October 3, 2011 [LINK / comment]

Hundreds of hawks, dozens of warblers, and three bears!!

A premature cold front from Canada has evidently caused a sharp acceleration in the fall bird migration season, including raptors as well as neotropical songbirds. Outside the temperatures are dropping into the forties tonight, putting the health of insect-eating birds at risk. Over the past month I have managed to get out for some bird-watching ventures just enough to enjoy the autumnal peak of bird migration. It's been a while since I last had a blog post on birding or nature, so here goes a quick summary of the past month:

As for raptors, I was delighted to see a large-scale "kettle" of Broad-winged Hawks for the first time two weeks ago. Jacqueline and I stopped at the at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch on the way back from a trip to Albemarle County. There were about eight other birders up there on Afton Mountain, and I partly made up for scanty participation by locating two large groups of Broad-winged Hawks, about 200-250 in each "kettle." I didn't have my camera with me, so I couldn't record the amazing event. So instead, here are some photos I recently took of Nighthawks:

Common Nighthawks

Common Nighthawks, over the northeast side of Staunton, Sept. 9.

To see a photo of some real hawks, as in the daytime variety, take a look at AugustaBirdClub.org. Thanks to Diane Lepkowski for sharing that photo with the bird watching public.

At my last visit to Afton Mountain, I was lucky to see an adult Bald Eagle and a Merlin flying right overhead, as well as the more common species of hawks.

While hiking to the top of Turk Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on September 18, two Sundays ago, Jacqueline and I spotted a nice variety of warblers, and other neotropical migrants. (See partial list below.) There were a few good mushroom species that I photographed, but there were hardly any butterflies around. Fall had already arrived!

Last Thursday (Sept. 29) I paid a brief visit to the Rockfish Valley Trail in Nelson County, and saw a good number of birds in a short time. I am often impressed by the amazing observations and photographs made by Dr. Marshall Faintich, who covers that trail on a regular basis and shares his findings via the Shenandoah Birds e-mail list.

But the most surprising bird-watching experience for me was today, or rather twice in the past week: While I was reading the newspaper in the living room, I noticed a small greenish bird hopping around in the miniature garden behind our back patio. Fortunately, on both occasions, I was able to get photos, or actually video footage, in the case of today's "close encounter." The two warblers in question were only a few feet away from me, almost ideal conditions:

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler; roll mouse over the image to see the ventral (under) side. Those are "freeze frame" images from my digital video camera, and I posted a one-minute clip on YouTube. (Oct. 3)

Common Yellowthroat, female

Common Yellowthroat, female, on our back porch. (Sept. 25)

Finally, Jacqueline and I had yet another bear encounter during our visit to the Shenandoah National Park two weekends ago. Just as we were arriving at the parking area at Turk Gap, prior to our hike, we heard a loud CRASH in the trees. So I got out of the car and was stunned to see a small Black Bear about 15 feet up in a tree. Not only that, there was another one nearby, and then I saw a third bear, obviously an adult by its size! I had seen a mama bear and cub once or twice before, but I had never seen three (wild) bears in the same place before. Fortunately, they took their time getting out of the tree, so I was able to take pictures. And that is "the story of the three bears." smile

Bear in tree

Adult Black Bear, presumably female, climbing down from a tree, rushing to help her two young cubs. Sept. 18, 2011.

I took a much better photo of a Black Bear at the Wildcat Ridge parking area in the Shenandoah National Park on June 8. It's a great way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Virginia's only national park. Jacqueline was very reluctant to drive close enough to take that picture! smile