February 6, 2016
CATCHING UP (EXTREME!): I have been so busy teaching at Sweet Briar College since last August, that I failed to do any blog posts on the fall bird migration season. Little by little, I'm getting caught up, in big chunks going in reverse chronological order. After this birding post, I'll do one tomorrow (?) on my trip to South Dakota last summer, and that will be that.
On August 23, Jacqueline and I hiked along The Slacks Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, 18.5 miles south of Rockfish Gap. There weren't many birds, but we did get nice looks at a Acadian Flycatcher, some Black and White Warblers, and some Canada Warblers, among others.
The third week of September featured some of the nicest weather we had had for a long time, and I made the best of it. On Tuesday, September 15, I walked the boardwalk loop around Augusta Springs, hoping to spot some fall migrants. But all I managed to see was a Magnolia Warbler, a Redstart, and a family of Wood Ducks on the pond. Kind of a letdown a such beautiful day.
But two days later, another great day to be outside, it was a different story. I drove out west to Ramsey's Draft, which was fairly uneventful, so then I went up the mountain to the summit known as Confederate Breastworks. From there I hiked south along the ridge-top trail which straddles the Augusta-Highland County line. Many, many birds, including eight (8) Warblers! Among them was a Kentucky Warbler, which is pretty special for me, but it was either a female or a juvenile, thus rather dull in plumage. I got some of the best-ever photos of a Tennessee Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler. The following list is not complete, but only shows the highlights.
Two days after that, September 19 (Saturday), I drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and went for a short hike east of the picnic area near Humpback Mountain. I saw an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Tennessee Warbler, some Black-throated Blue Warblers (male and female), and Dark-eyed Junco. Stopping at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the way back, I stayed just long enough to see and photograph an Osprey. Once I got home again, I got some nice photos of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and a Sharp-shinned Hawk in the back yard!
The next day, I went up to the Hawk Watch again, and saw a Broad-winged Hawk but not much else. I did get a great photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, however:
After that extremely busy week, I did hardly any birding at all for the next three weeks. It must have been bad weather, or preoccupation with baseball perhaps. Anyway, on the morning of October 10 (Saturday), I heard that a Red-necked Phalarope had been seen on Leonard's Pond, in Rockingham County. Jacqueline and I were planning to drive up to Northern Virginia for a birthday party, so it was a convenient 15-minute detour to which my wife graciously consented. The time we spent paid off very quickly, as I soon spotted and photographed the bird in question. (Unfortunately, it was overcast, not good for photos.) That marked my 461st life bird! It was also my fourth and final life bird of the year 2015; see my life bird list.
Coincidentally, it was almost one year previously that I saw the closely-related Red Phalarope in a pond east of Dayton. The next day the skies were sunny, so we went back to Leonard's Pond hoping to get better photos. We saw Diane Holsinger there, but the Red-necked Phalarope was already gone. We did have better luck driving at Silver Lake near Dayton, however: An Osprey which had been reported there was still present, and I was able to get close enough for a beautiful, well-lit photo.
One of the few times that I went birding at Sweet Briar College was on October 20, when I saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season during my lunch hour. I also saw a Downy Woodpecker and some Chipping Sparrows.
At the suggestion of Augusta Bird Club president Penny Warren, a wooden kiosk with a chalkboard, protective roof and hinged clear plastic doors was built near the south end of Bell's Lane last spring. The purpose was to let nature lovers share their sightings with each other, so that folks would know what to look for. It's mostly birds, but also butterflies and unusual mammals. It has proven to be a big success.
On Saturday October 24, I finally had enough time to get outside and do some serious birding today, and it really paid off. Hiking up Mary Gray Hill in Staunton, I saw several Golden-crowned Kinglets (FOS)*, Blue-headed Vireos, Towhees, and a distant (probable) Hermit Thrush (FOS). Then I drove out to Bell's Lane, where I saw White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows (FOS), as well as Dark-eyed Juncos (FOS), Field Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets (FOS), Cedar Waxwings, Yellow-rumped Warblers*, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (FOS), some Phoebes, and a Goldfinch. I just about filled the kiosk chalkboard with those sightings.
* FOS = first of season (excluding Juncos, etc. seen in the mountains during breeding season).
I went back to Bell's Lane on November 3, after walking south of downtown Staunton to on Sears Hill, where I saw a Red-bellied Woodpecker. It was just a beautiful day for taking pictures. On Bell's Lane in the afternoon, I finally saw some Palm Warblers (FOS), among other nice birds and one not-so-nice bird: a Sharp-Shinned Hawk! It was duly recorded on the kiosk chalkboard.
On Saturday morning, November 7, I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to the Chimney Hollow trail, in western Augusta County. I was joined by Penny Warren and new member Ann Pontius (sp?), who persevered in hiking along the stream in spite of very wet conditions. It varied between light drizzle and light rain, but we braved the elements like true adventurers. Our efforts didn't really pay off, however, as there were hardly any birds to be seen, just glimpses of Chickadees and a flock of (probable) Cedar Waxwings up above. We heard Golden-crowned Kinglets and Crows, but that was about it. At least it was a pleasant hike in a nice setting.
Because of school, I wasn't able to join Jo King's very successful ABC field trip to McCormick's Mill on November 11, so the next day I went there on my own. I didn't find as as many birds as they had found, but I did see some female Green-winged Teals in the upper part of the upper pond, which was finally refilled after a year or more during which is was empty and dry. There were also some Gadwalls on the lower pond in front. Then at nearby Willow Lake I saw nearly a hundred American Coots plus some Pied-bill Grebes, Ring-necked Ducks, and American Wigeons. Finally, I drove out to Camp Shenandoah (Boy Scout Lake), and saw several Killdeer but not much else.
After work on Friday the 13th of November, I got lucky seeing an adult Bald Eagle flying over the Tye River, which divides Amherst and Nelson Counties.
On November 15, a Sunday, I joined a group of friends from church (and some of their friends) for a short hike in the Blue Ridge, to a scenic overlook called Dripping Rock. It was sunny and mild, a perfect day to get outside. Unfortunately, the only birds I saw were some Chickadees and Vultures (both Turkey and Black), but someone spotted a colorful spider along the trail, and I got a nice photo of it:
I went out to Bell's Lane on December 3, and spotted some Hooded Mergansers (FOS). Two days later they were there again, along with Bluebirds, a Great Blue Heron, and Ruddy Ducks. There was also a Sharp-shinned Hawk in "our" back yard.
On Sunday December 6 Jacqueline and I drove out to Swoope, in hopes of seeing Bald Eagles or Harriers, but not much was going on until we were leaving the Boy Scout Camp. Then, in rapid succession, we saw a whole assortment of different birds, most of which are pictured here:
On December 10, I went back to Chimney Hollow, site of the infamous field trip of November 7. Incredible as it may seem, I saw even fewer birds than the time before: exactly one (1) bird! It was a good one, however: a Winter Wren!
On Wednesday December 16 (after the end of the semester), Jacqueline and I drove to Leonard's Pond in hopes of spotting some rare bird that had been reported, but the only bird worth noting was a Ruddy Duck. Later on, in a muddy field about two miles to the northeast, near the intersection of Oak Ridge Rdoad and Pleasant Valley Road in Rockingham County, I spotted about two dozen Wilson's Snipes. It was the biggest group of that species I had ever seen!
As usual, the above photographs and many more can be seen on the Wild birds yearly photo gallery page.
So that takes us from late summer right up until the Christmas Bird Count, which I previously recounted. All's that's left is a report on my birding adventures in South Dakota last summer.