May 15, 2017
Just when I thought that migration season was just about over, I had a pleasant surprise out back four days ago. This was near the outset of the steady rain that we had from Thursday until early Saturday morning. (Rain often is beneficial to bird watchers, since it forces migrating birds to pause in their northerly journey.) I heard some kind of warbler singing in the trees, and soon spotted a first-year male American Redstart, probably getting warmed up for breeding next year. While tracking it down for a photo op, I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops and some other warbler that was bright yellow. Within a few minutes I had a great closeup view of a Wilson's Warbler, one of the less common birds of this category. Getting a photo of it proved to be exceedingly difficult, and not until Saturday afternoon did I get a reasonably clear shot. I had another glimpse of it on Sunday morning, and finally got a good photo after I returned from the hike which is described below. Triumph!
I had a glimpse of a Wilson's Warbler in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park one year ago, but before that the last time was when I was visiting Colorado in 2009. The last time I saw one here in Staunton was May 2008, on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. (That trail was once used regularly by the Lee High School long-distance runners, but has become overgrown and almost impassible over the past several years. I hardly ever go there any more.)
Yesterday, as the sun burst through the clouds at last, I attended services in the "Church of the Great Outdoors." At first I was inclined to visit Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg (where many warblers have been reported), but decided at the last minute to go to Falls Hollow Trail, where I had been scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip the day before. (It was rained out.) That trail is on the east slope of Elliott's Knob, and I had great success there about a year ago. This hike got off to an auspicious start when I saw a nearby Blue-gray Gnatcatcher apparently gathering caterpillar webs as a nesting material. I saw and photographed nearly all of the expected birds that are known to breed along that trail, but some species (notably, Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush) I only heard -- somewhere along the stream below. There were several muddy spots, but it wasn't too bad until I reached the upper part of the trail, which was a virtual stream. It was in that general vicinity that I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which are occasionally seen in the Shenandoah Valley during the winter, but only in certain high mountain areas during the summer. I never did see it, however. Getting an official breeding record of that species would be a big deal, so I intend to return there soon.
On the way back to Staunton, I passed through Swoope just in case the Bald Eagles have been raising eaglets at the nest without anyone noticing, but saw none of them. That's discouraging news. However, I did get a good look at a Northern Harrier swooping around in that area (near the post office), as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks, and a Red-headed Woodpecker in a tree about a mile to the northeast. You can read my "official" report with a complete listing of what I observed along Falls Hollow Trail at ebird.org.
The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was an adorable baby turtle -- about 1.5" diameter. (I'll have to check to see what species it is.) It was in the middle of the trail, so I gently relocated it to the side, in hopes that it wouldn't be stepped on.