January 17, 2016
Yesterday I joined Allen Larner and John Pancake on the Augusta Bird Club's semi-annual field trip to Highland County. The weather was chilly and breezy, with occasional sleet or drizzle, frequently shifting between overcast and partly sunny skies. Those rough conditions probably accounted for the absence of any hoped-for Golden Eagles, although we did come across many Ravens and Juncos in several locations, as well as a nice mixture of songbirds at various backyard feeders. Overall, however, it was a big disappointment.
So, late in the morning we gave up on Highland County and headed south to Bath County, where things immediately got busy. At some ponds along Route 220, we saw several Hooded Merganser and about 100 Ring-necked Ducks, along with several other species. Driving along Back Creek toward the reservoir, we finally saw some Bald Eagles. Approaching Lake Moomaw, we were startled by a Ruffed Grouse which flushed just a few feet away from the car. Once we arrived at the lake, we were even more surprised to see a Double-crested Cormorant, far from its normal wintering grounds along the Atlantic coast. Along the upstream portion of the lake we saw two groups of Common Mergansers, numbering eleven altogether. There were quite a few woodpeckers and songbirds in the trees and bushes in that area, most notably a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Fox Sparrow. All those sightings made the venture quite worthwhile.
On the way back to Staunton, we checked out the Swoope area, hoping (in vain) to find some Short-eared Owls. We did see a pair of Bald Eagles near Smith Pond, however, presumably the same ones which have raised young ones there in recent years.
The following list (not necessarily complete) includes 44 species altogether, four of which were heard only. Many thanks to Allen Larner for leading this trip!
Enlarged versions of most of the photos in the montage above can be seen on the Wild Birds, yearly photo gallery page.