A diary of birds I've observed, spiced up with photos and occasional commentary. Clockwise from top left: Burrowing Owl, Red-breasted Merganser, Yellow-breasted Chat, Purple Gallinule, Summer Tanager, Gray Hawk, Virginia Rail, and (in center) Magnolia Warbler.
December 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Birding in November
I managed to get out to do some birding a few times in November, trying to keep abreast of the newly-arrived winter migrants. On the first day of the month (a Wednesday), I drove out to the Swoope area in hopes of seeing either the Northern Harriers or Short-eared Owls that had been reported there. (I had seen seven Harriers during a field trip in early October.) I did indeed spot three different Northern Harriers in Swoope, but not until I returned home and looked at my photos did I realize that one of them was a male "Gray Ghost." It's the first such photo I have taken. Later in the day, I spotted a Dark-eyed Junco out back, the first one of the season for me.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Harrier (F / J), Northern Harrier (M), Northern Flicker (M), and Dark-eyed Junco. (November 1)
Ducks abound at Silver Lake
On November 10, I drove up to Dayton, hoping to see some of the ducks that had recently arrived at Silver Lake. Sure enough, I spotted a nice variety as soon as I parked there. It was a sunny day, and lighting conditions were very good for taking photos. Something strange happened while I was driving through Dayton: a strange-looking medium-large bird flew over my car by the poultry processing plant, but not until it landed in a nearby spruce tree was I able to identify it for sure: a Black-crowned Night Heron!
CLOCKWISE FROM BOTTOM LEFT: Redhead (M), Ring-necked Ducks (F, M), Ruddy Duck, Black-crowned Night Heron, Bufflehead (M), and in center, more Buffleheads (F). (November 10)
Field trip to Bell's Lane
On November 16 (a Thursday), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Bell's Lane, with Dan Perkuchin, Peter Van Acker, Joe Thompson, and Ann Cline in attendance, later joined by Allen Larner and Stan Heatwole. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and gradually warming temperatures. On the farm pond by the south end we saw several Ruddy Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes. From there we walked for about a mile, and had some nice views of Red-tailed Hawks along the way. We stopped at the high point of Bell's Lane (by Carolyn Ford's gate), and from there "we" (by which I mean Allen) saw Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlins, Green-winged Teals, Hooded Mergansers, Gadwalls, and Northern Shovelers on a distant pond. I spotted a Northern Harrier in the distance. Other highlights of the day included Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Flickers, Eastern Bluebirds, Robins, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. There were no Yellow-rumped Warblers, to my surprise. In the eBird report I submitted, there were 32 species total.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier (F/J), Hairy Woodpecker (M), Ring-necked Ducks (M, F), Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, and in center, Eastern Bluebird (M) and Northern Cardinal (F). (November 16)
This past Saturday (November 25), I was trying to decide whether to venture out in search of birds, but as it turned out, I didn't have to. To my great surprise, some Eastern Bluebirds were hunting for food in the trees out back, and I was able to get a nice photo. Even better, I saw (and photographed) a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker not far away! I also got a nice photo of a particular White-throated Sparrow with an anomolous white wing feather that has been out back off and on recently. It is almost certainly the very same one that has visited us each winter going back two years!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird (M), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Carolina Chickadee, White-throated Sparrow, and Carolina Wren. (November 25)
Birding in and near Lexington
On Sunday, Jacqueline and I went on a day trip to Lexington, about 40 miles south of Staunton. Because of the heavy holiday traffic on I-81, we took Route 11 for almost the entire way in both directions. While approaching Steele's Tavern (east of Raphine), I spotted a hawk on a telephone wire, so I pulled over and was fortunate to get a very good photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk! We don't see that species very often, and that was a stroke of luck. We stopped briefly at McCormick's Mill, but there wasn't anything on the front pond, so we continued to Willow Lake, about a mile southwest. There we saw about a dozen Ruddy Ducks and perhaps six Ring-necked Ducks, plus the usual Canada Geese. Late in the afternoon, I photographed a Rock Pigeon in the parking lot of Devil's Backbone Brewery.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-shouldered Hawk, Ruddy Duck, Rock Pigeon, Ring-necked Ducks (M), Northern Cardinal (F). (November 26)
NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
November 15, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Catching up: birding in October
Exactly one week after my October 14 field trip to Chimney Hollow (see October 19) was the pickup day for the Augusta Bird Club's annual seed sale, and I helped out a bit. While delivering bird seed bags to a house west of Spring Hill, I spotted a group of ten or so Wild Turkeys in a field next to the road, so I stopped to take some quick photos. Just in time for the Thanksgiving season! Back at the pickup location at the Augusta County government complex in Verona, there were some noisy Killdeers, and I was able to approach them closely enough for a nice photo. On my way home, I spotted a Great Blue Heron at the beaver pond on the north end of Bell's Lane, and further along got a nice closeup photo of a Palm Warbler.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, Killdeers, Wild Turkeys, Great Blue Heron. (October 21)
One week later, on October 28, I returned to Bell's Lane, and there must have been a dozen or more Yellow-rumped Warblers, along with numerous Bluebirds and a few Palm Warblers. Lighting conditions were mixed, so the photos weren't that great. At the beaver pond there was a Killdeer just 20 or so feet away from a beaver!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Palm Warbler, American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Killdeer. (October 28)
On October 30 (Monday), I went to Stuarts Draft in search of a Baird's Sandpiper that was reported at the Target pond, but it wasn't there. So, I went to the nearby Shenandoah Wetland Bank (a nature preserve closed to the public) and peered across the gate. There I saw several sparrows and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, as well as a Downy Woodpecker. Then I proceeded a couple miles to the southeast, to the Big Levels area in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It was quieter than I had hoped, but all of a sudden I came upon a huge flock (300+) of Common Grackles, gathered around a gravel track in the middle of the woods. I was surprised to see that species at all, much less in such an unusual (for them) habitat. I think of Grackles as being birds of the open fields. Lighting conditions were perfect for seeing the iridescent hues in their otherwise-black feathers. Then I took a short hike up to the Coles Run Reservoir Dam, and saw a Hermit Thrush along the way, my first one of the season. There wasn't much else up at the dam, however.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (F), White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Common Grackle, Downy Woodpecker. (October 30)
NOTE: The photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.
Bird list page updated
I updated the Wild Birds species list page (which shows one photo of each species that I have photographed) with a new montage to make it easier to jump to the various groups of birds, just by clicking on the "representative" bird in the composite image. (Note that some groups artificially lump together birds that happen to be found next to each other in the American Ornithological Union's standard classification, but which aren't necessarily closely related.) The old scrolling menu (slightly modified to conform to the new montage) appears just above that montage, which may be revised and updated at some time in the future.
(FROM LEFT TO RIGHT)
ROW ONE: Mallard, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Spotted Sandpiper
ROW TWO: Ring-billed Gull, Mourning Dove, Burrowing Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Pileated Woodpecker
ROW THREE: Willow Flycatcher, Blue Jay, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Wood Thrush
ROW FOUR: Black-throated Green Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch
October 19, 2017 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Chimney Hollow
Last Saturday (October 14), I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow, a wooded ravine in the foothills about twelve miles west of Staunton. (I led a field trip there last April 28, and since then only made one brief stop there.) It was chilly and cloudy at first, but later the skies cleared. Two other guys from the club joined me, and we had a fair but not spectacular day. The highlights were seeing my first Brown Creeper and Winter Wren of the fall season, but unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo of either species. We saw several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but most of them stayed at least 20 feet above the ground, and none cooperated with my picture-taking. I got decent photos of a Blue-headed Vireo and Eastern Phoebes, but that was about it.
Around 11:30 we returned to the trail head and then drove over to nearby Braley's Pond. I was hoping to see something on the water, but (except for a dozen or so turtles basking in the sun) it was empty that day. Nevertheless, I did get a brief view of a few Dark-eyed Juncos in a bush, and I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, which was rather late in the season for that warbler species. (Those are not included in my eBird report, which was strictly for Chimney Hollow.)
Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Oct 14, 2017 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
Turkey Vulture -- 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2
Downy Woodpecker -- 3
Hairy Woodpecker -- 1
Northern Flicker -- 1
Pileated Woodpecker -- 2
Eastern Phoebe -- 3
Blue-headed Vireo -- 5
Blue Jay -- 5
American Crow -- 2
Black-capped Chickadee -- 5
Tufted Titmouse -- 6
White-breasted Nuthatch -- 3
Brown Creeper -- 1
Winter Wren -- 1
Carolina Wren -- 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 4
Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- 6
Yellow-rumped Warbler -- 5
Eastern Towhee -- 2
View this checklist online at ebird.org
Late in the afternoon that same day, I went over to Bell's Lane for the first time in at least a couple weeks, and was pleasantly surprised to see my first White-crowned Sparrows of the season. There were a few other interesting birds as well, but none of the Palm Warblers that I was hoping for.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing (juv.), Eastern Bluebird, Blue-headed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, Great Blue Heron, and White-crowned Sparrow. (October 14) Roll your mouse over the image to see the White-crowned Sparrow enlarged.
Field trip to McCormick's Mill
Yesterday morning, I joined Jo King and several other birders at McCormick's Mill on the southern edge of Augusta County. The weather was just about perfect, with blue skies. Just as we arrived, we saw two Savannah Sparrows perched on a fence post, a great photo op. Throughout the morning, bird activity was quite high, and we chalked up a good total: 37 species were recorded altogether. Some species were especially abundant: Jo tabulated 38 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 35 Tree Swallows, and 25 Cedar Waxwings! One of the highlights was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (prob. male), one day after I saw my first one of the season in "our" back yard. We also saw a White-throated Sparrow (prob. juvenile) near the upper farm pond, and that was my first of the season.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tree Swallow (F / J), and in Center, Mallard (M). (October 18) Roll your mouse over the image to see the Savannah Sparrow enlarged.
NOTE: Both of the photo montages seen above, along with individual bird photos, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.
October 12, 2017 [LINK / comment]
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!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Harriers (juv.), Bald Eagle (juv.), Savannah Sparrow, Red-headed Woodpecker, Grasshopper Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and in center, Wood Duck (M) and Wilson's Snipe. (October 7)
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Bluebird, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestreal, Cedar Waxwing, Great Blue Heron, Eastern Phoebe, and (prob.) Yellow-rumped Warbler. (October 7)
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.