August 6, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Birding in the mountain tops

Jacqueline and I have been in three different mountain locales over the past few days, and each time we did some birding. On our Sunday visit to Sky Meadows Park, we were amazed to see a pair of Barn swallows tending to a nest full of babies above the back porch at the historic plantation house. During my brief hike up the steep trails at the park, I saw some Goldfinches, two male Scarlet tanagers (molting already), and a Phoebe. I also heard a Yellow-billed cuckoo and a Pewee.

Yesterday we were in Blacksburg and nearby areas (photos pending), but didn't see much unusual, just some Red-tailed hawks, Goldfinches, Indigo buntings, Bluebirds, and Chipping sparrows.

Today, in a fit of spontaneous but excessive ambition, we hiked to the very top of Elliott Knob, one of the highest mountains in Virginia. (Elevation 4,458 feet.) It was the second time that I had made the entire climb (see July 13, 2004), and it was the very first time for Jacqueline. I'm not in as good shape as I should be, so it was quite a challenge to make it all the way. Fortunately, it was cloudy and mild for most of the time, so we didn't get dehydrated. We began the hike at 2100 feet elevation, but the only birds we saw early on were Indigo buntings and Towhees. Most birds were seen above 3000 feet, and the highlights were the male Black-throated Blue Warblers, the juvenile Wild Turkey, and the Red-shouldered Hawk flying overhead with his shrill whistle call. Altogether I saw 18 species, and we were both thoroughly exhausted when we returned to the trailhead along Route 42. Here are the birds that I saw, taken from my eBird report (

I also heard a Blue-headed Vireo.

Finally, while I was walking along Bell's Lane last week I was surprised to see an adult male American Redstart in the trees across from the wetland area. They are not known to breed in the Bell's Lane area, so this may mean that some of the warbler species may have begun migrating, or searching for habitats with more food available.