July 12, 2020
With this post about the second three months of this year, I'm almost caught up on blogging about birding. Given that it covers the relatively recent past there is more long-hand prose (including text posted on Facebook) than in my last three birding blog posts: Aug.-Sept. 2019 on June 28, Oct.-Dec. 2019 on June 30, and Jan.-Mar. 2020 on July 5. The subsection for each month below begins with a summary list of my outings.
April marked the first full month since the covid-19 lockdown began, and there were no Augusta Bird Club field trips. (The April meeting and June picnic were canceled as well, of course.) Instead, most of us went on solo bird outings, or sometimes in pairs or very small groups, maintaining social distancing. The Shenandoah National Park was closed for the whole month, and other recreational facilities were closed or had restricted access as well. Being busy with teaching, most of my trips were modest in scope, in and around Staunton.
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
On Saturday, April 11, Jacqueline and I hiked about four miles in the Dowell's Draft area, since Braley Pond had been shut down completely. (Only the picnic area was off limits when I led a field trip there on March 28.) We saw three of the early-arriving migrants from the bird club's March 28 field trip to Braley Pond, as well as two first-of-year birds: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Black-and-White Warbler. Several E. Towhees were heard, and one popped into view. Also seen: White-breasted Nuthatch, N. Flicker, and Downy Woodpecker.
On April 19 Jacqueline and I went to Ramsey's Draft, in western Augusta County. Not surprisingly, the picnic area was closed, but at least the trails were open. We hiked up Road Hollow Trail, and soon saw my first Black-throated Green Warblers of the year -- at least 5 or 6 of them! Blue-headed Vireos were all around, it seemed, and several Black-and-white and Pine Warblers made appearances as well. I also saw a distant Hairy Woodpecker, but the big highlight was a Blackburnian Warbler high in a tree top. The only photo I got was barely recognizable, unfortunately. On the way back to Staunton, Jacqueline spotted a Black Bear on the slope next to Route 250 -- the first one I've seen in almost two years! I stopped briefly at Chimney Hollow, but didn't see much other than a couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.
On April 25 I went to a private home south of Staunton to see a Western Tanager that had been reported (only the third one ever in the Augusta County area!), but I apparently just missed it. As with the private home where the Scott's Oriole had been seen a few weeks earlier, the hostess was very friendly and gracious, but wanted to protect her privacy, so only a limited number of birders were able to enjoy it. I had great consolation prizes, however: Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both the first ones of the year for me, and a wide variety of other birds.
I really didn't want to miss the peak migration season, so I managed to do two significant birding trips during the first week of May. I had free time from May 13 on
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On May 2 (on what would have been the "Big Spring Day" count, which was canceled) Ann Cline and I went birding along Route 610 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The weather was sunny and cool, almost perfect. We saw numerous neotropical migrants, including seven first of the year species for me! We also heard Hooded Warblers and a Great Crested Flycatcher.
On May 7 I had to go to Fishersville, and I figured that since Waynesboro is close, I might as well go to Ridgeview Park. On the way there I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk on a wire being harassed by various smaller birds. Once at the park, near Serenity Garden I heard and saw Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Parulas*, Red-eyed Vireos, etc. Along the wooded trails there were several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Gray Catbirds, and a Common Yellowthroat*. As I was about to leave I was startled to see a Red-headed Woodpecker*, as well as a family of Canada Geese, several Cedar Waxwings, and a Yellow Warbler*.
From May 12 and the next few days, we had a family of Downy Woodpeckers at our suet feeder, with the father feeding his new offspring. On the afternoon of May 13 I finally had some free time (grading duties were completed), and in northern Staunton I saw my first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the year! At Bell's Lane I saw an E. Phoebe, Red-tailed Hawk, Common Yellowthroat, and my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the year!
On May 15 at Bell's Lane, I heard a N. Parula and Yellow-rumped Warbler singing, but didn't see either one, but did see two Eastern Kingbirds making a nest just south of the Moore farm entrance, and a Willow Flycatcher (FOY!) was doing his "FITZ-bew" song nearby. Also notable: both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, both Great Blue and Green Herons, a loud Brown Thrasher, a Downy Woodpecker at a nest hole, and an E. Phoebe; most of those were by the beaver pond. I was also happy to see two bird club members whom I had not seen for two months: Allen Larner and Josephine King.
On May 16 Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I went hiking along the Shenandoah Mountain trail south of the Confederate Breastworks, and it lived up to our high expectations. I finally saw my first Scarlet Tanager and Chestnut-sided Warbler of the year, and we were amazed to see a group of Bay-breasted Warblers (also FOY) in the tree tops! Later at Ramsey's Draft picnic area we saw a Northern Parula. On the way home I saw a Louisiana Waterthrush and two Wood Thrushes at Chimney Hollow. Altogether we saw nine warbler species total, and heard three others.
The very next day, May 17, Penny, Ann, and I ventured into the mountain woods, and we had some very nice finds even though the overcast skies made it hard to see. Our first stop was Natural Chimneys, where we heard and eventually saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak* -- my first one of the year! An Eastern Wood Pewee* also came down to pose in a convenient position, while a Yellow-billed Cuckoo proved more elusive. Later at Hearthstone Lake (the road was still closed, to my annoyance) we saw or heard several Scarlet Tanagers, Ovenbirds, and Hooded Warblers. The highlight there was a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers bringing food to noisy babies inside the nest hole. Our final main stop was the entrance to Elkhorn Lake, which was extremely crowded! We heard several Blackburnian Warblers, Northern Parulas, Pine Warblers, but couldn't see much other than some American Redstarts. Penny showed us where she had seen some rare Yellow Lady Slippers, and that was a great photo op. All in all, though, it was quite a rewarding day.
On May 25 I went to Augusta Springs in hopes of seeing the Mourning Warbler that Vic Laubach saw yesterday, but no such luck. I did see my first Canada Warbler of the year, at least, but otherwise it was mostly what you would expect there during breeding season. Other than what is shown here, I also saw Ovenbirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, E. Wood Pewee, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cedar Waxwing, and an Eastern Phoebe at the parking lot kiosk, guarding its nest with at least one baby in it.
On May 31 Roz Holt, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and I took advantage of the perfect weather with a trip to Pocosin Cabin in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We heard many different warblers, but other than the American Redstarts, they were hard to see. Highlights included Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (mating pair!), Least Flycatchers, E. Wood Pewees, and best of all, a Black-billed Cuckoo! It was spotted by Diane Lepkowski, whom with met along the way with Greg Moyers and another guy. On the way back we stopped at Madison Run, and were dumbfounded to hear an Eastern Whip-poor-will singing very close by! Unfortunately, we never did see it. We also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher there, and heard some Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, as expected. It was a wonderful day!
I kept up my intensive pace of birding throughout June, with mostly good weather.
* (asterisk) = my first sighting of the year
# = attempted unofficial "field trip" (solo); ## = unofficial "field trip" with ABC members
On the first of June, Jacqueline and I took advantage of perfect weather with a drive along Skyline Drive in the recently-reopened Shenandoah National Park. We stopped at a few overlooks and went for a couple short walks, but that was enough to get some great looks at birds. Bird-wise, a Chestnut-sided Warbler was probably the highlight, but a Black Bear provided the biggest thrill. On the way back home we stopped at the Cheese Shop in Stuarts Draft, and I enjoyed watching the Purple Martins. Another wonderful day!
On June 3 I explored the Dowell Draft trail, which had been on my "to-do" list for a long time. (Several of us have birded the fire road at Dowell Draft in the past.) I hiked about three miles each way, climbing about 900 feet in the process. There was quite a difference as you reach the (slightly) cooler higher elevations where Mountain Laurels thrive. Based on sound, I confirmed that there are Northern Parulas and Prairie Warblers in the low open areas once again, but never saw the latter. The expected warblers, etc. were seen along the trail, as well as some Yellow-billed Cuckoos, which I heard but didn't see. The big highlight was on my way back: a family of Ruffed Grouse right in front of me!! I heard strange squeals from the mother, and at least eight fledglings flying away from me. I was utterly enchanted!
On June 6: I explored a new area of Augusta County on the West Virginia border, Puffenbarger Pond. Gabriel Mapel had reported hearing Mourning Warblers there, but I did not. On the way I stopped at the road leading to Elkhorn Lake and saw the usual American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, Blackburnian Warbler, and heard a Hooded Warbler. The road leading to Puffenbarger Pond abounds with a variety of birds, as this montage attests: (Not pictured: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.)
On June 8 Jacqueline and I went for a vigorous hike to the top of Hightop Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park. We heard or saw most of the expected warblers, but none of the very vocal Cerulean Warblers actually made an appearance. Bird highlights included Yellow-throated Vireos, Acadian Flycatchers, and (at the summit) Dark-eyed Juncos.
On June 10 Tom Roberts and I went to the Hearthstone Lake area, and were greeted almost immediately near the map kiosk by a Wood Thrush that was singing and foraging for grubs. Soon thereafter we came upon a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched on top of the very same dead tree where it was seen repeatedly last year! (I assume it's the same individual.) Other highlights included a Pine Warbler, numerous Ovenbirds, E. Wood Pewees, and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo! There were also two Eastern Phoebes and a nest at the same stream crossing where we saw one last year, but in the other culvert. Finally, we heard but did not see Acadian Flycatchers, Hooded Warblers, and Red-shouldered Hawks. I was glad to learn that Tilghman Road is now totally open, as the construction barriers have been removed! We drove to the "lake" behind the newly refurbished dam, but it is still empty for some reason.
On June 12, a delightfully cool morning, I returned to Dowell's Draft, and it didn't take long before I heard and saw a Northern Parula, probably the same one I saw there last week. It was the first of four that I saw or heard, and one of them was singing like a Cerulean Warbler, which had me confused until I actually saw it. There were several loud Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes, but neither made an appearance. Likewise for Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, but I saw one of them at least. Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, and Red-eyed Vireos were numerous and visually prominent. There were also a few Scarlet Tanagers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Eastern Wood Pewees along the way. A family of Tufted Titmice with a few fledglings was making lots of noise. Finally, I saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo near a nest that may have been his/her own. I was disappointed not to hear the Prairie Warbler that was there last week, and didn't see the Ruffed Grouse either.
June 20 was the date of a semi-formal field trip to Highland County which I had tried to organize, but the rainy forecast forced me to abandon those plans. Instead I hiked the Falls Hollow Trail, on Rt. 254 near Elliott Knob before you get to Augusta Springs. There were plenty of warblers and vireos, as expected, but none of the Black-throated Blue Warblers which I had hoped. The highlights were seeing two females: Hooded Warbler and Indigo Bunting. I heard several singing male Scarlet Tanagers, but none of them came down into view; I saw a probable female, though. The falls were a raging torrent thanks to the recent heavy rain.
But wait, there's more! I heard something strange out back about 9:00 that same evening, and it turned out to be a family of Screech Owls!!! My neighbor had a high-intensity lantern, which proved to be perfectly suited for this situation. This juvenile was being fed by one of its parents while perched on a tree limb.
My final birding expedition in June (on the 27th) was to the Reddish Knob area at the northern tip of Augusta County. It was supposed to be a semi-formal field trip, but no one else showed up. For the first time, I took an indirect route to get there, via Highland County (where I rescued a Box Turtle in the middle of Rt. 614 and saw a pair of House Wrens at a nest in a dead tree) and West Virginia. While ascending the big mountain slope back toward Virginia, I observed a Pine Warbler at a clearing. Soon after reaching the "famous" (to birders) crossroads at the top, I saw some Chestnut-sided Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, and two young Dark-eyed Juncos. Hiking along the road toward Bother Knob, a beautiful cool alpine meadow lined with spruce trees, I saw Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroat. There wasn't much at the summit of Reddish Knob, but on my way back down I saw some Black-throated Green Warblers and my very first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the year -- finally! Then at the Briery Branch Reservoir I had a great view of a Northern Parula, marking my ninth (or perhaps tenth) warbler species of the day!
And that's that! More bird photos for this year, listed chronologically, can be found on the Wild Birds yearly page