November 19, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in September: a variety of experiences
I spent much of August preparing to teach for the fall semester, but it turned out that my classes were postponed until the middle of October, so I made the best of my unanticipated extra time in September, which is peak fall migration season. On September 6 I paid a brief late-afternoon visit to Bell's Lane, where I came across another birder, Mark Kosiewski. Thanks to his alert eyes, I managed to see and even photograph some Common Nighthawks that were passing overhead. They have such a curious manner of flying, as their wingbeats seem to have a slightly delayed cadence. In broad daylight, I really should have gotten better photos.
Five days later, on September 11, I went back to Ramsey's Draft, but didn't see much other than a Northern Parula in a low tree and some warblers (including a probable Magnolia Warbler) high in the tree tops. For the first time I crossed the stream and walked up along the trail toward Bald Ridge, which eventually connects with Braley Pond. One of these days I'll hike that entire trail... Next I drove up to the Confederate Breastworks, where I saw an Eastern Wood Pewee, a Tennessee Warbler, and a couple others. After a half hour or so there, I hiked south for a ways along the Shenandoah Mountain Trail. There were many colorful mushrooms but hardly any birds. I was most annoyed as I headed back, but just when all seemed lost, I glimpsed some motion in a tree top, and it seemed like a good-sized bird was in there. Indeed: It was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and it even posed for me in the sunlight as I cautiously got in position for what turned out to be one of my best-ever photos of that species! On the way back home I decided to stop at one of my old favorite places, Chimney Hollow, knowing full well that there usually aren't that many birds there. Well, September 11 turned out to be an exception, as I soon spotted a Blue-headed Vireo, a Bay-breasted Warbler, a Pine Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Nashville Warbler! Unfortunately, the lighting conditions were poor, so my photographs were mediocre.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (prob.), Eastern Wood Pewee, Pine Warbler, and (center) Nashville Warbler. (Ramsey's Draft, Shen. Mtn., Chimney Hollow, Sept. 11)
Three days after that, on September 14, I visited Mongomery Hall Park in Staunton. I had low expectations based on past experience there, but it turned out to be a pretty good day. Soon after arriving I saw some American Redstarts and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and the longer I stayed the more interesting species I found. Getting good photos proved to be difficult, unfortunately, partly because the auto-focus on my semi-new Canon PowerShot SX-70 is sometimes unreliable in mediocre lighting conditions. I was very frustrated that I couldn't get a better shot of the Magnolia Warblers that I saw.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-throated Vireo, and (center) American Redstart. (Mongomery Hall Park, Sept. 14)
Three days after that, on September 17, I drove up to Washington, DC, where Jacqueline was leaving on a jet plane. After a goodbye kiss, I drove to the small park at the north end of the airport, where joggers get exercise amidst the deafening roar of jet engines overhead. I was pleasantly surprised to spot an Osprey perched on a lighting scaffold, as well as two Great Egrets, several Ring-billed Gulls, and hundreds of Rock Pigeons. After a while I drove into Washington, hoping to visit the Holocaust Museum, but learned that one needs to get advance reservations online, so I contented myself with a snack lunch on the nearby Tidal Basin. There I saw a variety of big birds passing overhead, most notably a Caspian Tern! If only it hadn't been such a cloudy day... On the way back I stopped at Huntley Meadows (southwest of Alexandria) for the first time in several years: June 30, 2016, to be exact. A Roseate Spoonbill had been reported there during mid-summer, but it was long gone by September. I held out slim hopes for seeing a King Rail that had been seen there just a few days earlier, but no such luck. I did see, however, several Wood Ducks, Great Blue Herons, and two young Little Blue Herons, as well as a Belted Kingfisher and a young male Common Yellowthroat. I was told that someone had seen a Prothonotary Warbler there earlier in the day, but I missed it. As I was leaving, I saw a good-sized Snapping Turtle on the road but didn't dare coax it to move to safety, so I placed some branches on the road to induce motorists to slow down as the next best thing. It was a very good (albeit overcast) day!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ring-billed Gull, Great Egret, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Caspian Tern, Common Yellowthroat (juv. M), Wood Duck (F/J), Great Blue Heron, and Little Blue Heron (juv.). (Reagan Airport in Arlington, VA; Tidal Basin in Washington, DC; and Huntley Meadows, VA, Sept. 17)
Roll your mouse over that image to see the Osprey with a jet taking off in back, and the Woodrow Wilson Bridge several miles to the south beyond that.
My next bird outing was two days later, September 19, when the sun was shining brightly. I did a brief walk around the boardwalk at Augusta Springs, and saw a family of Eastern Phoebes, several Cedar Waxwings, some American Goldfinches (already molted to non-breeding plumage), an Eastern Wood Pewee, and -- finally -- something truly noteworthy: a Swainson's Thrush, my first of the season!
On September 21 I went to Bell's Lane and saw some Cedar Waxwings, Cape May Warblers (first of season), a Palm Warbler (FOS), Eastern Phoebes, several Broad-winged Hawks (FOS, in a small "kettle"), and a Red-tailed Hawk. It was very cloudy, however, so my photos weren't very good.
Two days later, September 23, I joined Penny Warren's Augusta Bird Club field trip to nearby Bell's Lane. The sun was shining bright and we saw a Pied-billed Grebe on the private farm pond, but it was hard to get a good photo with the harsh early light on the water. Later we saw some Cedar Waxwings, a Wilson's Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat, Cape May Warblers, and just as we were finishing, a large number of Broad-winged Hawks. (I only saw a dozen or so.) Not being satisfied, I decided to go back in the afternoon, and struck paydirt: Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstarts, more Palm Warblers, and my very first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Redstart, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Phoebe, Cape May Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and (center) Black-throated Green Warbler. (Bell's Lane, Sept. 23)
The very next day I went to Mongomery Hall Park, and for the second time that month, got surprisingly lucky there. Soon after arriving I saw some Warbling Vireos high up in the trees, and then a probably Yellow-throated Vireo. After a lengthy time walking around to the north side of the big hill, I finally came across a species I had seen there during migration season in years past: a male Black-throated Blue Warbler! He was hard to photograph, unfortunately. I had somewhat better luck capturing the images of a Magnolia Warbler and a Swainson's Thrush, but the biggest surprise of the day was spotting four (4) Scarlet Tanagers (all female or young) in a bare tree next to the soccer field.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F/J), Magnolia Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, Warbling Vireo, Cedar Waxwing, Downy Woodpecker (F), and Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Mongomery Hall Park, Sept. 24)
The day after that I decided to visit the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch for the first time this season. As I was about to get into my car, I looked up and was dumbfounded to see two Bald Eagles soaring directly above! One was an adult, and one was a first-year juvenile presumably being instructed how to hunt for food. At the communication tower along the Blue Ridge Parkway I saw a female (or juvenile) Black-throated Blue Warbler and some Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, but not much else. At the Hawk Watch I saw some Red-tailed Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a Broad-winged Hawk or two.
Bald Eagles: adult and first-year juvenile. (N. Staunton, Sept. 25)
As the month wound down to a close, I finally managed to photograph an almost perfectly-illuminated Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our back porch feeder!
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (F). (N. Staunton, Sept. 27)
To see some of the bird photos mentioned above but not shown, as well as more montages and photos of individual birds, go to the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.
November 10, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in August: hot, as usual
Some bird species begin to migrate during August, and others (especially tall wading birds) scatter into the interior of the U.S. And then there are birds such as the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which we rarely see until August. (From what I can tell, they apparently breed in woodland areas away from densely populated areas.) This year one showed up on July 31, and we had them out back virtually every day from then until the end of September. The one in this photo clearly shows reddish streaks on its throat, indicating it is a young male:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, juv. male. (N. Staunton, August 4)
On August 9, I drove up to Pocosin Cabin in the Shenandoah National Park, one of our favorite birding "hot spots" in the Shenandoah National Park. (I had intended to stop there while driving along Skyline Drive on my way back from Washington on June 17, but ran out of time.) I did see a nice variety of warblers, and other special birds such as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler, but didn't have as much luck getting good photos.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler (M), Canada Warbler (F/J), Cerulean Warbler (F), Black-and-white Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F/J), E. Wood Pewee, Chestnut-sided Warbler (M), and (left center) American Goldfinch (M). (Pocosin Cabin trail, August 9)
Ten days later (August 19), I took some time off from preparing to teach fall classes and went hiking at Braley Pond in western Augusta County. Before I had even left home, however, I saw a young Cooper's Hawk out back, and managed to get a quick photo of it. Upon reaching the forested foothills out west, I stopped at the crossroads near Elkhorn Lake, which often abounds with warblers, etc., but not that day. I glimpsed some American Redstarts and an E. Towhee, and that was about it. While driving back south I spotted a pair of Wild Turkeys on the road up ahead. At Braley Pond I saw a fair number of birds, but nothing spectacular until I was about to leave. That is when a Northern Parula (probably a juvenile based on its messy-looking feathers) appeared in a nearby bush, and posed just long enough for me to get a good photo. Even better, I then spotted a well-camouflaged Brown Creeper on the side of a tree. That species is a rare breeder in Augusta County, and is not generally seen in lowland areas until the colder months. That was a huge find!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cooper's Hawk (J), American Goldfinch (M), Wild Turkey, Pine Warbler, Brown Creeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Parula, and (center) Red-eyed Vireo. (N. Staunton, Braley Pond, etc., August 19)
Two days later I went to Augusta Springs, but it was pretty quiet for the most part. The only birds of special note were a Scarlet Tanager (female or juvenile) and a Green Heron. (I should mention that on the 5th, 14th, and 24th days of the month I made visits to Bell's Lane, but didn't see any noteworthy or unusual birds.)
On August 28, in conjunction with a visit to the Blue Ridge Community College campus, I stopped at Leonard's Pond, located about five miles to the northeast. That's a hit-or-miss birding hot spot, and it so happened that I got lucky that day (which was indeed hot!), with six different sandpiper and plover species! Getting great views of a Lesser Yellowlegs and a Pectoral Sandpiper was especially gratifying.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Least Sandpiper. (Leonard's Pond, August 28)
To close out the month, I drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway on August 30, but pretty much struck out in the warbler department. Near the big communications tower, there were a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds contesting flowery bushes. At Raven's Roost overlook, I saw some Common Ravens squawking and performing aerial displays, as well as a Red-tailed Hawk and a Broad-winged Hawk. At other locations I also saw several E. Wood Pewees, American Goldfinches, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Worm-eating Warbler.
Individual photos of some of the birds in the above montages can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.
November 8, 2021 [LINK / comment]
Birding in July: a few random "hot spots"
(NOTE: Once again, I have fallen way behind -- four whole months -- in documenting my birding activities in this blog. I am getting caught up, however, and will continue to do so.)
After midsummer, birds aren't quite as active, devoting most of their attention and energy to feeding and caring for their young fledglings, rather than ostentatiously singing and courting. Likewise, my birding activity in July was diminished compared to the month of June. On the third day of the month, I headed to the Bald Mountain trail, located at mile marker 22 along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was hoping to see one of the Black-throated Blue Warblers that Marshall Faintich had reported there a week or so previously. On the way there, I stopped at the Three Ridges overlook, near Wintergreen, and saw an Indigo Bunting or two. Soon after arriving at the primary destination, I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco singing. It's always odd to see those "winter" species so close to home during the summer months. Most of them breed in northern latitudes, but some choose higher elevations in Appalachia. I saw a few of the usual warblers, but the highlight of the day was a family of Red-breasted Nuthatches.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Indigo Bunting, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-and-white Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, American Redstart, Hooded Warbler, and Ovenbird. (Bald Mountain trail and Three Ridges overlook, July 3)
Three days later, July 7, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Reddish Knob and vicinity, with four other members in attendance. As usual there were Chestnut-sided Warblers at the open meadow along Briery Branch Road just before you reach the top of the mountain, and in several places along the crest of the mountain. Along the dirt road leading northward to Bother Knob, we saw several Cedar Waxwings, Chipping Sparrows, as well as a Yellow-rumped Warbler and a possible Veery. None of us saw the Mourning Warbler which had been reported in that area a week or two earlier, however. The big highlight was a Red Crossbill spotted in a tree top by Tom Roberts at the road intersection where they are often seen. Driving toward Reddish Knob we saw a family of Blue-headed Vireos, very active and amusing, but difficult to see in the poor light. It started to rain again at the summit, so as soon as we enjoyed another good look at a Chestnut-sided Warbler, we headed home.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red Crossbill (F or juv.), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue-headed Vireo (juv.), Black-throated Green Warbler, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Chestnut-sided Warbler. (Reddish Knob & vicinity, July 7)
Four days after that, I did a solo expedition to Highland County (where the bird club usually does a field trip in early June), but my preliminary stop at the Ramsey's Draft picnic area yielded the biggest surprises. There I had a great closeup view of a Northern Parula, along with a Blue-headed Vireo, a Canada Warbler, and two or three Black-billed Cuckoos. I was astonished by the latter two species, which are quite uncommon.
Crossing into Highland County, just north of the town of Blue Grass I saw a guy with a big camera by the side of the road, and stopped since I assumed he was a birder. It turns out that he was more of a general nature photographer who was visiting from Pennsylvania. He pointed out the bird he saw in a nearby tree: a young Bald Eagle! Then I drove north to the former home of Margaret O'Bryan, where I was hoping to see a Golden-winged Warbler. There I met a nice couple who work with the Virginia Society of Ornithology; they explained that the VSO had acquired the house and surrounding land, which was great news. In that vicinity I saw some Orchard Orioles, House Wrens, and glimpsed some warblers, but not the one I was looking for. Next to the house I noticed this bench, which had just been delivered and unwrapped:
This bench was built to commemorate the life of Margaret O'Bryan, an enthusiastic birder who always welcomed us to her home when we did field trips to Highland County. Click on the photo to see it full size.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Canada Warbler, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle (juv.), and Orchard Oriole (F). (Ramsey's Draft & Highland County, July 11)
On Friday July 15, I paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane, and soon after arriving spotted two (later three) Green Herons in the small pond that is shrouded by bushes. By aiming my camera just right through the branches, I managed to get a great photo of one of them. I also saw some Eastern Kingbirds and a loud House Wren, along with the others listed below.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Towhee, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird, House Wren, Green Heron, and (center) Cedar Waxwing.
Early in the morning of July 27 I went back to Bell's Lane with Jacqueline, and we soon spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk in a tree not far away. I also had a tantalizing glimpse of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the other usual summer residents of that area.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, Indigo Bunting, Peregrine Falcon, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male). (Shenandoah National Park, July 27)
Individual photos of some of the birds in the above montages can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological page.