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A diary of birds I've observed, with occasional commentary on wildlife conservation issues, spiced up with photos of varying quality.

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Captions identifying the birds in these photo montages are found on the Wild Birds intro page.


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May 25, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Birding on Shenandoah Mountain

I went hiking on Shenandoah Mountain today, heading south from the Confederate Breastworks, just like I did one year ago (May 30). NOTE: Shenandoah Mountain is NOT part of the Shenandoah National Park. As soon as I got out of my car at the Confederate Breastworks, I heard a veritable symphony of warblers, vireos, and others. Not long after I began hiking I spotted a Blackburnian Warbler up in the trees, but just couldn't get a decent photo. Along the way (about a mile in each direction), I saw a wide variety of birds, including one of my "target species," the Cerulean Warbler, but they were too quick for me to get a satisfactory, well-lit photo. I heard a possible Ruffed Grouse flushing from a short distance away, and heard the loud crash of a breaking branch, which may have been a Black Bear. There was bear scat in more than one location. On the way back, about a couple hundred yards from the end, I saw what I thought was an Eastern Wood-Pewee at the top of a tree. But after looking at the photo later on, I realized, to my surprise and delight, that it was an Olive-sided Flycatcher -- the first one I have seen in years!

Shenandoah Mountain trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
May 25, 2016 9:15 AM - 12:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
28 species

  1. Turkey Vulture -- 4
  2. Broad-winged Hawk -- 1
  3. Yellow-billed Cuckoo * -- 1
  4. Hairy Woodpecker -- 2
  5. Olive-sided Flycatcher -- 1
  6. Eastern Wood-Pewee * -- 2
  7. Yellow-throated Vireo -- 1
  8. Blue-headed Vireo -- 7
  9. Red-eyed Vireo -- 5
  10. American Crow -- 2
  11. Common Raven -- 1
  12. Black-capped Chickadee -- 5
  13. Tufted Titmouse -- 4
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 3
  15. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher -- 1
  16. Ovenbird -- 8
  17. Worm-eating Warbler -- 4
  18. Black-and-white Warbler -- 4
  19. Hooded Warbler * -- 1
  20. Cerulean Warbler -- 3
  21. Blackburnian Warbler -- 2
  22. Black-throated Blue Warbler * -- 2
  23. Pine Warbler -- 3
  24. Black-throated Green Warbler -- 6
  25. Chipping Sparrow -- 6
  26. Eastern Towhee -- 2
  27. Scarlet Tanager -- 5
  28. Indigo Bunting -- 9

* (asterisk): heard but not seen. View this checklist online at ebird.org

Montage 20 May 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Olive-sided Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Pine Warbler, and in center, Hairy Woodpecker.

More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page. I also saw a few Periodical Cicadas, which are just emerging. We had a swarm of those in many parts of Augusta County in 2012 (see June 11, 2012 and Other insects photo gallery), but this brood is either in a distinct range or overlaps with different hatch year cycles.

Periodical Cicada - 2016

Periodical Cicada, on Shenandoah Mountain.


May 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]

ABC field trip to Reddish Knob

I led a very successful Augusta Bird Club field trip to Reddish Knob yesterday, joined by Peter Van Acker and Ed Lawler. The trip was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but rain forced a three-day postponement. Indeed, it has been raining or drizzling almost every day this month, and we were lucky to have mostly sunny, mild weather conditions for our trip. While we were still discussing plans in the parking lot, a Pileated Woodpecker flew right over our heads, a very auspicious omen. This photo montage shows what a great day we had:

Montage 20 May 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruffed Grouse, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Red Crossbill, and in center, American Redstart.

Departing from Staunton, we drove up I-81 into Rockingham County, then turned westward, passing through the town of Bridgewater. Just before 8:30 we reached our first stop, the Briery Branch Reservoir. With the rich green trees and bright blue skies as a backdrop, it was a a beautiful sight. Unlike my last time there (June 7, 2015), we didn't find any Northern Parulas, but we did have some dramatic close encounters with a male Indigo Bunting and an aggressive (presumably young) male Black-and-White Warbler. We also saw a pair of Phoebes building a nest on the side of a public restroom used by the many folks who go fishing at that lake.

Next we drove along Route 257 upward into the mountains and stopped at two places with a mixture of shrubs and burnt-out trees. Such semi-open "successional" habits are ideal breeding grounds for certain species, and sure enough we soon saw the first of many Chestnut-sided Warblers. We also saw a Scarlet Tanager, and heard the songs of various warbler and vireo species. One in particular grabbed my attention, and when I saw the unmistakeable orange throat of a Blackburnian Warbler (first of year), I could barely contain my excitement. I kept playing its song on my iPod, hoping to lure it to a lower spot so that I could get a better photo, but my repeated attempts did not pay off. I was fortunate that Peter and Ed were patient with me. We were also surprised to hear and then see a Common Yellowthroat, which usually breeds in low, moist areas. Perhaps it was just "passing through" on its way farther north.

[UPDATE: For the sake of accuracy in the narrative, I have reversed the sequence of the following two paragraphs and the associated photos and captions, based on a more careful review of when I took the photos.]

After that we stopped at the main intersection where Red Crossbills are reputed to frequent, but [at first] didn't see anything other than Towhees and Redstarts. [Then we had a] stroke of luck. We saw some birds in the tree branches, and with their streaked dull plumage and slightly forked tails, I thought they were Purple Finches. But when they flew down to the ground, along with some odd-looking yellowish and reddish birds, I realized that they were Red Crossbills -- one of our main "target species"! It was only the second time I have had a good look at a Red Crossbill, the first being in May 2013.

Red Crossbills, F & J

Red Crossbills: adult female (yellowish) in front, juvenile (streaked brownish) in back. Roll over the image to compare it to the male of the species, which is "reddish" (like the Knob), consistent with the species name.

[Then] we headed north for about a half mile along the gravel road which follows the crest of the mountain ridge. We saw some species that only breed in the highlands at this latitude, such as Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers, as well as some that are more often associated with lowlands: Bluebirds and Brown Thrashers. It was interesting but not spectacular. On the way back down to the main intersection, however, I caught a glimpse of a large brown bird perched on a fallen log: a Ruffed Grouse!! That was our other main target species, and I asked Peter to back up very slowly so as not to frighten it away. To our immense good fortune, it remained in place while we all got excellent looks, and I took some photos. As an added bonus, we saw one of the babies scrambling across that log, probably just a few days old, and I got a photo of it too! (I had previously taken photos of that species were in June 2010 and June 2013, but they weren't nearly as clear.)

Ruffed Grouse, F & J

Ruffed Grouse, presumably a female. Roll over the image to see one of the "lovable fuzzballs."


Next we drove southward along the ridge crest, and [soon saw our first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the day -- one of the "secondary" target species. Then] after hearing an unusual, sharply punctuated song, we spotted a family of Canada Warblers. They were hopping around inside rhododendron bushes, however, and I just couldn't get a photo of them. (I was lucky to get a photo of a Canada Warbler on Bell's Lane earlier this month.) Then we drove up to the summit of Reddish Knob, enjoying the grandiose view and taking a few photos. But unlike past visits, there were hardly any birds there, so we left after a few minutes. On the way back down to the main intersection (which I think should be called "Crossbill Crossing"), we finally saw [the last of the target species of the day]: Black-throated Green Warbler. Since it was already after noon, we descended the mountain without any further stops until we reached the town of Mount Solon, where we saw a female Wood Duck with several youngsters in the pond there. We racked up a few more species on the way back to Staunton, reaching a grand total of 57 altogether. Strangely, we never saw any titmice, wrens, or hawks. Nevertheless, it was one of the best field trips I have had in a long time.

Peter Van Acker, Ed Lawler, Andrew Clem

Peter, Ed, and me, at the summit of Reddish Knob. In the background is the U.S. Navy communications center near Sugar Grove, West Virginia.

eBird report

Reddish Knob, Augusta, Virginia, US
May 20, 2016 9:00 AM - 12:45 PM
Protocol: Traveling
4.0 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip, accompanied by Peter Van Acker and Ed Lawler
42 species

  1. Ruffed Grouse -- 2 (one adult female, one very young chick)
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 6
  3. Chimney Swift * -- 1
  4. Downy Woodpecker -- 1
  5. Hairy Woodpecker * -- 1
  6. Pileated Woodpecker * -- 1
  7. Eastern Wood-Pewee -- 1
  8. Eastern Phoebe -- 3
  9. Blue-headed Vireo -- 4
  10. Red-eyed Vireo -- 1
  11. Common Raven -- 3
  12. Black-capped Chickadee -- 3
  13. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  14. Eastern Bluebird -- 2
  15. Veery * -- 1
  16. Wood Thrush * -- 1
  17. American Robin -- 15
  18. Gray Catbird -- 8
  19. Brown Thrasher -- 4
  20. Cedar Waxwing -- 15
  21. Ovenbird * -- 10
  22. Worm-eating Warbler * -- 1
  23. Black-and-white Warbler -- 7
  24. Common Yellowthroat -- 2
  25. Hooded Warbler * -- 3
  26. American Redstart -- 8
  27. Blackburnian Warbler -- 2
  28. Chestnut-sided Warbler -- 15
  29. Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 4
  30. Pine Warbler * -- 1
  31. Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 2
  32. Black-throated Green Warbler -- 5
  33. Canada Warbler -- 3
  34. Chipping Sparrow -- 3
  35. Dark-eyed Junco -- 2
  36. Eastern Towhee -- 8
  37. Scarlet Tanager -- 6
  38. Indigo Bunting -- 6
  39. Red Crossbill -- 5 (adult male & female, three juveniles)
  40. Brown-headed Cowbird -- 2
  41. House Finch -- 2
  42. American Goldfinch -- 6

* (asterisk): heard but not seen. View this checklist online at ebird.org.

In addition, we saw these other species at various place en route to Reddish Knob, and on the return trip back to Staunton:

  1. Mallard
  2. Canada Goose
  3. Wood Duck
  4. Black Vulture
  5. Common Grackle
  6. American Crow
  7. Blue Jay
  8. Barn Swallow
  9. N. Rough-winged Swallow
  10. Mourning Dove
  11. Eastern Meadowlark
  12. European Starling
  13. Northern Mockingbird
  14. Northern Cardinal
  15. Song Sparrow

Spring migration ends

The Augusta Bird Club had its annual picnic brunch on Saturday May 14 at Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, but I was unable to attend. That was Graduation Day at Sweet Briar College, and I was obliged to to participate in the commencement exercises. Afterward I stopped at the boat pond and photographed an Eastern Wood Pewee and a House Wren, the first one I'd seen this year. The next day, I went to Ridgeview Park, in hopes of seeing a Wilson's Warbler that club members had seen. I did in fact see one in the bushes, along with a Common Yellowthroat, but it was just a brief glimpse. I had better luck with a female Northern Parula in that same area, and took some photos.

For some reason, I didn't see or hear any Blackpoll Warblers in our neighborhood this year. They are among the most consistent seasonal visitors, the latest-arriving of all the migrating warbler species, and their repetitive "tsee-tsee-tsee" song is ubiquitous this time of year. Well, I finally heard one singing in the middle of commencement exercises as Sweet Briar College, of all places. But not until Thursday (May 19) did I see any Blackpoll Warblers, and then it was a sudden deluge of them. I heard one singing while I was at the recycling center in Gypsy Hill Park, and spent a good 45 minutes or so trying to get a good closeup photo of one. The results were only mixed, however.

So, this marks the end of spring migration season, and the beginning of breeding season. (Obviously, some species are already raising broods of young ones.) As always, there are more photos to see on the Wild Birds yearly page, including montages. My main photographic "targets" in this area for the upcoming weeks are Cerulean Warbler and Kentucky Warbler. Maybe I'll finally get down to the James River and see some Prothonotary Warblers!

[NOTE: Multiple corrections were made above for the sake of accuracy, including a change in sequence of paragraphs, as explained above.]


May 12, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Birding in Rockingham County

Once again, I was lured northward to Rockingham County yesterday, hoping to see a Blue-winged Warbler that had been reported in Harrisonburg. On my way there, I stopped at Cook's Creek Arboretum, in Bridgewater, where I had seen several warblers on April 30. There weren't quite as many this time, but I did see at least two species for the first time this year (Black-throated Blue Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler), and got some decent photos. Then I went up to Silver Lake in Dayton, and finally over to Hillandale Park, on the northwest side of Harrisonburg. It was my first time to that park, so I wasn't sure exactly where to go, but I did see several good birds, including three first-of-year species: Great Crested Flycatchers, Magnolia Warblers (bingo!), and an Eastern Wood Pewee. No Blue-winged Warblers, however. On my way back to Staunton I stopped at Leonard's Pond. Here is the list of all significant sightings yesterday, with abbreviations of the respective locations.

Also, I may have seen a Gray-cheeked Thrush and a Cuckoo (presumably Yellow-billed) at Cook's Creek, and heard a Common Yellowthroat at Hillandale Park. This montage of photos from yesterday is overcrowded, reflecting what a busy day it was.

Montage 11 May 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Black-throated Blue Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Least Sandpiper and Solitary Sandpiper, Osprey, and Eastern Towhee. Roll your mouse over the above image to see a closeup of the Magnolia Warbler.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Augusta Bird Club field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway was rained out, so I went up there on May 7, on my way to Sweet Briar College. I heard Cerulean Warblers in the trees and lured one into close range (first of year!), but couldn't quite get a photo of it. There were a few good birds at other locations, such as Black-and-white Warblers and American Redstarts (both first of year), but I didn't have much time. [I also saw a Broad-winged Hawk fly past the Ravens' Roost Overlook, another FOY.]

Montage 07 May 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ovenbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Indigo Bunting, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, seen on the Blue Ridge Parkway on May 7; and Orchard Oriole (1st-year male), seen on Bell's Lane on May 8.

The Orchard Oriole was the first one of the year for me. As always, there are more photos to see on the Wild Birds yearly page, including montages.


May 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]

More migrants visit Bell's Lane

The weather has been very wet for the past week or two, but there have been a few intervals of clear skies or at least no rain, and I took advantage of them. It all started on Monday, May 2, on an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane led by Penny Warren. We were excited because of reports of Golden-winged Warblers and Blue-winged Warblers there on Sunday, but alas they had already left. (My eagerness to see a Golden-winged Warbler is what prompted my visit to Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater last Saturday.) Overall, the number of birds seen on Monday was below expectations, but we did see some unusual migrating species, most notably the White-eyed Vireo seen below. Also, a Baltimore Oriole was in the tree tops. Afterwards, most of us went over to Betsy Bell Hill, where we heard a Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, and other migrating species, but didn't see much other than a Scarlet Tanager or two.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo; I used this photo in the Augusta Bird Club bulletin.

The very next day (Tuesday) I returned to Bell's Lane and saw my first Indigo Bunting of the year flying across Commerce Road. I also saw a first-of-year Common Yellowthroat, but couldn't get a photo. The highlight came at the upland portion of the pastures, where I heard a distinctive gurgling song with a metallic tone, and soon saw several male Bobolinks flying around. After a few minutes of patient stalking, I got in good position for a photo, with ideal sunlight.

Bobolink

Bobolink (male)

Finally, on Wednesday morning I went back to Bell's Lane, and soon saw a few Yellow Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers, two species that were both singing constantly. Further along, I heard and then saw Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Common Yellowthroats, as well as a Baltimore Oriole. But the highlight of the day was when I heard a distinctive, complicated song, which I correctly deduced was a Canada Warbler. After playing his song on my iPod Touch, I lured him into my vicinity and got some very good (if not well-lit) photos. On my way out, I caught a glimpse of a Green Heron flying across the road.

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler (male)

As always, there are more photos to see on the Wild Birds yearly page, including montages. Today, I'm going to the Blue Ridge Parkway, in hopes of making up for a bird club field trip that was cancelled due to rain on Thursday.


April 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Migration season reaches peak

I wasn't even planning to go out today (too exhausted from school work!), but when I saw the e-mail alert from Greg Moyer about a Golden-winged Warbler at Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater, I just couldn't resist. So I hit the road and drove north. I didn't see that species, unfortunately but there were plenty of other warblers to make the trip worthwhile; see list below. It was a truly spectacular "fallout" of neotropical migrants, perhaps aided (ironically) by the gloomy weather. Many thanks to Greg!

While at Cook's Creek, I had nice chats with two prominent local birders, Ken Hinkle and Ken Ranke.

* I saw my first Cape May Warbler of the year (from a distance) at Betsy Bell Hill on Tuesday. Later that day I saw my first Grasshopper Sparrow of the year on Bell's Lane.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler (male), at Cook's Creek Arboretum, in Bridgewater today.

Last Sunday afternoon, I heard a familiar high-pitched song in the back yard, and sure enough I soon spotted a Yellow-rumped Warbler in the bushes. Then I saw a small yellowish bird taking quick baths in a stream, and managed to get closeup photos of a Yellow-throated Vireo. Finally, I saw what I thought was a female House Finch, but the photos I took proved that it was a Pine Siskin. Not bad day!

Oddly, I had rarely seen Yellow-throated Vireos, much less gotten good photographs of one, until about a year ago, when I saw one at Sweet Briar College and later at Natural Chimneys. They seem to be more common than they used to be.

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo, in Staunton, April 24.

Other photos from today and recently can be seen at: Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.



tiny tanager

Favorite warblers
(already seen):

  1. Chestnut-sided warbler
  2. Magnolia warbler
  3. Prothonotary warbler
  4. Blackburnian warbler
  5. Yellow warbler
  6. Northern parula
  7. Black-throated green warbler
  8. Canada warbler
  9. Common yellowthroat
  10. American redstart

Yet-unseen warblers:
(eastern species)


Yet-unseen warblers:
(western & semitropical)


"Abundant" birds
(ones I normally don't bother counting):