October 5, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Shenandoah National Park birding (II)

Jacqueline and I had an overnight trip to the Shenandoah National Park earlier this week, and of course, looking for birds was a major objective -- at least for me. Unlike our previous such trip in late June, the weather was very good for the most part, though a bit chilly and occasionally cloudy.

Our first major activity was hiking up to the peak of Hawksbill Mountain, elevation 4050 feet -- the highest point in the Shenandoah National Park. It had been many years since my last time there. It was about a mile in each direction, with a net altitude gain of about 500 feet; a good workout but not too strenuous. On the way up we heard there was a bear in the area, but didn't see any.* We did see a Phoebe and Blackpoll Warbler, as well as a few typical woodland birds. Jacqueline had a glimpse of a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the trees. At the top we saw three Ravens swooping around, and a probable Red-tailed Hawk, plus a few Juncos on the ground. The views were awe-inspiring, making the effort more than worthwhile.

* Later in the day, we did see bears in two different locations; photos of them will appear in a separate blog post.

Late in the afternoon, we walked around the Big Meadows area, and I stumbled upon a cluster of warblers and at least one Blue-headed Vireo in the trees next to the Byrd Visitors Center. I saw two more "winter" birds for the first time this season: Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Birds Montage 03 Oct 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, American Goldfinch, Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, and in center, Common Raven. (All on October 3.)

Roll your mouse over the image to see photos taken the next day...

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Pipit, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanger (F), Downy Woodpecker, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Swainson's Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, Ovenbird, and in center, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (All on October 4.)

Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

We got up before dawn the next day, and I had the good fortune to see a variety of interesting birds in an oak tree right next to the west-facing balcony of the Big Meadows Lodge: Phoebes, Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Juncos, and a Magnolia Warbler, among others. While on a short loop hike a bit later, we saw a Swainson's Thrush and an Ovenbird, plus another Blue-headed Vireo. Later in the morning, we did a short hike along the road adjacent to Big Meadows, where we saw a plain-looking bird walking (not hopping) ahead of us. The closer we approached, the more he kept walking away. Fortunately, I was able to get some nice closeup photos, confirming my hunch that it was an American Pipit, a bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra; I have only seen it a few times before.

American Pipit

American Pipit, at Big Meadows, October 4.

Finally, on our way out of the park, we stopped at the Pocosin Cabin trail, where I saw some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and yet another Blue-headed Vireo, but no warblers at all, to my surprise. Nevertheless, it was a very productive two days of birding.