's Lane, and on the 20th I saw some Short-eared Owls there as well. On the 28th I happened to see a young Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in a tree along a busy street in Waynesboro.
Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (Waynesboro, Dec. 28)
June 28, 2020 [LINK / comment]
Birding last August and September
Little by little, I am getting caught up on blogging about the subjects that interest me, and in some cases I am way behind schedule. Three entire seasons have passed -- fall, winter, and spring -- since my last birding blog post, August 2, 2019. So instead of writing normal prose, I'm going to concentrate on the highlights, listing in brief fashion the dates, places, and notable species that I saw. For special occasions I will write a short paragraph.
The dog days of August
- Aug. 1: Shenandoah Wetlands (Stuarts Draft) -- American Goldfinches tending to a nest
- Aug. 3: Augusta Springs -- Great Egret wading close to the boardwalk
- Aug. 7: Bell's Lane and Montgomery Hall Park -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Aug. 9: Leonard's Pond -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Aug. 10: south of Buena Vista -- Swallow-tailed Kite
- Aug. 17: Madison Run -- Acadian Flycatcher, E. Wood Pewee
- Aug. 24: Ramsey's Draft and Dowell's Draft -- Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Aug. 31: Switzer Lake -- Black-throated Green, Magnolia, & Blackburnian Warblers
The month began as I was preparing to teach at Blue Ridge Community College, which made it convenient for me to stop at Leonard's Pond (about five miles northeast) every so often. Most of my bird outings were to Bell's Lane, but I did make a special trip to Rockbridge County on August 10 in hopes of seeing a rare Swallow-tailed Kite, which I had seen in Florida in March 2017. The bird had been reported near a river about five miles south of Buena Vista, and after about a half hour, the folks had gathered there spotted it. That was quite remarkable!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Raven, Green Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite (twice), Red-shouldered Hawk, Barn Swallow. (August 10, south of Buena Vista)
Among my other noteworthy outings in August was my first-ever visit to Switzer Lake (a bird hotspot in the mountains of western Rockingham County) on the 31st. I was fortunate to run into William Leigh, a prominent birder in that area, and he showed me around.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler (?), Magnolia warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Blackburnian Warber (head not shown). (August 31, Switzer Lake)
September: "peak" migration!
- Sept. 7: Elliott Knob (ABC field trip) -- American Redstart (F / J)
- Sept. 15: Turk Mountain, SNP (with Jacqueline) -- Spotted & Solitary Sandpipers
- Sept. 18: Leonard's Pond -- Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper
- Sept. 18: Riverheads High School (ABC field trip) -- hundreds of Chimney Swifts
- Sept. 21: Blue Ridge Parkway (ABC field trip) -- Common Nighthawks, Chestnut-sided Warbler
- Sept. 22: Montgomery Hall Park & Bell's Lane-- Common Yellowthroat, White-throated Sparrow (?)
On Saturday September 7, I led an ambitious field trip, but somehow I got the time mixed up, and arrived a half hour late! Not only that, but I had a sudden onset of Achilles tendonitis, with sharp pain that made me doubt whether I could go ahead with the plans. But somehow, I managed just fine as three other Augusta Bird Club members (Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, and Ann Cline) joined me on a rigorous hike of roughly nine miles, climbing about 2,400 feet to the very top of Elliott Knob (elev. 4,463 feet) and back down again. The grand expedition began at the Falls Hollow trailhead on Route 42, and proceeded up through a variety of woodland habitats. Near a lush waterfall we saw a small cluster of warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers. After turning left away from the stream and climbing for a while past thick green shrubs, there was a big "fallout" of warblers, most notably Blackburnian Warblers. Eventually, the trail intersected with the very steep Elliott Knob fire road, which leads up to the summit where there are several communication towers. That was another "hot spot," full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other "winter" birds that only breed in the highest elevations in Virginia. The view at the top was exhilarating, but the long descent back down was exhausting. We ended the memorable day with 39 species of birds, including 12 species of warblers and 3 species of vireos.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Dark-eyed Junco, E. Wood Pewee, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M), Blue-headed Vireo, and in center, Cape May Warbler.
I made it to the top of Elliott Knob three previous times: July 13, 2004 (solo), August 6, 2008 (with Jacqueline), and June 29, 2013 (with Allen Larner, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline; a one-way hike going down only). In addition, I did significant birding hikes along Falls Hollow trail (with the Elliott Knob fire road as part of the loop) on August 14, 2006 May 26, 2007 June 1, 2016 ; part way May 15, 2017; Hite Hollow Road June 14, 2016
On September 15, Jacqueline and I went hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. It's a modest-sized mountain, conical in shape, with rugged rocks at the summit.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Cape May Warbler, E. Wood Pewee, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Common Grackle, and in center Common Yellowthroat. (September 15, Turk Mountain).
On September 18 I went to Leonard's Pond after teaching duties at BRCC were over, and in the evening I joined Penny Warren and other bird club members on a special visit to Riverheads High School, where hundreds of Chimney Swifts were roosting during migration season. It was a spectacular sight to see so many birds gather in one place as the sun set in the west.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Lesser Yellowlegs, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Least Sandpiper, Killdeer, and in center Song Sparrow. (September 18 at Leonard's Pond)
On September 21st I led three other ABC members (Roz Holt, Peter Cooper, and Tom Roberts) on a field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rt. 610. There weren't as many warblers as expected, but a big surprise made up for that: for over 15 minutes a large flock of Common Nighthawks (25-30 total) was swooping directly overhead at the southern intersection of those two roads. We were utterly dumbfounded. While birding we met a new birder in this area named Doug, and he is very knowledgeable. Later we visited the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch open house for a while.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Hooded Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Nighthawk, and Cape May Warbler.
As is my custom, links to a full set of photos, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. With any luck, I'll do another blog post summarizing my observations for the last three months of 2019 in the next day or two.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.