September 8, 2017
Here we are, experiencing prematurely-cool autumn temperatures in the month of September, and I haven't done a blog post about birds since May 15!? How awful! You might say I was so busy birding that I didn't have enough time to blog about birding. This "catch-up" blog post will cover late May and all of June, when I made several trips into the mountains, as well as July, when my birding activity declined markedly. (I will cover more recent birding ventures later on...) What follows below is in normal chronological order.
NOTE: The photo montages seen below, and dozens of "new" individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
On May 15 I drove up toward Harrisonburg. On the way there I stopped at Cook's Creek natural area in Bridgewater, where I saw a Magnolia Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Common Grackle. Eventually I ended up at Hillandale Park (on the west edge of Harrisonburg), which seems to get an amazing variety of migrant birds passing through. I saw a few good ones that day, but unfortunately didn't get any good photos. Near the cabin in that park, someone pointed out a pair of Black Rat Snakes in tree. They were probably feasting on the eggs of woodpeckers or other cavity-nesting birds.
On May 16 I went to Coles Run Reservoir, which is on the west slope of the Blue Ridge a few miles south of Stuarts Draft. I walked across the dam, which was rebuilt a year or two ago, but didn't see any Ospreys as I had in the past there. After returning to the east side of the dam, I hiked along the reservoir for a few hundred yards, the first time I had done that. I had good views of a pair of Black & White Warblers as well as a Worm-eating Warbler, all at close range.
The next day, I went for a walk along Madison Run, east of the town of Grottoes, where I had a good view of a Wood Thrush and a Pine Warbler. If the lighting conditions had been better, I would have gotten some good photos. The day after that (May 18), I drove to Buffalo Gap in western Augusta County, and took the backroad known as Parkersburg Turnpike. (It's the old main highway to West Virginia.) I went up to Dry Branch Gap, the crest of Shenandoah Mountain, where I saw Ovenbirds, Acadian Flycatchers, Black & White Warblers, and Red-eyed Vireos. At the bottom of the mountain on the west side (near Deerfield) I saw a Phoebe in a small tree. I stopped at Chimney Hollow on Route 50 on the way back to Staunton, and I heard a Northern Parula or two, but didn't see much.
On May 20 I went to Nazarene wetlands, in southwest Rockingham County, in hopes of seeing a Sora, which is a chunky marsh bird similar to Rails. No luck there, although I did get a fine photo of a Red-winged Blackbird. Then I headed toward Briery Branch Road and drove to the top of Reddish Knob in hopes of seeing various warblers or Red Crossbills. I didn't have nearly as much luck that day as I had had in the past, partly because the weather quickly turned chilly, cloudy, and windy after I reached the top of the mountain at Reddish Knob.
After a week or so of rainy weather, I went hiking on Pocosin Cabin trail in the Shenandoah National Park on May 29. (My previous visit there was last October.) Here I had much better luck, and I came close to getting superb photos of a Cerulean Warbler, but it was early in the morning with bright sun glare that my camera just couldn't handle. Other warblers included: Kentucky, Canada, Hooded, Chestnut-sided, and American Redstart. Perhaps the biggest surprise that day was seeing and hearing a Least Flycatcher. I had been to that location several times before, but do not recall that species there. It was a wonderful day!
But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was a big ferocious bear -- about 200 pounds, I'd say. It came out of the bushes about 60 yards behind me, and walked along the trail for a few minutes, evidently getting a drink of water from a stream. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to return to the parking lot, and prepared to wait a long time. Fortunately, it returned to the bushes from which it had come after only about five minutes, and I was able to quickly pass where it had just been and get the heck out of Dodge!
After getting an e-mail alert about a Yellow-breasted Chat at Hillandale Park (where I had been on May 15), I drove up on June 2. This time I had much better luck in getting a well-lit, fairly close-range photo. This bird was about 30 feet away from me, as I recall. Chats are exceedingly rare during breeding season in this area, from what I have observed. Ironically, it was while visiting Arizona three years earlier that I had some excellent closeup views of them!
Family anecdote: When we were very young, my father, who passed away last year, mistakenly told us kids that a medium-small bird with a yellowish breast that we had seen was a Chat. NOT! Years later, my brother John (the expert birder in the family) realized that it was a Western Flycatcher, which ranges as far northeast as South Dakota.
On June 3, the Augusta Bird Club held its annual early summer field trip to Highland County. The Augusta Bird Club's annual late-spring field trip to Highland County (on Saturday, June 3) took place under ideal weather conditions, and was well-attended, as usual. We saw nearly all of the "target species" except for Bald Eagles, though we only had brief glimpses of a Golden-winged Warbler and a Mourning Warbler. A full report on the event is being prepared. Here are some of the highlights from the trip:
On June 7, I had a nice view of a male Baltimore Oriole on Bell's Lane, as well as a family of Wood Ducks on the beaver pond near the north end. (That pond began to form last year, and continued to grow through the early months of this year.)
On June 9, I embarked on an all-day journey, heading west toward the highlands. At Augusta Springs, where I saw a family of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, an Ovenbird, and a Goldfinch or two. From there I stopped in the town of Craigsville for a snack, and then drove up to Ramsey Gap, where the views were great, but the birds a little scarce. I did get some nice photos of a Pine Warbler, at least.
On June 11, Jacqueline and I drove through Shenandoah National Park, and saw the usual variety of warblers, at the peak of breeding season. I hiked for a bit along Wildcat Ridge Trail, where there were abundant, lush Mountain Laurel blooms. We saw quite a few birds at the Loft Mountain Wayside, but I had a hard time getting good photos. We both went for a walk along a side trail at about mile marker 72, where we saw a bunch of mushrooms, a snail, some Ovenbirds, and some Hooded Warblers. At the Bacon Hollow overlook just to the north, we saw a male and female Indigo Bunting at fairly close range.
The very next day (June 12), I drove back to Highland County, where the bird club had spotted a Golden-winged Warbler nine days earlier. I was determined to get a good photo of that bird, whatever the cost!!! Along Wimer Mountain Road on the way there, I had a nice view of a Green Heron. Once I arrived at the house where Margaret O'Bryan used to live, it took well over two hours of patient waiting along the trail uphill from. Finally, I got a good look at it, and at least a decent photo. While there, I also saw several Chestnut-sided Warblers, Eastern Towees, and American Redstarts. I got a nasty sunburn on my neck, but it was worth it! After getting my first-ever photos of a Yellow-throated Warbler (in Florida, March 5) and a Wilson Warbler (out back, May 13), this was the third milestone warbler photo of the year for me!
On June 16, I headed over to Bell's Lane and soon spotted a Yellow-billed Cuckoo by the sharp corner near the stream crossing. I believe it was the first of that species I had seen this year. There were a variety of other interesting birds as well, but I had to leave abruptly as a rain storm approached.
On June 18, Jacqueline and I went on another day trip to the Shenandoah National Park, but this time we had some serious exercise planned. We hike to the top of Hawksbill Mountain, which is very popular with casual visitors, so we encountered a lot of people around the summit. I was thrilled to get some great closeup photos of a Canada Warbler, as well as a Veery and a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. At one of the overlooks, I got my best-ever photo of a Chestnut-sided Warbler!
On June 27, I went to Bell's Lane and got good photos of both the Baltimore Oriole and an Orchard Oriole, very close to each other. I even located a Baltimore Oriole nest, which I reported to other bird club members. (I'm not sure if we observed any fledglings there, however.) There were other nice birds as well, most notably a family of E. Kingbirds.
On June 28, I went on a field trip to McCormick's Mill led by Jo King. The highlights were finding a Baltimore Oriole nest next to the front pond, and getting great looks at an Eastern Wood Pewee. I also heard and then spotted a Grasshopper Sparrow on a fence some distance away. Later some of us went to nearby Willow Lake, where we saw a couple Ospreys flying overhead.
On June 30, I used my annual pass to the Shenandoah National Park on the very last day of its validity! (This was on the way back from Dulles Airport, where I had left Jacqueline, who was en route to Peru.) For the first time in years, I entered via the northern portal at Front Royal, and stopped at the Matthews Arm visitor center. I had a nice closeup views of a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Dark-eyed Junco, and distant views of other birds.
Finally, during the month of July, when the temperatures routinely soar into the nineties and birds are much less conspicuous, I just didn't spend much time birding. I just made occasional visits to Bell's Lane, of which July 7 and July 21 stand out:
The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. Tomorrow I will summarize my birding ventures in South Dakota and Wisconsin during the early days of August...