October 2, 2018 [LINK / comment]
The peak of fall migration season
The weather has improved somewhat over the past week, just as fall migration season has reached a peak, possibly delayed, as many southbound birds probably waited for the rain to stop. I have tried to take maximum advantage of better conditions, despite a lingering sore heel. Late in the morning on September 26, I checked out Bell's Lane, but aside from the usual birds, all I saw was three Solitary Sandpipers, one of which walked right next to a turtle. Photo op! When I went to on Betsy Bell Hill, however, I saw an American Redstart and a Magnolia Warbler, as well as a Red-eyed Vireo. It was hard to get good photos, or even any photos at all. In our back yard, the Cape May Warbler returned, and along Mountain View Road (by the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad that I used to frequent several years ago) I saw some Yellow-throated Vireos and a Black-throated Green Warbler, and both cooperated while I captured their photographic images, just before yet another rainfall later in the day.
After a heavy rain on Thursday night, the sun came out in the morning of September 28, and the Cape May Warbler was still out back as well as a young Northern Cardinal. I was constrained by the obligation of finishing the Augusta Bird Club bulletin, however, and that was completed in the mid-afternoon. So I then paid a quick visit to Bell's Lane in the late afternoon. Before long I had seen a Black-throated Blue Warbler (F) and a Black & White Warbler, as well as a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. In the upland area I saw what I thought was a hawk fly past me, but soon realized it was actually an adult male "gray ghost" Northern Harrier! Further to the north I also saw a Northern Flicker and a Magnolia Warbler, both hiding in the bushes, and I duly noted those sightings on the Augusta Bird Club chalkboard. The lowland portion of Bell's Lane was a real mess that day (and still is), full of debris caused by an evident flood.
The weather on Saturday was ideal, but I was inside on the computer for most of the day. I went back to Bell's Lane in the afternoon, and soon saw my first Palm Warbler of the season. (Somebody had written on the chalkboard that they saw one there a few days ago.) In the vicinity of the beaver pond, there were also the usual Eastern Phoebes, Killdeers, and Solitary Sandpiper, plus a Kingfisher, Redstart, another Palm Warbler, and a probable Tennessee Warbler near the top of a sycamore tree.
On Sunday I went up to the Blue Ridge Parkway in spite of the cloudy conditions. It was the first time I'd been there in a few weeks, but hardly any birds were to be seen at the usual hot spots such as the Humpback Rocks visitor center and picnic area. So I went to the Hawk Watch on Afton Mountain, the first time I had been there in ove a year, I believe. Just as I had hoped, the sun finally came out soon after I arrived, enabling me to get a decent photos of a low-flying Turkey Vulture and a Broad-winged Hawk (one of a group of a dozen or so) pass of the other raptors that came into view. At one point, a Peregrine Falcon flew right in front of us, but I just couldn't get the camera to focus on it. That was a big disappointment.
On Monday I visited Bell's Lane in the late afternoon, and saw a probable Willow Flycatcher, "posing" in the sunlight for my camera. Not much else, however.
This morning, after dropping off the bird club bulletins at the post office and then doing recycling chores, I went to check out Montgomery Hall Park. For a long while, however, it seemed like a complete waste of time. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. At one point I played a Screech Owl call on my iPhone app, which attracted a few common birds but more importantly, it elicited vocal responses from two Screech Owls, in opposite directions! Well, that was something. On my way out of the park, I glimpsed some yellowish birds in the trees next to the road, figuring they were probably Goldfinches. Not! It was actually a family of Scarlet Tanagers, and I was lucky to get a photo of one of them before they flew off toward the softball fields.
Next I went to the new park trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, hoping for one of the Yellow-billed or Black-billed Cuckoos that seen there yesterday by two bird club members, Jo King and Bonnie Hughes. No luck there. (I had stopped there once or twice over the past year, and talked to the parks & rec official about Augusta County's plans to expand that trail into a lengthy network of asphalt trails spanning Verona.) But when I visited Bell's Lane on the way home, things started buzzing -- literally! A Ruby-throated Hummingbird flew past as I was photographing a probable Willow Flycatcher (perhaps the same one as yesterday) east of the lane at the beaver pond; a young Green Heron was on the west side. In the upland pastures portion, I saw some Palm Warblers acting like sparrows foraging along the side of the lane, and then all of a sudden, a Cuckoo flew past! Fortunately, I was able to get a photo (which indicated it was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, possibly young based on the relative lack of yellow color in the bill) before a passing bicyclist scared it away. Not a bad start to the month!
I counted seven warbler species in the photo montages above, and adding Redstarts I have seen, that makes eight altogether this fall season. Hopefully I'll see at least a few more warblers in the weeks to come...
NOTE: Most of the text above was copied from my Facebook posts, and then edited for clarity and context. Other recent photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.