June 28, 2020
Little by little, I am getting caught up on blogging about the subjects that interest me, and in some cases I am way behind schedule. Three entire seasons have passed -- fall, winter, and spring -- since my last birding blog post, August 2, 2019. So instead of writing normal prose, I'm going to concentrate on the highlights, listing in brief fashion the dates, places, and notable species that I saw. For special occasions I will write a short paragraph.
The month began as I was preparing to teach at Blue Ridge Community College, which made it convenient for me to stop at Leonard's Pond (about five miles northeast) every so often. Most of my bird outings were to Bell's Lane, but I did make a special trip to Rockbridge County on August 10 in hopes of seeing a rare Swallow-tailed Kite, which I had seen in Florida in March 2017. The bird had been reported near a river about five miles south of Buena Vista, and after about a half hour, the folks had gathered there spotted it. That was quite remarkable!
Among my other noteworthy outings in August was my first-ever visit to Switzer Lake (a bird hotspot in the mountains of western Rockingham County) on the 31st. I was fortunate to run into William Leigh, a prominent birder in that area, and he showed me around.
On Saturday September 7, I led an ambitious field trip, but somehow I got the time mixed up, and arrived a half hour late! Not only that, but I had a sudden onset of Achilles tendonitis, with sharp pain that made me doubt whether I could go ahead with the plans. But somehow, I managed just fine as three other Augusta Bird Club members (Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, and Ann Cline) joined me on a rigorous hike of roughly nine miles, climbing about 2,400 feet to the very top of Elliott Knob (elev. 4,463 feet) and back down again. The grand expedition began at the Falls Hollow trailhead on Route 42, and proceeded up through a variety of woodland habitats. Near a lush waterfall we saw a small cluster of warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers. After turning left away from the stream and climbing for a while past thick green shrubs, there was a big "fallout" of warblers, most notably Blackburnian Warblers. Eventually, the trail intersected with the very steep Elliott Knob fire road, which leads up to the summit where there are several communication towers. That was another "hot spot," full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other "winter" birds that only breed in the highest elevations in Virginia. The view at the top was exhilarating, but the long descent back down was exhausting. We ended the memorable day with 39 species of birds, including 12 species of warblers and 3 species of vireos.
I made it to the top of Elliott Knob three previous times: July 13, 2004 (solo), August 6, 2008 (with Jacqueline), and June 29, 2013 (with Allen Larner, Penny Warren, and Ann Cline; a one-way hike going down only). In addition, I did significant birding hikes along Falls Hollow trail (with the Elliott Knob fire road as part of the loop) on August 14, 2006 May 26, 2007 June 1, 2016 ; part way May 15, 2017; Hite Hollow Road June 14, 2016
On September 15, Jacqueline and I went hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. It's a modest-sized mountain, conical in shape, with rugged rocks at the summit.
On September 18 I went to Leonard's Pond after teaching duties at BRCC were over, and in the evening I joined Penny Warren and other bird club members on a special visit to Riverheads High School, where hundreds of Chimney Swifts were roosting during migration season. It was a spectacular sight to see so many birds gather in one place as the sun set in the west.
On September 21st I led three other ABC members (Roz Holt, Peter Cooper, and Tom Roberts) on a field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Rt. 610. There weren't as many warblers as expected, but a big surprise made up for that: for over 15 minutes a large flock of Common Nighthawks (25-30 total) was swooping directly overhead at the southern intersection of those two roads. We were utterly dumbfounded. While birding we met a new birder in this area named Doug, and he is very knowledgeable. Later we visited the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch open house for a while.
As is my custom, links to a full set of photos, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page. With any luck, I'll do another blog post summarizing my observations for the last three months of 2019 in the next day or two.