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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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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

American Golden Plovers, September 29, 2016. Additional photos can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.


September 27, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Lucky! 13 warblers on Betsy Bell Hill

This morning, as the skies turned bright and sunny, I went birding at Betsy Bell Hill, a woodland park in Staunton which I had not visited since late June. I had originally planned to go up to the Blue Ridge and visit the hawk watch, but that would have been too time-consuming. As it turned out, I made a good choice, coming across a large number of warblers and other neotropical migrants. I began by walking toward adjacent Mary Gray Hill, but not much was happening there, so I retraced my steps and headed up the trail that encircles Betsy Bell Hill, in a counter-clockwise direction. Soon I began seeing warblers flitting about the tree tops, and at one point spotted a Wood Thrush in a hostile encounter with a Swainson's Thrush. I also had nice views of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Scarlet Tanager, both female.

After a while I continued upward along the trail, crossing the clearing back which divides the east slope of the hill, going into the woods again, and then looping around into the clearing again. (The trail has an "S" shape.) It was the second clearing that I began to see large numbers of warblers foraging in the tall weeds at close range -- a veritable "fallout." It was rainy or drizzling yesterday, and that often forces migrating birds to pause in their southbound journey -- to my benefit, in this case. Many of the birds were bathed in such bright morning sunlight that my camera couldn't handle it. Ironically, I had a hard time getting good photos. The highlight of that part of my walk was a Nashville Warbler, a species I had not seen since October 2012: almost four years! I also saw a Tennessee Warbler, some Magnolia Warblers, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, which seemed to be all around. While I was in that clearing, some city park workers came by and we chatted briefly. They are getting ready to cut down the weeds in that clearing, which is a requirement under the terms of the will which deeded that land to the city when the owners died. (It's a long story.) The upshot is that in another week or so, that clearing will no longer be prime habitat for birds.

After I reached the top of the hill, I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler and what I thought might have been a Black-billed Cuckoo in the tree tops. (It could have been a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.) Unfortunately, I couldn't lure it into the open. Then I headed downhill along the gravel road that leads to the top of the hill, and on the west side of the hill I came across a second cluster of warblers mixed with chickadees and a vireo or two. Nearing the end of my walk, I had to step aside while a road grader passed by, doing repair work on the extremely rutted road, and scaring away the birds. I'll have to check my records, but I believe I may have set a personal best by sighting thirteen (13) warbler species in a single day. I'm sure I set a record by getting photos of ten warbler species, but none of the photos was really top-notch. Nevertheless, it was a truly spectacular day, both weather-wise and in terms of bird variety.

Birds Montage 27 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Scarlet Tanager (F), Chestnut-sided Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (M), Hooded Warbler (M), Tennessee Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak (F), Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Black-throated Blue Warblers (F & M), and in center, Nashville Warbler. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Nashville Warbler enlarged. Several other photos (including a Bay-breasted Warbler) can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

eBird report

Betsy Bell Hill, Staunton, Virginia, US
Sep 27, 2016 9:30 AM - 1:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
31 species (+1 other taxa)

  1. Black Vulture -- 1
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 2
  3. Yellow-billed/Black-billed Cuckoo -- 1
  4. Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 2
  5. Downy Woodpecker -- 3
  6. Pileated Woodpecker -- 2
  7. Blue-headed Vireo -- 2
  8. Red-eyed Vireo -- 1
  9. Blue Jay -- 6
  10. American Crow -- 1
  11. Common Raven -- 2
  12. Carolina Chickadee -- 8
  13. Tufted Titmouse -- 6
  14. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 3
  15. Carolina Wren -- 1
  16. Swainson's Thrush -- 2
  17. Wood Thrush -- 1
  18. Ovenbird -- 1
  19. Tennessee Warbler -- 2
  20. Nashville Warbler -- 1
  21. Common Yellowthroat -- 1
  22. Hooded Warbler -- 1
  23. American Redstart -- 5
  24. Magnolia Warbler -- 3
  25. Bay-breasted Warbler -- 2
  26. Yellow Warbler -- 1
  27. Chestnut-sided Warbler -- 3
  28. Blackpoll Warbler -- 1
  29. Black-throated Blue Warbler -- 5
  30. Black-throated Green Warbler -- 1
  31. Scarlet Tanager -- 2
  32. Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- 2

View this checklist online at ebird.org. (NOTE: Ovenbirds, Yellowthroats, and Redstarts are classified as warblers.)

Betsy Bell Hill east view 27 Sep 2016

View toward the east from Betsy Bell Hill, through the clearing where I saw many of the birds today. Near the bottom is the parking lot in front of Lowe's and WalMart, and in the distance is the Blue Ridge. (Sept. 27, 2016)


September 24, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to Augusta Springs

This morning I led a field trip for the Augusta Bird Club to Augusta Springs, joined by four other members: Ed and Nancy Lawler, as well as Larry and Jane Litke. (Larry and Jane are new members who had never been to Augusta Springs before.) The weather was beautiful, remaining cool or mild until 11:00 or so.

In contrast to just about every other visit I have made to that location, this time we began in a counterclockwise fashion, not reaching the boardwalk portion of the loop trail until after we had hiked along the upland loop extended trail. We were influenced by all the bird activity we noticed in that direction (right), but it turned out to be almost exclusively Robins, with a few Blue Jays. We did get nice looks at a Magnolia Warbler, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- the latter two being females. As we continued into the upland trail, I was surprised that we didn't see or hear any Ovenbirds or Worm-eating Warblers, which abound in that area during breeding season. Other notable species that we saw included: Pileated Woodpeckers, Blackpoll Warbler, and Swainson's Thrushes. I thought I saw a Wood Thrush in the bushes, but never could get a good look at it. It is listed the the first eBird report below as "Catharus sp." ("+1 other taxa"). Finally, we heard but did not see Blue-headed Vireos and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which must have been an early migrant. That species is only present in the lowlands of Augusta County during the winter months.

We returned to the parking lot just before noon, and then Ed, Nancy, and I took an excursion through the Swoope area on the way back to Staunton. At Smith's pond, Nancy spotted a Pied-billed Grebe, another early migrant returning from the north. While at the Boy Scout Camp a couple miles to the south, I saw a sparrow fly past us, more than likely a Song Sparrow, but never could get a good look at it. It is listed below as "sparrow sp." ("+1 other taxa") It was strange not to see any definite sparrows during the entire day. There was a major Boy Scout event taking place, with close to a hundred cars parked in a nearby field. All those Boy Scouts must have scared away the birds from the lake! Along Route 703, we saw several birds that turned out to be Blue Grosbeaks, which are known to breed in that general area, but are uncommon. At the same location, we saw a family of Cedar Waxwings. Ed saw a Purple Finch there, but I only had a glimpse of it.

Of the 23 species seen in the second part of our field trip, ten were not seen during the first part, which makes a total of 43 species combined. Ed kept track of the species on our checklist, upon which the eBirds reports shown below are based. We missed seeing a few "target" birds, but it was a very pleasant, enjoyable, and productive day of birding.

Birds Montage 24 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Swainson's Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak (female), and Pied-billed Grebe. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Swainson's Thrush enlarged. Several other photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

eBird report #1

Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail, Augusta, Virginia, US
Sep 24, 2016 8:45 AM - 11:45 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
33 species (+1 other taxa)

  1. Turkey Vulture -- 1
  2. Yellow-billed Cuckoo -- 1
  3. Red-bellied Woodpecker -- 1
  4. Downy Woodpecker -- 2
  5. Hairy Woodpecker -- 1
  6. Northern Flicker -- 2
  7. Pileated Woodpecker -- 2
  8. Eastern Phoebe -- 1
  9. Blue-headed Vireo -- 2
  10. Blue Jay -- 8
  11. American Crow -- 4
  12. Carolina Chickadee -- 5
  13. Tufted Titmouse -- 3
  14. Red-breasted Nuthatch -- 1
  15. White-breasted Nuthatch -- 4
  16. Carolina Wren -- 4
  17. Swainson's Thrush -- 2
  18. Catharus sp. -- 1
  19. American Robin -- 18
  20. Gray Catbird -- 4
  21. Northern Mockingbird -- 2
  22. European Starling -- 1
  23. Common Yellowthroat -- 1
  24. Magnolia Warbler -- 1
  25. Bay-breasted Warbler -- 1
  26. Blackpoll Warbler -- 1
  27. Pine Warbler -- 1
  28. Eastern Towhee -- 1
  29. Scarlet Tanager -- 2
  30. Northern Cardinal -- 2
  31. Rose-breasted Grosbeak -- 1
  32. Indigo Bunting -- 3
  33. House Finch -- 2
  34. American Goldfinch -- 4

View this checklist online at ebird.org

eBird report #2

Swoope Area, Augusta, Virginia, US
Sep 24, 2016 12:00 PM - 1:50 PM
Protocol: Traveling
9.0 mile(s)
Comments: Augusta Bird Club field trip
23 species (+1 other taxa)

  1. Pied-billed Grebe -- 1
  2. Turkey Vulture -- 3
  3. Red-tailed Hawk -- 2
  4. Ruby-throated Hummingbird -- 1
  5. Downy Woodpecker -- 1
  6. American Kestrel -- 1
  7. Eastern Phoebe -- 1
  8. American Crow -- 6
  9. Tree Swallow -- 60
  10. Carolina Chickadee -- 3
  11. Carolina Wren -- 2
  12. Eastern Bluebird -- 2
  13. American Robin -- 5
  14. Gray Catbird -- 2
  15. Brown Thrasher -- 1
  16. Northern Mockingbird -- 3
  17. European Starling -- 12
  18. Cedar Waxwing -- 4
  19. sparrow sp. -- 1
  20. Northern Cardinal -- 2
  21. Blue Grosbeak -- 3
  22. Indigo Bunting -- 4
  23. Purple Finch -- 1
  24. American Goldfinch -- 3

View this checklist online at ebird.org


September 20, 2016 [LINK / comment]

More fall migrants arrive

Whenever I hear about a sighting of a bird that I have never seen before, I tend to react in a Pavlovian fashion. So today I drove up to Rockingham County in search of some American Golden Plovers that were reported at the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, located a few miles northwest of Bridgewater. I arrived there just as the auction was about to get underway, and was obliged to explain my presence, since I obviously wasn't in the market for pumpkins or other fresh vegetables. The local people were very friendly to me, and showed keen interest in the bird I was looking for. I did spot some Killdeers and Eurasian Collared Doves, as well as Mallards and Canada Geese in a nearby pond, but not the target species. So after an hour or so, I departed. About a half mile from the auction site, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched in a tree.

My next destination was Hillandale Park, on the west side of Harrisonburg, where many migrating warblers have been reported lately. (My first visit there was back in May.) After walking along the trails for a while, I saw White-eyed Vireo in some thickets only about 25 feet away. The only warblers I saw, however, were American Redstarts and Ovenbirds. As I returned to the parking area, two birders arrived, and I quickly recognized them as Marshall Faintich and Walt Childs. They knew the better locations for birds, and it didn't take long before we were seeing lots of warblers and other neotropical migrants. I saw (or at least glimpsed) a total of eight (8) warbler species. Here are the [more notable] species I saw at Hillandale Park today, in rough chronological order:

Birds Montage 20 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Northern Parula, White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-tailed Hawk, Least Sandpiper, American Redstart (female), Cape May Warbler, and in center, Ovenbird. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Northern Parula enlarged.

Enlarged images of some birds in that montage, and a few others, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

There were many Robins in the woods at Hillandale Park, including some juveniles, and I saw a Thrush whose species I could not identify. [I glimpsed the brown streaks on the pale breast.] Based on the eye ring and overall dull brown color, I figure it is probably a Swainson's Thrush:

Thrush

Possible Swainson's Thrush, at Hillandale Park.

After the three of us had had enough, we said goodbye, and I returned to the auction site, hoping for better luck the next time. Not! I did enjoy a tasty cheeseburger with locally-grown lettuce and tomatoes, however.

On the way back, I stopped at Leonard's Pond, but all that was there was a couple Killdeers and a dozen or so Canada Geese. Then I decided to check out Target Pond in Stuarts Draft, where a Sanderling was seen yesterday. Once again, I struck out as far as the target species, but I did get some nice views of three Least Sandpipers.


September 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Field trip to McCormick's Farm

This morning I joined an Augusta Bird Club field trip led by Jo King to McCormick's Farm (located on the southern edge of Augusta County), and it was very successful. Not long after we started, Diane Holsinger recognized two Philadelphia Vireos that were mixed in with a Warbling Vireo or two, and I struggled to get in position for a photo, in vain. After an hour or so, after we had returned to the parking lot, I finally got a nice photo of one. Along the way, we had nice views of birds around the big pond, a brief glimpse of a Common Yellowthroat, a Red-tailed Hawk, some Eastern Wood Pewees, and what we thought was a Bay-breasted Warbler, but turned out to be a Chestnut-sided Warbler. We also saw a Kingfisher, a Great Blue Heron, and a young Green Heron, probably one of the ones I saw there in late August. I was happy to get some good photos of a Solitary Sandpiper, but was hoping to see more warblers. Call me greedy. After the others left, I stayed around for another 15-20 minutes in hopes of getting a better photo of a Philadelphia Vireo, but no such luck. I did, however, see a young Bald Eagle circling over a field to the north. Then I drove to nearby Willow Lake, and saw another Green Heron and another Great Blue Heron.

Philadelphia Vireos are similar to Warbling Vireos, but are slightly smaller, with distinctive yellow throat and breast. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw one was three years ago, on Bell's Lane. And by amazing coincidence, I spent four days in Philadelphia two weeks ago! (NOTE: As with many bird species, this one's geographic-based name has nothing to do with its actual range; Baltimore Orioles, Kentucky Warblers, etc. are most prevalent outside the respective city or state.)

Birds Montage 14 Sep 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Eastern Wood Pewee, Philadelphia Vireo, Red-tailed Hawk, Green Heron (juv.), Solitary Sandpiper, Bald Eagle (juv.), and in center Chestnut-sided Warbler. Roll your mouse over the image to see the Philadelphia Vireo enlarged.

Enlarged images of some birds in that montage, and a few others, can be see on the 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):