May 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]

ABC field trip to Reddish Knob

I led a very successful Augusta Bird Club field trip to Reddish Knob yesterday, joined by Peter Van Acker and Ed Lawler. The trip was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but rain forced a three-day postponement. Indeed, it has been raining or drizzling almost every day this month, and we were lucky to have mostly sunny, mild weather conditions for our trip. While we were still discussing plans in the parking lot, a Pileated Woodpecker flew right over our heads, a very auspicious omen. This photo montage shows what a great day we had:

Montage 20 May 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruffed Grouse, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Red Crossbill, and in center, American Redstart.

Departing from Staunton, we drove up I-81 into Rockingham County, then turned westward, passing through the town of Bridgewater. Just before 8:30 we reached our first stop, the Briery Branch Reservoir. With the rich green trees and bright blue skies as a backdrop, it was a a beautiful sight. Unlike my last time there (June 7, 2015), we didn't find any Northern Parulas, but we did have some dramatic close encounters with a male Indigo Bunting and an aggressive (presumably young) male Black-and-White Warbler. We also saw a pair of Phoebes building a nest on the side of a public restroom used by the many folks who go fishing at that lake.

Next we drove along Route 257 upward into the mountains and stopped at two places with a mixture of shrubs and burnt-out trees. Such semi-open "successional" habits are ideal breeding grounds for certain species, and sure enough we soon saw the first of many Chestnut-sided Warblers. We also saw a Scarlet Tanager, and heard the songs of various warbler and vireo species. One in particular grabbed my attention, and when I saw the unmistakeable orange throat of a Blackburnian Warbler (first of year), I could barely contain my excitement. I kept playing its song on my iPod, hoping to lure it to a lower spot so that I could get a better photo, but my repeated attempts did not pay off. I was fortunate that Peter and Ed were patient with me. We were also surprised to hear and then see a Common Yellowthroat, which usually breeds in low, moist areas. Perhaps it was just "passing through" on its way farther north.

[UPDATE: For the sake of accuracy in the narrative, I have reversed the sequence of the following two paragraphs and the associated photos and captions, based on a more careful review of when I took the photos.]

After that we stopped at the main intersection where Red Crossbills are reputed to frequent, but [at first] didn't see anything other than Towhees and Redstarts. [Then we had a] stroke of luck. We saw some birds in the tree branches, and with their streaked dull plumage and slightly forked tails, I thought they were Purple Finches. But when they flew down to the ground, along with some odd-looking yellowish and reddish birds, I realized that they were Red Crossbills -- one of our main "target species"! It was only the second time I have had a good look at a Red Crossbill, the first being in May 2013.

Red Crossbills, F & J

Red Crossbills: adult female (yellowish) in front, juvenile (streaked brownish) in back. Roll over the image to compare it to the male of the species, which is "reddish" (like the Knob), consistent with the species name.

[Then] we headed north for about a half mile along the gravel road which follows the crest of the mountain ridge. We saw some species that only breed in the highlands at this latitude, such as Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as some that are more often associated with lowlands: Bluebirds and Brown Thrashers. It was interesting but not spectacular. On the way back down to the main intersection, however, I caught a glimpse of a large brown bird perched on a fallen log: a Ruffed Grouse!! That was our other main target species, and I asked Peter to back up very slowly so as not to frighten it away. To our immense good fortune, it remained in place while we all got excellent looks, and I took some photos. As an added bonus, we saw one of the babies scrambling across that log, probably just a few days old, and I got a photo of it too! (I had previously taken photos of that species were in June 2010 and June 2013, but they weren't nearly as clear.)

Ruffed Grouse, F & J

Ruffed Grouse, presumably a female. Roll over the image to see one of the "lovable fuzzballs."

Next we drove southward along the ridge crest, and [soon saw our first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the day -- one of the "secondary" target species. Then] after hearing an unusual, sharply punctuated song, we spotted a family of Canada Warblers. They were hopping around inside rhododendron bushes, however, and I just couldn't get a photo of them. (I was lucky to get a photo of a Canada Warbler on Bell's Lane earlier this month.) Then we drove up to the summit of Reddish Knob, enjoying the grandiose view and taking a few photos. But unlike past visits, there were hardly any birds there, so we left after a few minutes. On the way back down to the main intersection (which I think should be called "Crossbill Crossing"), we finally saw [the last of the target species of the day]: Black-throated Green Warbler. Since it was already after noon, we descended the mountain without any further stops until we reached the town of Mount Solon, where we saw a female Wood Duck with several youngsters in the pond there. We racked up a few more species on the way back to Staunton, reaching a grand total of 57 altogether. Strangely, we never saw any titmice, wrens, or hawks. Nevertheless, it was one of the best field trips I have had in a long time.

Peter Van Acker, Ed Lawler, Andrew Clem

Peter, Ed, and me, at the summit of Reddish Knob. In the background is the U.S. Navy communications center near Sugar Grove, West Virginia.

eBird report

Reddish Knob, Augusta, Virginia, US
May 20, 2016 9:00 AM - 12:45 PM
Protocol: Traveling
4.0 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip, accompanied by Peter Van Acker and Ed Lawler
42 species

  1. Ruffed Grouse -- 2 (one adult female, one very young chick)
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 6
  3. Chimney Swift * -- 1
  4. Downy Woodpecker -- 1
  5. Hairy Woodpecker * -- 1
  6. Pileated Woodpecker * -- 1
  7. Eastern Wood-Pewee -- 1
  8. Eastern Phoebe -- 3
  9. Blue-headed Vireo -- 4
  10. Red-eyed Vireo -- 1
  11. Common Raven -- 3
  12. Black-capped Chickadee -- 3
  13. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  14. Eastern Bluebird -- 2
  15. Veery * -- 1
  16. Wood Thrush * -- 1
  17. American Robin -- 15
  18. Gray Catbird -- 8
  19. Brown Thrasher -- 4
  20. Cedar Waxwing -- 15
  21. Ovenbird * -- 10
  22. Worm-eating Warbler * -- 1
  23. Black-and-white Warbler -- 7
  24. Common Yellowthroat -- 2
  25. Hooded Warbler * -- 3
  26. American Redstart -- 8
  27. Blackburnian Warbler -- 2
  28. Chestnut-sided Warbler -- 15
  29. Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 4
  30. Pine Warbler * -- 1
  31. Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 2
  32. Black-throated Green Warbler -- 5
  33. Canada Warbler -- 3
  34. Chipping Sparrow -- 3
  35. Dark-eyed Junco -- 2
  36. Eastern Towhee -- 8
  37. Scarlet Tanager -- 6
  38. Indigo Bunting -- 6
  39. Red Crossbill -- 5 (adult male & female, three juveniles)
  40. Brown-headed Cowbird -- 2
  41. House Finch -- 2
  42. American Goldfinch -- 6

* (asterisk): heard but not seen. View this checklist online at

In addition, we saw these other species at various place en route to Reddish Knob, and on the return trip back to Staunton:

  1. Mallard
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Wood Duck
  4. Black Vulture
  5. Common Grackle
  6. American Crow
  7. Blue Jay
  8. Barn Swallow
  9. N. Rough-winged Swallow
  10. Mourning Dove
  11. Eastern Meadowlark
  12. European Starling
  13. Northern Mockingbird
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Song Sparrow

Spring migration ends

The Augusta Bird Club had its annual picnic brunch on Saturday May 14 at Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, but I was unable to attend. That was Graduation Day at Sweet Briar College, and I was obliged to to participate in the commencement exercises. Afterward I stopped at the boat pond and photographed an Eastern Wood Pewee and a House Wren, the first one I'd seen this year. The next day, I went to Ridgeview Park, in hopes of seeing a Wilson's Warbler that club members had seen. I did in fact see one in the bushes, along with a Common Yellowthroat, but it was just a brief glimpse. I had better luck with a female Northern Parula in that same area, and took some photos.

For some reason, I didn't see or hear any Blackpoll Warblers in our neighborhood this year. They are among the most consistent seasonal visitors, the latest-arriving of all the migrating warbler species, and their repetitive "tsee-tsee-tsee" song is ubiquitous this time of year. Well, I finally heard one singing in the middle of commencement exercises as Sweet Briar College, of all places. But not until Thursday (May 19) did I see any Blackpoll Warblers, and then it was a sudden deluge of them. I heard one singing while I was at the recycling center in Gypsy Hill Park, and spent a good 45 minutes or so trying to get a good closeup photo of one. The results were only mixed, however.

So, this marks the end of spring migration season, and the beginning of breeding season. (Obviously, some species are already raising broods of young ones.) As always, there are more photos to see on the Wild Birds yearly page, including montages. My main photographic "targets" in this area for the upcoming weeks are Cerulean Warbler and Kentucky Warbler. Maybe I'll finally get down to the James River and see some Prothonotary Warblers!

[NOTE: Multiple corrections were made above for the sake of accuracy, including a change in sequence of paragraphs, as explained above.]