A diary of birds I've observed, spiced up with photos and occasional commentary. Clockwise from top left: Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Gallinule, Summer Tanager, Gray Hawk, Virginia Rail, and (in center) Magnolia Warbler.
June 14, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in May: prime time for migration!
I began the month of May at the Mill Place Trail in Verona, where I saw two species that I had missed on the day before, which was Big Spring Day: an Orchard Oriole (my first one of the year, a first-year male) and a Pied-billed Grebe on the pond. I also spotted a a family of Canada Geese: two adults and four goslings. In back of our abode were a Yellow-rumped Warbler and White-breasted Nuthatch.
Three days later, on May 4, I went to Bell's Lane in the early afternoon. A male Baltimore Oriole caught my eye while he was chasing a female, obliging me to pull my car over to the side of the road and get a photo. It was then that I noticed a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos in a similarly amorous mood. Both species were the first ones I've seen this year. The singing White-eyed Vireo was in the same location that I saw it a few days ago, probably the same individual. I had hoped he would stay for the summer, but I didn't see him again. Pairs of Cedar Waxwings (finally!), Great Crested Flycatchers, as well as Brown Thrashers and many, many Gray Catbirds were further indications of breeding activity. I also saw both a male and female Common Yellowthroat (FOY), though in separate locations.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, White-eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole (M), Gray Catbird, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Great Crested Flycatcher. (Bell's Lane, May 4)
On Monday, May 9, I went to Bell's Lane just before noon, and after searching a while finally came upon a male Magnolia Warbler, one of the best views I've ever had! I had two other first-of-year sightings as well: Willow Flycatcher ("fitz-bew!") and Green Heron. I also saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Northern Parula, and Yellow Warbler, and heard a Common Yellowthroat and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Baltimore Orioles were engaged in intense courtship behavior at two different locations, which probably means multiple nesting pairs. I also heard (but didn't see) the Bobolinks which Ann Cline had photographed a couple days ago.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Magnolia Warbler (M), Green Heron, Yellow Warbler (M), Baltimore Oriole (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Willow Flycatcher, and Northern Parula. (Bell's Lane, May 9)
On the morning of Wednesday, May 11, I went to Betsy Bell Hill for the first time in several weeks, and as soon as I stepped out of my car I heard the friendly whistle song of Eastern Wood Pewees! Nearby were two other first-of-year birds: a Swainson's Thrush and a Bay-breasted Warbler. Also present were at least four Wood Thrushes, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Later I stopped at the Cheese Shop near Stuarts Draft, and saw at least a dozen Purple Martins flying around; another first-of-year! FInally, at the pond next to the Target distribution center I saw a Least Sandpiper (FOY), a Solitary Sandpiper (FOY), and a Killdeer.
On Friday the 13th (!) of May I did a bit of birding along Mountain View Rd., which makes a loop that parallels the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad that I used to explore on a regular basis, before it was closed to the public. There I heard a Yellow-throated Vireo (FOY) and a Chestnut-sided Warbler or two, and I finally got a distant look at the latter but not the former. On a brighter note, I did get a great view of a Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Wood Pewee, which was nice. I also saw a Red-eyed Vireo far away, and on nearby Commerce Rd. (Rt. 11), an Indigo Bunting or two.
I spent the morning of Saturday the 14th working on the May newsletter for the bird club and then headed to Bell's Lane in hopes of catching a warbler "fallout" between the rain showers. I'm pretty sure I heard a Common Yellowthroat and a Black-throated Blue Warbler, and saw a pair of Cedar Waxwings overhead in a bare tree. I also noticed a pair of Carolina Chickadees tending to a hole in a birch tree on the right side of the shrub-enclosed pond. I had better luck at the Mill Place trail in Verona, where I was greeted by a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and several Northern Rough-winged Swallows. I heard and eventually saw several Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles in the big trees. I think there are two or three breeding pairs there, in fact. One of the singing males was a first-year bird, and he seemed to be getting along OK with an adult male, making me think it might have been his father. I have heard that first-year male Orchard Orioles learn how to be parents by serving as an "apprentice" with their father, so maybe that is true of Baltimore Orioles as well. I was also pleased to see a Scarlet Tanager, a species that usually prefers dense woodlands. An even bigger surprise was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that flew past. In a bare tree near the dam I spotted what I initially thought was a Least Flycatcher, based on its size, or perhaps a Willow Flycatcher, but based on its peaked crown and long primary wing feathers, it was more likely just an Eastern Wood Pewee.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee (prob.), Baltimore Oriole (1YM), Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Kingbird, Baltimore Oriole (M), Scarlet Tanager (M). (Mill Place trail, May 14)
On May 17 I heard a sharp song out back, and soon spotted a Northern Waterthrush, perhaps the same one (or its offspring) that had come to visit us exactly four years earlier. On May 18 (a Wednesday) I went to Augusta Springs for the first time since last month, but most of the birds were notoriously shy. Red-wing Blackbirds were all around the pond, and some were harrassing a Red-tailed Hawk. I saw a Canada Warbler or two for the first time this year, as well as an American Redstart, but I just couldn't get decent photos of either one. There were several Red-eyed Vireos, Worm-eating Warblers, and Wood Thrushes, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that landed on the boardwalk railing just a few feet away from me! A squabbling threesome of Scarlet Tanagers created a dramatic moment, but I just couldn't get a photo. I heard at least one Yellow-billed Cuckoo, but it stayed far away. Toward the end I saw a pair of Cedar Waxwings, an Indigo Bunting, and a female Wood Duck with several babies.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Wood Thrush, Worm-eating Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Indigo Bunting (M), and in center, Wood Duck (F). (Augusta Springs, May 18)
On May 20 I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip for the first time this year, joined by three other members at the Mountain Home picnic area along Ramsey's Draft in western Augusta County. There weren't that many birds in the low area, so we hiked uphill for just a bit along the Road Hollow trail. There I had an amazing close encounter with a Blue-headed Vireo, just a few feet away! I also glimpsed a Blackburnian Warbler, my first of the year, but the photo I took was barely recognizable. A little later we saw a pair of Scarlet Tanagers, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Black-and-white Warbler. On our way back to Staunton, we stopped at the Georgia Camp trail head, and just as I was hoping, we had a nice closeup view of an Acadian Flycatcher! After we said goodbye I made a separate brief visit to the Dowell's Draft trail, where I had a nice view of a Pine Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Scarlet Tanager (F), Blue-headed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Acadian Flycatcher, and in center, Scarlet Tanager (M). (Ramsey's Draft, Georgia Camp trail, and Dowell's Draft, May 20)
Because of family obligations in Maryland, I couldn't be part of this year's Augusta Bird Club picnic brunch on May 21, but that didn't stop me from birding. I was aware that Prothonotary Warblers breed along the Potomac River downstream from Washington, so I consulted eBird to find a suitable birding hot spot near where I was, and I decided upon Piscataway Park, just east of Fort Washington. It was slow going at first, but then I noticed a Red-headed Woodpecker on a nearby dead tree! Then I heard the distinctive, repetititve song of the Prothonotary Warbler, but just couldn't get a good view of it. I did get a good view of several Blackpoll Warblers, however, including the first ones I had seen in spring for several years!! I am convinced that they have shifted their migratory patterns, as others in Virginia have reported seeing them, but not in Augusta County, as far as I know. Then it got real busy, with a young Bald Eagle, a Great Blue Heron, Northern Parulas (too high up to see), three Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a couple Eastern Phoebes all raising a ruckus. Finally I had a clear view of my main target bird -- Prothonotary Warbler, making my day complete. On my way out I heard and then glimpsed a Black-throated Blue Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Prothonotary Warbler (M), Bald Eagle (J), Great Blue Heron, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-headed Woodpecker, and in center, Blackpoll Warbler (M). (Piscataway Park, MD, May 21)
As a storm front was approaching on the afternoon of May 27 I went to Bell's Lane to see what kinds of birds were breeding there. Once again, I saw multiple Baltimore Orioles, Brown Thrashers, and the other birds you see in the (pre-storm) "rainbow" display below. I also saw an Eastern Towhee, an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebirds, a pair of Orchard Orioles, and of course many Gray Catbirds. Finally, I spotted a pair of Downy Woodpeckers going into and out of a nest hole in a dead tree branch directly above the road. (Two weeks later I discovered that the branch had fallen down and was lying by the side of the road. Perhaps it fell on that same afternoon after the storm blew in.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Baltimore Oriole (M), Brown Thrasher, Indigo Bunting (M), House Finch (M), American Goldfinch (M), and Cedar Waxwing. (Bell's Lane, May 27)
Finally, on May 31 I paid a visit (with Jacqueline) to the Shenandoah National Park for the very first time this year. We did a bit of hiking north from the Turk Mountain trail parking area, which was full of Mountain Laurels in full bloom. Birds were singing everywhere, most notably, Indigo Buntings, American Redstarts, Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Red-eyed Vireos. We also saw a Black-and-white Warbler, and along Skyline Drive as we were returning home, a female Wild Turkey with some young ones close behind. (Jacqueline saw them, not me.)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Worm-eating Warbler (M), Indigo Bunting (M), American Redstart (1YM), Black-and-white Warbler, Ovenbird (M), Wild Turkey (F), and Red-eyed Vireo. (Shenandoah National Park, May 31)
In sum, it was a very intensive, fairly successful month of birding, as I finally had some free time on my hands, and made the best of it. I was hoping to see more uncommon migratory species, but was content with the excellent view of the Black-billed Cuckoo, Magnolia Warbler, Prothonotary Warblers, and Blackpoll Warblers. Somehow I missed out entirely on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds! The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
May 31, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in March and April
Being under severe time constraints work-wise, I did relatively little birding in March and only slightly more for most of April. Saturday March 5th was pleasant and sunny, and I spotted an Eastern Bluebird and Red-bellied Woodpecker out back. In the afternoon I headed to the trail behind the Murphy-Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville for a vigorous walk. There weren't many birds there, but I did get nice views of some House Finches and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead. I then went to Bell's Lane and saw an Eastern Meadowlark as well as my first Tree Swallow of the year.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Tree Swallow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, and House Finch (M). (N. Staunton, Fishersville, & Bell's Lane, March 5, 2022)
On March 11 I went to the Mill Place trail in Verona and saw several Red-winged Blackbirds, as well as an American Kestrel and a Killdeer or two. Then we had another big snowfall, and on March 13 I was astounded to see a Fox Sparrow out back! I was able to get very good photos in spite of the awkward angle of the sunlight and the glare of the snow, which soon melted.
Fox Sparrow (N. Staunton, March 13, 2022)
On March 18 I spotted my first Eastern Phoebe of the spring, high in a tree along Bell's Lane, but it was cloudy so my photos were mediocre. The weather was much better the next day (a Saturday) Jacqueline and I went for a casual drive through northern Augusta County, stopping first at Natural Chimneys. There we saw some Chipping Sparrows and found the trail that leads to the top of the cliff along which the "chimney" rock formations are situated. It leads up a precarious slope with a rope that serves as a handrail, and that is where I saw my first (and only) Winter Wren of the 2021-2022 season. Then we drove to Todd Lake, in the mountains about five miles west, and just as I had hoped, I heard and then saw my first Pine Warbler of the year! Finally, we went to Elkhorn Lake, and again my anticipation paid off, as we soon spotted two Bald Eagles that were flying around and tending to a nest along the north side of the lake.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Pine Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, Bald Eagles (one at nest), Chipping Sparrow, and Winter Wren. (Nat. Chim.; Todd & Elkhorn Lakes, March 19, 2022)
On Tuesday March 22 I took advantage of spring break by checking out Leonard's Pond, where I saw a Killdeer, and then stopped at the James Madison University arboretum, where I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Field Sparrow, and an Eastern Phoebe. Stopping at Bell's Lane on the way home I saw another Phoebe, as well as some Tree Swallows.
The month of April got off to a good start when I went for a hike along the Madison Run fire road on Saturday, the second day of the month. The skies were clear blue, but the birds were few at first. Eventually I had nice views of a Pine Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo (or two?), a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and an Eastern Phoebe.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, and Pine Warbler. (Madison Run, April 2, 2022)
One week later, Saturday the 9th of April, I hiked along the Chimney Hollow trail for the first time this year. For the most part it was a big disappointment (no Brown Creepers for the entire winter season!), but at the very end, just as I was about to cross the highway to where my car was parked, I spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush lurking near the stream -- my first one of the year! Over at Braley Pond there were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and Pine Warblers, but the main attraction was a dozen or so Blue-winged Teals, both male and female. On the way home along the 262 bypass I spotted a small flock of Wild Turkeys and snapped a quick long-distance photo of one just as they were retreating into the bushes.
On April 15 a Gray Catbird appeared on our back porch, the first one of the year for me. In the afternoon I went to Montgomery Hall Park and saw a Golden-crowned Kinglet as well as my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the year! The next day Jacqueline and I were driving up to Bridgewater and I spotted a large raptor in a nearby tree. I couldn't stop until we were a half mile down the road, unfortunately, but I was able to identify it as an Osprey, my first one the year. On April 18 we had our last snow storm of the season, and "our" Catbird out back probably regretted migrating north as early as he did. But the snow melted quickly and the next day I was surprised to see a Pileated Woodpecker foraging for grubs in a tree stump out back; I was lucky to get a fine sunlit photo of it. On April 22, while getting some fresh air out back, I happened to see a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks flying overhead, perhaps a dozen total; they were my first ones of the season. A Red-shouldered Hawk was passing by, as well. More signs of spring were a Gray Catbird and American Goldfinch out back. In the evening, as I was leaving Mary Baldwin University, I heard and then saw my first Chimney Swifts of the season!
On the morning of April 23 I saw a fledgling Carolina Wren on the ground out back, so I carefully approached to get a photo. Early breeding!? Around the middle of the day I walked through the woodland trails at Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg, and almost immediately heard and then spotted a nearby Wood Thrush -- my first of the year! Further along were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, and a FOY Ovenbird. At Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater I saw an Eastern Screech Owl and another Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Finally, on my way to the Kites 'n Kritters event on Bell's Lane in mid-afternoon, I saw an Eastern Phoebe, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Red-tailed Hawk.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Screech Owl, Wood Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, and in center, Carolina Wren (juvenile). (Hillandale Park, Cook's Creek Arb., Bell's Lane, April 23)
I spent the late morning and early afternoon of April 25 (a Monday, after my classes at Mary Baldwin had ended) at Montgomery Hall Park, and tallied seven first-of-season birds, including Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Red-eyed Vireo, as well as a Black-and-white Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. The first two warblers were too far away, and the latter one was too close for a good photo -- very frustrating! Yellow-rumped Warblers were all over the place, as usual, and I also saw several Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers (FOY). I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher there once again, and this time got a much better photo than during my previous visit.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Montgomery Hall Park, April 25)
The weather on the morning of Friday April 29 was a gorgeous, and while walking along Bell's Lane I saw four bird species for the first time this year: Yellow Warbler, House Wren, American Redstart, and White-eyed Vireo. (The latter was mostly hiding in the bushes, hence the semi-obscured photo below.) I also had nice views of Brown Thrashers and their relatives, the Gray Catbirds, as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks. All were very active and vocal. I also heard an Orchard Oriole (first of year) and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but never saw either of them.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: House Wren, Brown Thrasher, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Gray Catbird, White-eyed Vireo, and Eastern Meadowlark. (Bell's Lane, April 29)
Saturday, April 30th was Big Spring Day, when the Augusta Bird Club systematically counts birds all across Augusta County. This year I covered (sequentially) Dowells Draft, Braley Pond, and Chimney Hollow in the foothills in the western part of county. Unfortunately, the weather turned rather bleak, and it was drizzling for the first two hours. Four of the approximately 42 species I identified (duly reported via the eBird website) were the first ones of the year for me: Indigo Bunting, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Northern Parula. Among the other highlights were a Red-breasted Nuthatch, two Wood Thrushes, and a Wild Turkey that flew over Rt. 250 as I was beginning my return trip to Staunton.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Indigo Bunting, Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, Northern Parula, and in center, Worm-eating Warbler and Pine Warbler. (Dowells Draft, Braley Pond, and Chimney Hollow, April 30)
The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
May 10, 2022 [LINK / comment]
Birding in January and February
After a fairly mild December (see March 31 blog post), real winter weather finally arrived in January. We had significant snow falls (at least an inch or so) on the 3rd, 16th, 21st, and 28th days of the month. (It also snowed on the 13th of February, the 12th and 26th of March, and the 18th of April!)
Late in the afternoon of New Year's Day I went to Bell's Lane, and had a glimpse of a Short-eared Owl just as dusk was falling. On January 5, a White-crowned Sparrow appeared in our back yard, which was rather unusual. They generally stay outside of town, in contrast to the more "urbanized" White-throated Sparrows.
Being very busy with school duties, I didn't get out for any actual birding until January 15, when Jacqueline and I drove to Waynesboro. At the Invista ponds we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Great Blue Heron, and -- thanks to Jacqueline's sharp eyes -- a Pied-billed Grebe! Then we drove north through Crimora and saw another Red-shouldered Hawk, and after heading back east we saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a female American Kestrel, and a third Red-shouldered Hawk along the road.
On January 18 another unusual bird appeared out back, a Brown-headed Cowbird, and once again it may have been related to the heavy snow, forcing birds to look elsewhere for food. On January 21 a Common Grackle showed up out back, likewise snow-related. I got some nice photos of a Red-bellied Woodpecker in the snow that day. On January 29, I made it out to Bell's Lane, and saw a Cedar Waxwing and a Red-tailed Hawk, along with the usual White-crowned Sparrows and American Robins; Robins seemed to be more plentiful than usual during the winter of 2021-2022. Northern Harrier
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Common Grackle, Northern Cardinal, Red-bellied Woodpecker with a Blue Jay, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Junco. (N. Staunton, Jan. 21, 2022)
On February 5, I stopped briefly at Eagles Nest Airport, just west of Waynesboro, and was amazed to see what I initially thought was a young Tundra Swan, but turns out to have been a Trumpeter Swan. Then along Route 250 in front of the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk, probably the same one Jacqueline and I had seen three weeks earlier. Inside the campus I walked along the trail to the pond and spotted some Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Bluebirds, and a Northern Flicker.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered, Northern Flicker, Eastern Bluebird, Trumpeter Swan, and Canada Goose. (Waynesboro & Fishersville, Feb. 5, 2022)
On Saturday February 19 I was amazed to see a Hermit Thrush in our back yard, and I just barely got a recognizable photo of it before it departed. Then, on the bright and sunny afternoon of Monday February 21, I paid a visit to Bell's Lane, and had an excellent view of a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, other woodpeckers, and glimpses of a Yellow-rumped Warbler. A return to that location five days later yielded little other than a distant Red-tailed Hawk.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and American Kestrel. (Bell's Lane, Feb. 21, 2022)
The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.