Birding in March
I led one Augusta Bird Club field trip in March, and that was to Chimney Hollow on the sixth of the month, a Saturday. Things got off to a great start when Ann Cline spotted a flock of Evening Grosbeaks while riding in Penny Warren's car along Rt. 250 a mile or two before the destination. I'm glad I noticed them on the side of the road, or else I would have missed it! We estimated at least 25 of them, including several bright yellow-orange males -- the first ones I had ever seen! (I had seen female and/or young Evening Grosbeaks once before, about two years earlier. In contrast to the earlier episode, however, the birds were far away (80 yards?), so it was hard to get good photos. We had a pleasant walk through the snowy wooded landscape at Chimney Hollow, but there were very few birds, just a Pileated Woodpecker, a distant hawk, and a couple others. Just in case, we checked out nearby Braley Pond afterwards, and likewise, we found very little. Most of the birds in the montage below were on Bell's Lane later in the day.
On March 9 I went to Bell's Lane and saw my first Tree Swallows and Eastern Phoebe of the year, but the photos weren't that great.
On March 14, Jacqueline and I went hiking around Sherando Lake, at the base of the Blue Ridge in southeastern Augusta County. It was the first time we had been there in at least 15 years! Soon after starting I heard and then saw Pine Warblers (first of the year!), as well as a Red-breasted Nuthatch. After that, however, there were few birds, just an Eastern Phoebe, some American Crows, plus the usual Tufted Titmice, etc.
Three days later we went for a casual drive through the Swoope area. I wanted to check the new Bald Eagle nest, just south of the old one along North Mountain Road, and I was able to get a decent photo of a presumed female adult on the nest, from about 200 yards away. At the Boy Scout Camp we saw Eastern Phoebes, Tufted Titmice, Tree Swallows, and a Red-tailed Hawk. On Cattleman's Road on our way home I was lucky to spot where a passing Northern Harrier (adult male) landed in a field nearby, and I got a very good photo of it.
On March 24 I checked out the Mill Place trail, and was pleased to see a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a species that was scarcer than usual over the past winter. I also saw an Eastern Bluebird and two N. Flickers and a Red-bellied Woodpecker hammering at the trees in preparation for mating season. Finally, along Bell's Lane, I managed to get some very good closeup photos of an Eastern Meadowlark.
Two days later, March 26, we went for a long hike around Ragged Mountain Reservoir, a few miles southwest of Charlottesville. We hadn't been there since we lived in Charlottesville during the 1990s, and I had a vague recollection of a shortcut causeway or bridge that divides the lake into two parts. As we discovered, however, the water level has risen since the new dam was built in 2014, so we had to walk a lot farther than I planned, a total distance of eight miles including the side trail down to the lower parking lot where we started. That was exhausting! Anyway, we saw some excellent birds, including a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and a Red-headed Woodpecker, as well as an E. Phoebe, a N. Flicker, a Common Grackle, and a probable Golden-crowned Kinglet.
Finally, on March 27 I paid a visit to the Izaak Walton Nature Preserve, located near Route 250 in western Augusta County, courtesy of my friend John Dull, who is a member. As soon as I arrived I was startled to see male and female Hooded Mergansers on a small pond nearby, but they flew away before I could take a photo. We did see two Eastern Phoebes near a footbridge, a likely nesting site. Later on I heard a Blue-headed Vireo singing in the tree tops, and after painstaking effort, we finally located it. It was my first one of the year! Later on we had a good look at a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and caught fleeting glimpses of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Chipping Sparrows.
More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.