Winter birds begin to arrive
After three weeks without any significant birding (the last time being in mid-September), last Saturday, October 7, I went along with an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Allen Larner. We were hoping to see a combination of late-migrating neotropical species and early-arriving migrants from the northern latitudes, and we did very well.
Our first destination was the rolling pastures around the Swoope area of Augusta County, a few miles west of Staunton. But before we even left the Food Lion parking lot in Staunton, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker in a distant tree top! As we left town driving along the northern side of the Rt. 262 bypass, Allen noticed a group of big birds in a field, so we did a U-turn, and sure enough there were nine Wild Turkeys foraging in the dim light of dawn. I would never have noticed that, but Allen has amazing powers of visual perception. Then on Livick Road in Swoope, we saw several clusters with several species of sparrows (most notably Grasshopper and Savannah), plus Goldfinches, Meadowlarks, etc. A little further along, we saw two young Bald Eagles, and then even more raptors. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a group of seven Northern Harriers that were circling low around a field, as they typically do. All or most of them were juveniles.
Next we stopped at nearby Smith's Pond, a local hot spot for shorebirds. There we saw several several dozen Tree Swallows, about fifteen Killdeers, and several Wilson's Snipes, along with a single Rusty Blackbird along the shore. They were too far (150+ yards) for a good photo, however.
At the Augusta Springs wetland area, about six miles farther to the west, we were treated to a nice mixture of birds soon after we arrived. I had decent looks at a Blue-headed Vireo, a Tennessee Warbler, either a Palm or a Magnolia Warbler, and a probable Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I originally thought might be a Cape May Warbler or a Blackpoll Warbler. Those "confusing fall warblers" can be a pain! There were also a dozen or so Cedar Waxwings, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet or two. Farther along the boardwalk trail, we saw some Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the pond were a few Wood Ducks, and in the woods along the upland trail we saw a few woodpeckers, but no thrushes or any other warblers. That was a bit of a disappointment. We also saw our final raptor of the day, a Sharp-shinned Hawk overhead.
Altogether we tallied 64 distinct bird species, give or take a couple. There were so many birds that I had to make two separate photo montages (see below) to provide a suitable summary. The four of us enjoyed great weather and great company. I'll be leading a field trip this Saturday to Chimney Hollow, and I hope we'll be at least half as successful!