July 18, 2013
The month of July is more than half gone, and I'm trying to make the best of what precious free time I have this summer by heading out into the Great Outdoors. Today I headed west of town, toward Ramsey's Draft, where I was hoping to photograph a Northern Parula. Oddly, there wasn't much bird activity until about 11:00, when it was really getting warm. I finally did see a Parula, but it was too high in the trees for a good photo. I did get some fairly good photos of some Black & White Warblers, however.
Just before noon it started to rain, and after waiting a few minutes in my car, I noticed that the sky was blue toward the west, so I drove in that direction, up the steep and winding road to the Confederate Breastworks. Gradually the rain tapered off, and it was all sunny at the top. Perfect! The temperature was probably 5-10 degrees lower than it the valley, where it was in the 90s. I was lucky to spot a Red-eyed Vireo in the sunlight, and took a photo of it, but not much else was happening there.
So, I decided to hike south along the summit trail for a few hundred yards. The extra effort paid off handsomely! I only saw a few birds (a Blue-headed Vireo, most notably), but there were quite a few mushrooms and butterflies, and I was furiously clicking away with my camera. Perhaps the most precious moment of the day was when a pale green Luna Moth fluttered by. That species is huge, bigger than some birds, and the way its wings beat so slowly and softly takes your breath away. I had only seen one once before in my life that I recall, and it was worn out. This one, in contrast, was in perfect condition, and was gracious enough to land nearby so that I could get some excellent closeup photographs. Wow!
With all those beautiful sights of Nature, I almost felt like I was in a dream, hence "A Midsummer's Day Dream."
I keep checking Bell's Lane once or twice a week, usually on the spur of the moment. Two days ago I was surprised to hear and see some Great Crested Flycatchers, and one even posed for me! It was in a Willow tree, which is ironic because I also saw a Willow Flycatcher which has taken up residence in that same location this summer.
I have also been visiting the Shenandoah National Park a few times. On July 13 I paid a brief visit to Madison Run, on the western fringe of Shenandoah National Park, looking for a Louisiana Waterthrush. (I heard one, but didn't see it.) I was startled to hear a loud piercing whistle in the tree above me, and soon I saw a juvenile hawk flying around. I thought it was a Red-shouldered Hawk, but I later learned that that sound is characteristic of a Broad-winged Hawk.
On July 14 (Sunday afternoon) Jacqueline and I hiked to the top of Humpback Rocks, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, not part of the Shenandoah National Park. There weren't many birds but there were lots of mushrooms. The most memorable encounter with wildlife was seeing a Rattlesnake on the trail just ahead of us. A park ranger was passing by, and he checked to make sure the venomous reptile had retreated into its burrow before we proceeded on our way toward the summit. I took a photo, but all I could get was the rattling tail. Actually, it sounded more like a buzz to me.
On July 6 I went to Pocosin Cabin, a bird "hot spot" in the Shenandoah National Park several miles north of the Swift Run Gap (Route 33), and was pleased to see Veeries, Canada Warblers, and a few others, but no Kentucky Warblers, which I had been hoping for. I heard but did not see Cerulean Warblers in the tree tops. There were quite a few butterflies in that area, and elsewhere in the SNP that day.
On the way back from that trip, I stopped at an intersection north of New Hope where some Dickcissels have been reported recently, and sure enough, I saw one singing at the top of a tree. Unfortunately, it was almost 100 yards away, too far for a decent photo. I returned another time, and it was there in that same tree once again.
* With apologies to The Bard for stealing his title.