A diary of birds I've observed, with occasional commentary on wildlife conservation issues, spiced up with photos of varying quality.
October 21, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Waynesboro "Greenway"
This morning I joined Allen Larner on a field trip along the Greenway Trail which parallels the South River in Waynesboro. In contrast to most Augusta Bird Club field trips, this was a public event, in coordination with the Waynesboro Dept. of Parks and Recreation. Three non-club members attended, and we tutored them on identifying species by sound, and so on. The weather was fine early on, sunny (except for fog along the Blue Ridge) with cool breezes. There were plenty of birds both at the beginning and the end of the trail, but not much in between. A total of 32 species of birds were identified by sight or sound, including the ones in the photo montage below. (NOTE: I saw the Double-crested Cormorant at a nearby pond after the field trip had ended.)
Later in the morning, three other club members and I went with Stephanie Seltzer (who works in Parks and Recreation) to inspect the proposed Sunset Park, which will occupy the hill on the east side of town where the landfill was formerly located. Aside from providing a spectacular view of the city, the area features a combination of woodlands and open areas that seem to be ideal habitat for various kinds of birds. Along the way, we came across a Box Turtle, a species I had not seen in over a year. Highlights over there included a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a Palm Warbler, and a male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Late in the morning, the skies grew very dark, and it soon started to rain. I strained to cover my camera and binoculars as we hurried back to the truck in the rain. Nevertheless, it was a successful day of birding.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing (juv.), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Palm Warbler, and Northern Mockingbird.
Box Turtle, on the woodland trail east of the proposed Sunset Park.
View of Waynesboro from the proposed Sunset Park on the east side of town.
October 19, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Field trip to Chimney Hollow
Yesterday morning I "led" an Augusta Bird Club field trip to one of my favorite places, Chimney Hollow. Unfortunately, nobody else showed up, probably due to the fact that it was rescheduled from last Saturday, to avoid a conflict with the club's bird seed sale. So, just like the last time I "led" a field trip there (March 26), though for a different reason, it was a solo venture, hence the quotation marks around led. Just like the last time, I heard a Pine Warbler as soon as stepped out of my car, and heard a number of different birds soon thereafter, including a Blue-headed Vireo and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. But quite unlike the last time, I never did see any of those birds. Not until I reached the part of the trail that begins to climb steeply uphill (where I usually turn around and head back) did I get a good view of any birds, in fact. Overall, it was a disappointing day, but at least I spotted (and photographed) a Black-throated Blue Warbler. On the way back I heard and saw what was almost certainly a Winter Wren along the banks of the stream. I definitely heard the slow-cadenced call of Black-capped Chickadees, and probably Carolina Chickadees as well. Western Augusta County marks the approximate border between the ranges of those two closely-related species, and there may be some inter-breeding. Finally, I heard the loud scream of Pileated Woodpeckers at two different locations. I ended up with very few bird photos, but I took plenty of mushroom photos, which will be posted in the near future.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Black-throated Blue Warbler (male), White-breasted Nuthatch*, Red-bellied Woodpecker*, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Hairy Woodpecker (male).
* photographed a day earlier, in Staunton.
Chimney Hollow, October 18.
Chimney Hollow Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Oct 18, 2016 9:10 AM - 11:50 AM
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
19 species (+1 other taxa)
- Turkey Vulture -- 1
- Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -- 1 (H)
- Downy Woodpecker -- 1
- Hairy Woodpecker -- 3
- Northern Flicker -- 2 (H)
- Pileated Woodpecker -- 2 (H)
- Blue-headed Vireo -- 1 (H)
- Blue Jay -- 5
- American Crow -- 2
- Black-capped Chickadee -- 3
- Carolina/Black-capped Chickadee -- 4
- Tufted Titmouse -- 3
- Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1 (H)
- White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
- Winter Wren -- 1
- Golden-crowned Kinglet -- 8
- American Robin -- 2 (H)
- Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 1
- Pine Warbler -- 1 (H)
NOTE: "(H)" = heard but not seen. View this checklist online at ebird.org
Backyard fall birds
While looking out back on Sunday afternoon (October 16), I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (male) -- in each case, the first of the fall season for me as far as the Staunton area. A photo of the latter, as well as the montage above, be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. Also, a Sharp-shinned Hawk (probably the same one I photographed on Saturday) has been shrieking in the neighborhood, eliciting alarm calls from Blue Jays and forcing smaller birds (including our canaries inside!) to take cover. Finally, I noticed that one of the recently-arrived White-throated Sparrows out back has a single white feather in its left wing, just like a bird we have seen here for the past two winters, and I strongly suspect it is the very same bird!
October 15, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Beautiful day for hawks (and a warbler)
This morning was pickup day for folks who bought bird seeds in the Augusta Bird Club's annual bird seed sale, in nearby Verona. I took some photos for the website, and helped out a little. Unlike some past years, the weather was bright and beautiful. While there, Jo King and I noticed two Red-tailed Hawks circling overhead, so I took some photos of those too. On my way home I photographed an American Crow bathed in bright sunlight, and an hour or so later I noticed a hawk shrouded by bushes in the back yard. I carefully stepped onto the patio to get some photos, and could see that it had killed a Starling. Good! Even better, I saw a female Purple Finch at the feeder, the first of the season for me, and a Cape May Warbler hopping along nearby tree branches in search of insects to eat. Not a bad day of (casual) birding!
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Red-tailed Hawk, Purple Finch (female), Red-tailed Hawk, Cape May Warbler, Sharp-shinned Hawk (juv.), and in center, American Crow.
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page. One of them is a Common Tern, which three of us saw in at the quarry pond in Fishersville on October 8. That unusal sighting was on the way back from an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Lofton Lake, in southern Augusta County. The highlights of that trip (which was very wet, with steady drizzle) included some Cape May Warblers and a couple Wild Turkeys. Speaking of warblers, I saw at least 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers on Bell's Lane on October 12, and several Palm Warblers a few days before that.
After going to the World War II air show in Weyer's Cave on Thursday (October 13), Jacqueline and I drove up to Dayton, where we went shopping at the mall and had a great barbecue sandwich at Hank's. Then I checked out Silver Lake, where I saw the usuals plus a Pied-billed Grebe, a Great Blue Heron, and over a dozen Killdeers foraging on the mud flats. For some reason, the water level was low. But my main destination that day was the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, where I hoped to see some American Golden Plovers. I saw them there for the first time on September 29; it is surprising that so many of them have lingered so long. After a few minutes of scanning the fields, I spotted them, about 80 altogether. Jacqueline noticed the golden tinge on their wing feathers, without me prompting her!
October 5, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Shenandoah National Park birding (II)
Jacqueline and I had an overnight trip to the Shenandoah National Park earlier this week, and of course, looking for birds was a major objective -- at least for me. Unlike our previous such trip in late June, the weather was very good for the most part, though a bit chilly and occasionally cloudy.
Our first major activity was hiking up to the peak of Hawksbill Mountain, elevation 4050 feet -- the highest point in the Shenandoah National Park. It had been many years since my last time there. It was about a mile in each direction, with a net altitude gain of about 500 feet; a good workout but not too strenuous. On the way up we heard there was a bear in the area, but didn't see any.* We did see a Phoebe and Blackpoll Warbler, as well as a few typical woodland birds. Jacqueline had a glimpse of a probable Yellow-billed Cuckoo in the trees. At the top we saw three Ravens swooping around, and a probable Red-tailed Hawk, plus a few Juncos on the ground. The views were awe-inspiring, making the effort more than worthwhile.
* Later in the day, we did see bears in two different locations; photos of them will appear in a separate blog post.
Late in the afternoon, we walked around the Big Meadows area, and I stumbled upon a cluster of warblers and at least one Blue-headed Vireo in the trees next to the Byrd Visitors Center. I saw two more "winter" birds for the first time this season: Yellow-rumped Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chipping Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, American Goldfinch, Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Pine Warbler, and in center, Common Raven. (All on October 3.)
Roll your mouse over the image to see photos taken the next day...
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Phoebe, American Pipit, Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanger (F), Downy Woodpecker, Black-throated Blue Warbler (F), Swainson's Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco, Ovenbird, and in center, Ruby-crowned Kinglet. (All on October 4.)
Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
We got up before dawn the next day, and I had the good fortune to see a variety of interesting birds in an oak tree right next to the west-facing balcony of the Big Meadows Lodge: Phoebes, Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Juncos, and a Magnolia Warbler, among others. While on a short loop hike a bit later, we saw a Swainson's Thrush and an Ovenbird, plus another Blue-headed Vireo. Later in the morning, we did a short hike along the road adjacent to Big Meadows, where we saw a plain-looking bird walking (not hopping) ahead of us. The closer we approached, the more he kept walking away. Fortunately, I was able to get some nice closeup photos, confirming my hunch that it was an American Pipit, a bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra; I have only seen it a few times before.
American Pipit, at Big Meadows, October 4.
Finally, on our way out of the park, we stopped at the Pocosin Cabin trail, where I saw some Ruby-crowned Kinglets and yet another Blue-headed Vireo, but no warblers at all, to my surprise. Nevertheless, it was a very productive two days of birding.
September 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]
American Golden Plovers!
"Whenever I hear about a sighting of a bird that I have never seen before, I tend to react in a Pavlovian fashion." So began my blog post of nine days ago. Well, the same thing happened today, as Penny Warren sent out an e-mail alert after she, Allen Larner, and Elaine Carwile had seen a flock of 60-80 American Golden Plovers at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, the same place as before. So, once again I drove up to Rockingham County in search of those birds. (It was just a few of them last week.) After arriving at the destination, I looked everywhere, scanning the adjacent plowed corn fields in hopes of seeing some, in vain. So, I drove around to nearby farms, thinking that perhaps the flock had relocated. No luck. So, I returned to the auction place, and met some other birders there, and within a few minutes we had spotted the birds in question. YES-S-S-S!!! It was hard to see well because the skies were turning dark, and in fact it started to rain for a few minutes. The others soon departed, and after it cleared up, the birds moved closer to the auction place, enabling me to get some better photos.
The Golden Plovers only look golden when the sun is at the right angle, and when they are in the right plumage. The juveniles are duller, while most of the adults were at an intermediate stage between breeding plumage (with a black mask and belly) and winter plumage.
I thought this was a "life bird" for me, but after checking my Life bird list page, I realized that I had actually seen an American Golden Plover at Leonard's Pond (north of Weyer's Cave) on Oct. 14, 2005.
American Golden Plovers, September 29, 2016. Additional photos can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.
To see previous blog entries, go to the Wild Birds archives page.