Birding in October 2021: peak migration season
Due to work commitments, I have fallen behind in blogging once again. I hope to complete a late year-end review of birding activities in the next week or two.
In contrast to September, when I had plenty of spare time, time was of the essence in October as my classes began in the middle of the month. The first day of the month was a memorable one, as Ann Cline and I went on an expedition into the foothills of western Augusta County. The first stop was Augusta Springs, where we saw Cedar Waxwings, a House Wren, and an Eastern Phoebe while walking along the boardwalk. The wooded area on the south side was quiet, but when we passed into the open area we noticed a big change: virtually all of the invasive autumn olive trees had been mowed down and/or uprooted, an obvious effort to restore the native plant life in that island of natural beauty. That was encouraging in itself, but the absence of vegetation allowed us to walk almost right up to the pond itself, and that is where the fun began. We quickly noticed a variety of migrating songbirds: Black-throated Green Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets -- probably my first ones of the fall season. There were also female or young Indigo Buntings as well as some flycatchers I couldn't quite identify. Later on we saw a Magnolia Warbler, Wood Thrush, and a Pied-billed Grebe on the water. On the upland portion of the trail we caught a glimpse of a Bald Eagle high above, but for the most part that area was quiet. T Our next stop was Ramsey Gap, a mountain pass that intersects with a major ridge-top trail. There we saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler and an Ovenbird. Descending toward Deerfield Valley we stopped a couple times and saw quite a few Pine Warblers as well as White-breasted Nuthatches and Chipping Sparrows. Upon reaching the valley floor I spotted a bird perched on a distant telephone wire, and it turned out to be a male American Kestrel. We made a couple stops after that on the way back to Staunton, but nothing spectacular appeared. Overall, though, it was an excellent day.
On the afternoon of October 7 I went to Montgomery Hall Park, and once again was surprised by the number of unusual birds. The first one I sighted was a Blackpoll Warbler, one of the "confusing fall warblers" that are difficult to identify in the autumn. The highlight was a Magnolia Warbler, or most likely two or three of them, flitting around a large woodpile. There was also a Common Yellowthroat, a House Wren, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and at least three Eastern Wood Pewees. After returning home I spotted a Cape May Warbler in the bushes out back.
On October 11 I happened to notice a couple odd-looking woodpeckers in the trees out back, and my hunch soon proved correct: they were Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, the first ones I had seen in the season! One was an adult male, and the other was probably a female, or else a young bird. That evening I attended the first in-person meeting of the Augusta Bird Club since before the pandemic started in March 2020.
The next day (October 12) I went to Bell's Lane and soon saw my first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season, along with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Cedar Waxwings, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-tailed Hawk, and (unfortunately) thousands of European Starlings.
Returning to Bell's Lane two days later I saw my first White-crowned Sparrow of the season, as well as a Palm Warbler, likewise FOS. Also present were a Cape May Warbler, Eastern Bluebirds, a Wood Duck (F), and an Eastern Towhee.
On October 17 the Augusta Bird Club had a picnic / bird walk at Lofton Lake in southern Augusta County. The highlights there were a Pied-billed Grebe, Eastern Phoebe, Chipping Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Blackpoll Warbler.
On October 19 a White-throated Sparrow made an appearance out back, the first one of the season. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also returned on a semi-regular basis during the latter part of the month. Jacqueline and I drove to northern Virginia on October 23, stopping at the former site of Panorama in the Shenandoah National Park, where Route 211 crosses it. There we saw several American Goldfinches and Golden-crowned Kinglets, the first ones I had seen in the fall. A brief stop at Prince William Forest on the following day turned up very little as far as birds.
On October 25 I visited the pond at the entrance to the Frontier Culture Museum, and spotted a Swamp Sparrow as well as a Yellow-rumped Warbler bathing in a stream at close range. Other highlights included a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Downy Woodpecker, and several Red-winged Blackbirds.
The 28th day of October was memorable, as I saw my first Dark-eyed Junco of the season out back, as well as a young Cooper's Hawk in the Springhill Road area of Staunton. Later on I stopped at the pond behind Hardee's in Verona, and was amazed to see a Double-crested Cormorant perched on the small artificial island where a display fountain is located.
Two days later (October 30) I went back to that pond in Verona, and saw a Belted Kingfisher perched on a nearby tree branch. I managed to get close enough for an excellent photo. Swimming on the pond was a Ring-necked Duck, the first one of the season for me. Along the asphalt Mill Place trail I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, various sparrows, and a Downy Woodpecker. And that is how the month of October ended for me, bird-wise!
Individual photos of some of the birds in the above montages can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.