June 25, 2015 [LINK / comment]
Last Saturday, June 20, Allen Larner and I hiked along Jackson Trail all the way to the top of Little North Mountain, in a quest to find out what kinds of birds may be breeding in that remote wilderness. (It's a Wildlife Management Area, requiring a permit from the Virginia Dept. of Games and Inland Fisheries to enter.) We heard and/or saw nearly all of the expected neotropical migrants, most notably Acadian Flycatchers, American Redstarts, Scarlet Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Nothing really out of the ordinary, however, unless you count the Black Bear that we spotted on the trail about 100-120 yards ahead. To my surprise, it walked toward us briefly, before leaving the road and heading into the woods. I figure it was in the range of 150-180 pounds, probably two years old. There were lots of Great Spangled Fritillaries just about everywhere we walked. Allen and I covered nearly seven miles altogether, with a net climb of about 1,000 feet, leaving us both exhausted and sore.
Afterwards, Allen took me over to nearby Augusta Springs to look for a family of Pied-billed Grebes. After ten or so minutes, we finally spotted them on the other side of the pond, and I took some photos. It is the second-ever documented record of this species breeding in Augusta County!
Next, we drove to Swoope and confirmed that the Bald Eagle nest is empty, now that the youngster has fledged. Finally, we went to a nearby spot where a male Alder Flycatcher has been singing lately. (They are visually indistinguishable from Willow Flycatchers, but have a very distinct "song.") Playing the Alder Flycatcher song on my iPod soon attracted the bird in question to a perch just 15 or so feet from the car, and I took several photos. It ignored the Willow Flycatcher song I played, but got very agitated by the Alder Flycatcher song, and at one point even "attacked" us, hovering within a couple feet of Allen's face. There are no records of this species breeding in Augusta County.
All in all, not a bad day to enjoy nature in the Great Outdoors!
On Tuesday, June 16, I went on a big hike, climbing Trimble Mountain in northern Augusta County. It was about 900 feet gain in elevation, covering four miles altogether. Boy, did I need the exercise! The last time I went there was in June 2012, but that visit was cut short by a close encounter with a bear on the trail ahead, and I had to turn back. (So did the bear.) Well, the same thing happened again this time, except this time it was just a small (yearling) bear, probably close to 100 pounds, and it was in the bushes off to the side and scampered away immediately. So, I was able to continue, and eventually came across a group of three women hikers, advising them that they might see a bear. The last time I completed the three-mile circuit hike was May 2009, six years ago, which is the same time elapsed since my first hike there. Here are the highlights of the birds I saw:
I saw and/or heard Acadian Flycatchers in several locations, probably 8-10 of them altogether, finally getting some good photos of that species. Seeing so many was a surprise, as was the fact that some of them were near the top of the mountain. They are usually found close to a wooded stream. I also heard some Ravens, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black and White Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos, and Pine Warblers.
On Saturday June 13, the Augusta Bird Club had its annual summer field trip to Highland County. I was dearly hoping to get photos or at least good looks at two target species: Golden-winged Warbler and Mourning Warbler. We did see the former, but it was at least 60 yards away, and the only photo I got was poor quality. I'm pretty sure I heard and then glimpsed the latter in a particular brushy meadow just across the West Virginia state line where it is usually found, but the group was in a hurry, so I had to leave it. We had very nice looks at a Bobolink (see below) and some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Other birds of note that we saw: Bald Eagle, Alder Flycatcher, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Canada Warbler.
The above photo, and the other new ones, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.