October 5, 2016
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.
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.
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.