June 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Over the past week, I have kept up my recent "feverish" pursuit of wild birds and outdoor exercise, two objectives that are mutually conducive. Not until school-related tasks are fully completed in mid-May can I devote as much time to those pursuits as I would like. So, late in the morning on Friday (May 27) I did a couple errands and then headed west through Augusta County, with no specific destination in mind. I headed toward Augusta Springs on Route 254, but on the spur of the moment decided instead to go hiking on the Falls Hollow trail, located on the southeast side of Elliott Knob. (The last time I was in that area was June 2013, on a field trip with the Augusta Bird Club.)
At first I wasn't sure how far I would hike, but after a half hour or so, I got ambitious and decided to do the entire circuit hike, which is three or four miles long altogether. (It seemed more like five or six.) The trail begins along a fire road which crosses a stream and then gradually ascends through a mixed pine-oak forest. Almost immediately, I heard Ovenbirds, and then Hooded Warblers. After making a sharp left and passing a large open meadow, I re-entered the forest and approached the main stream of Falls Hollow, as the sound of rushing water grew louder and louder. It is a beautiful, serene place, as you can see in the photo below. I heard Louisiana Waterthrushes in at least two locations, but didn't actually see any. I did hear and then see some Black-throated Blue Warblers, but the photos weren't that great. It was about this point that I experienced real difficulties in fording the stream. With all the rain we have had lately, the water was relatively fast and deep. I was afraid I might have to wade through ankle-deep water, but I finally found a place with enough big rocks to enable me to get across without getting wet.
After further climbing, the trail takes a sharp left turn away from the stream, and the vegetation changes accordingly. I heard and saw more [Hooded Warblers], and then after a few hundred more yards [of gradual climbing] I heard what I thought might be a Canada Warbler, but it turned out to be a Chestnut-sided Warbler -- [an indication that I was reaching the high altitude zone]. It came very close, and I got some nice photos of it. As an added bonus, I came across at least a dozen Pink Lady Slippers, a wild orchid that blooms in the mountains this time of year. Then after another couple hundred yards I reached the main road that parallels the power line that lead to the top of Elliott Knob, and marveled at the view of Augusta County, from above Little North Mountain. (I later calculated that I had climbed about 1,100 feet total.) I headed back down at a fairly brisk pace. During that final stretch, I saw a Wild Turkey that quickly fled, as well as several Towhees, and heard more Ovenbirds. After reaching the trail head at the bottom, I saw a snail clinging to a tall grass stem, and an Indigo Bunting. The time was getting late, so I headed home.
On Memorial Day (May 30) I took a brief, rather casual hike along the Madison Run fire road, the first time I had been there this year. (I usually go there at least two or three times a year, once per season more or less.) I heard and eventually saw Lousiana Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, Black & White Warblers, Pine Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Acadian Flycatchers (first of the year), and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.
Along the way I crossed paths with some women hikers who asked me if I knew much about spiders, explaining that they had seen a large spider whose back was covered by something that looked like parasites. I was pretty sure it was a Wolf Spider, and lo and behold, I saw that very same creature on the trail a few hundred yards away. After I got home I confirmed via Google that Wolf Spider mothers do indeed carry their babies on their backs.
Also along Madison Run, I saw Diane Lepkowski, a birder / nature enthusiast from Rockingham County, and we had a nice talk. She is participating in the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas, an effort to systematically tabulate bird breeding activity across Virginia.
But the highlight of the day took place on my way home, when I decided to take a short detour north of Weyer's Cave to see if the Dunlin that had been reported at Leonard's Pond was still there. Indeed it was! It didn't take long after my arrival there to spot that rather boldly-plumaged sandpiper. Click!