Andrew Clem blog home


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.

Wild bird montage shadow
Special archives:

Bird photos

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

Birding Web sites:

Reciprocal links:


Conservation links


May 15, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Wilson's Warbler in Staunton!

Just when I thought that migration season was just about over, I had a pleasant surprise out back four days ago. This was near the outset of the steady rain that we had from Thursday until early Saturday morning. (Rain often is beneficial to bird watchers, since it forces migrating birds to pause in their northerly journey.) I heard some kind of warbler singing in the trees, and soon spotted a first-year male American Redstart, probably getting warmed up for breeding next year. While tracking it down for a photo op, I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops and some other warbler that was bright yellow. Within a few minutes I had a great closeup view of a Wilson's Warbler, one of the less common birds of this category. Getting a photo of it proved to be exceedingly difficult, and not until Saturday afternoon did I get a reasonably clear shot. I had another glimpse of it on Sunday morning, and finally got a good photo after I returned from the hike which is described below. Triumph!

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson's Warbler, in Staunton, May 14.

I had a glimpse of a Wilson's Warbler in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park one year ago, but before that the last time was when I was visiting Colorado in 2009. The last time I saw one here in Staunton was May 2008, on the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. (That trail was once used regularly by the Lee High School long-distance runners, but has become overgrown and almost impassible over the past several years. I hardly ever go there any more.)

Yesterday, as the sun burst through the clouds at last, I attended services in the "Church of the Great Outdoors." At first I was inclined to visit Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg (where many warblers have been reported), but decided at the last minute to go to Falls Hollow Trail, where I had been scheduled to lead an Augusta Bird Club field trip the day before. (It was rained out.) That trail is on the east slope of Elliott's Knob, and I had great success there about a year ago. This hike got off to an auspicious start when I saw a nearby Blue-gray Gnatcatcher apparently gathering caterpillar webs as a nesting material. I saw and photographed nearly all of the expected birds that are known to breed along that trail, but some species (notably, Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush) I only heard -- somewhere along the stream below. There were several muddy spots, but it wasn't too bad until I reached the upper part of the trail, which was a virtual stream. It was in that general vicinity that I heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch, which are occasionally seen in the Shenandoah Valley during the winter, but only in certain high mountain areas during the summer. I never did see it, however. Getting an official breeding record of that species would be a big deal, so I intend to return there soon.

On the way back to Staunton, I passed through Swoope just in case the Bald Eagles have been raising eaglets at the nest without anyone noticing, but saw none of them. That's discouraging news. However, I did get a good look at a Northern Harrier swooping around in that area (near the post office), as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks, and a Red-headed Woodpecker in a tree about a mile to the northeast. You can read my "official" report with a complete listing of what I observed along Falls Hollow Trail at

Montage 14 May 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hooded Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Ovenbird, Worm-eating Warbler.

The above photo montage, and several individual bird photos (including some shown therein), can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page. But the biggest highlight of the day for me wasn't even a bird, it was an adorable baby turtle -- about 1.5" diameter. (I'll have to check to see what species it is.) It was in the middle of the trail, so I gently relocated it to the side, in hopes that it wouldn't be stepped on.

Turtle baby 2

Baby turtle.

Falls Hollow Trail, Elliott's Knob May 2017

One of the clearings along the Falls Hollow Trail, looking toward Elliott's Knob (west) in the background.

May 11, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Migration season nears an end

The month of May began with a fairly significant sighting by me: a group of Bobolinks singing their weird metallic songs along the high point of Bell's Lane. I couldn't get a good photo, however, and they weren't there when I returned two days later.

A key sign that spring bird migration season is almost over is when the Blackpoll Warblers show up, and indeed I saw one last week (May 4) at Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater. My visit there was prompted by an e-mail alert from Greg Moyer about a Common Loon at Silver Lake in nearby Dayton, which I just couldn't resist. I got some good photos, including one with the Loon struggling to swallow a large fish it had caught. On the way back, I had high hopes for Cook's Creek, where I had seen many neotropical migrants about a year ago, but it was much quieter this time.

Montage 04 May 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackpoll Warbler, American Goldfinch*, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Loon, White-crowned Sparrow*, and in center, Bobolink*. (The three birds with asterisks were seen May 1, and the others were seen May 4.)

On Saturday May 6, the Augusta Bird Club held its annual spring brunch Lofton Lake in southern Augusta County, graciously hosted by Kathy Belcher and Joe Thompson. Highlights included Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Towhee, Green Heron, American Goldfinches, Kingbird, and a few others. Light drizzle probably curtailed the number of birds seen during the walk around the lake.

On Monday, May 8 I joined Penny Warren and two other birders on an Augusta Bird Club field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I had not yet visited this spring. We heard a wide variety of neotropical migrants in the trees, and had a few good views at the various stopping points. The two big highlights of the day were both at the same location, at mile marker 7.5: Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Canada Warbler (the latter was the first of the year for me). We would not have seen the latter bird but for the fortuitous encounter with Marshall Faintich, a renowned bird photographer from the Crozet-Nelson County area.

Montage 08 May 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, Cedar Waxwings, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Canada Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

The very next day, Penny hosted another ABC field trip, this time to Betsy Bell Hill on the east side of Staunton. Like the day before, we heard a lot more birds than we actually saw, but we did get some nice views. I spotted a Swainson's Thrush in a distant tree (FOY for me), but it was hard to see and not everyone managed to get a view. We all had a very good, extended look at one or two Chestnut-sided Warblers, another FOY for me.

Montage 09 May 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, and in center, Swainson's Thrush.

The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.

Today I heard an unusual bird song out back, and soon spotted an American Redstart darting around the tree branches. I also saw a Great Crested Flycatcher and a Wilson's Warbler (FOY), but unfortunately could not get a photo of it. I'll try again tomorrow...

May 4, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Peak bird migration season (?)

The final days of April and early days of May are traditionally the busiest in terms of neotropical migrant birds passing through Virginia. Having more free time this spring than in past years, I was hoping to get out and look for migrating birds much more often, but I just haven't done as much as I had hoped. My main focus has been Bell's Lane, in particular the beaver pond at the north end, where Wilson's Snipes were seen since early April. The last time I saw it there was April 26, which was also the first day this year ("FOY") that I saw four bird species: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Louisiana Waterthrush. (I saw two of the latter species along the Middle River a mile or so west of Verona, a location I went to specifically in search of them.) It was a sunny day, and I got good photos of all those species, as well as the two species of sandpipers that I had had a hard time distinguishing on earlier visits to the beaver pond.

Montage 26 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Green Heron, Yellow Warbler (M), Grasshopper Sparrow, Red-tailed Hawk, Solitary Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, and in center Louisiana Waterthrush *. (On Bell's Lane, except ( * ) on Middle River W. of Verona, Apr. 26)

On Friday April 28 I joined four other bird club members on a field trip to Chimney Hollow that had been rescheduled because of rain showers on Monday. As usual for this time of year, there were many small wildflowers in bloom, but relatively few birds. We saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler (FOY), and a Northern Parula (FOY), with glimpses of a few other birds. The weather was cool but slowly warmed later in the morning; we dodged a bullet in terms of more forecast wet weather that day.

After the other members returned to Staunton, I headed west on my own to Ramsey's Draft, which was quite busy with birds of all kinds. Goldfinches and Chipping Sparrows seemed to be everywhere. I spotted five kinds of warblers (American Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, and Ovenbird), the first two of which were my first sightings this year. In addition, I saw a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers building a nest on a tree branch; I'll have to go back and check on that nest again soon. Finally, I saw a FOY Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female) at the Ramsey's Draft parking lot.

Montage 28 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Blackburnian Warbler (M), Northern Flicker, American Redstart (M), Yellow Warbler (M), Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-headed Vireo, Chipping Sparrow, and (in center) Gray Catbird and Northern Parula. (Apr. 28)

BIG Spring Day

The very next day, April 29, was "Big Spring Day," when Augusta Bird Club members go out and systematically count all the birds they see or hear within certain bird-friendly locations. I was assigned to cover two places in Staunton, and got started in Montgomery Hall Park just after 8:30. I was encouraged to see my first Indigo Bunting of the year within a few minutes, a male singing from the top of a tree branch. A while later I heard the characteristic buzzing call of that species and then saw two males engaged in a low-altitude "dog fight." After driving up from the lower part of the park to "YuLee's Trail" (named for YuLee Larner, Staunton's "bird lady" for many years), I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher in the tree tops. Another FOY! To my surprise, a Double-crested Cormorant flew past in the distance, but the only photo I got was too blurry for a positive ID. I also saw a American Redstart, but it flew away before I could take a good photo, and all that you can see is the tail. I also had a nice view of a Pileated Woodpecker and the first Cedar Waxwings I had seen in several months. But the unquestioned highlight of that area was a Kentucky Warbler, which drew my attention by its harsh-toned song which I couldn't quite identify -- and then I saw its face!

Next I went over to Betsy Bell Hill, and was delighted to hear a nearby Wood Thrush as soon as I got out of my car. I had high hopes for getting a good photo, but to my surprise never even saw it. They can be elusive. I walked toward adjacent Mary Gray Hill where were a number of warblers singing high up in the trees (especially Redstarts), but it was hard to get photos. Back on Betsy Bell Hill itself, there wasn't much going on until I drove to the very top, where the observation deck is located. There I saw a few more birds, including a Worm-eating Warbler, my ninth warbler species of the day. Not bad!

Here are the two "official reports" I submitted for the day:

Montgomery Hall Park, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 8:40 AM - 11:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
44 species

Canada Goose  1
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Black Vulture  5
Turkey Vulture  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  2
Mourning Dove  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Eastern Phoebe  1
Great Crested Flycatcher  2
Blue-headed Vireo  2
Red-eyed Vireo  2
Blue Jay  7
American Crow  3
Fish Crow  1
Carolina Chickadee  7
Tufted Titmouse  9
White-breasted Nuthatch  2
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  10
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  3
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Eastern Bluebird  2
Wood Thrush  1
American Robin  5
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  12
Cedar Waxwing  5
Black-and-white Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  1     Seldom seen here; photographed.
American Redstart  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Chipping Sparrow  1
Field Sparrow  3
Song Sparrow  3
Eastern Towhee  11
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  20
Indigo Bunting  3     Two males were fighting.
Brown-headed Cowbird  1
American Goldfinch  5

View this checklist online at

Betsy Bell Hill, Staunton, Virginia, US
Apr 29, 2017 11:45 AM - 1:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.5 mile(s)
Comments:     Big Spring Day count for Augusta Bird Club
27 species

Turkey Vulture  6
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Downy Woodpecker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Blue Jay  5
American Crow  1
Tufted Titmouse  2
White-breasted Nuthatch  3
Carolina Wren  2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Wood Thrush  2
American Robin  1
European Starling  4
Worm-eating Warbler  1
Black-and-white Warbler  1
American Redstart  4
Northern Parula  1
Blackburnian Warbler  1
Black-throated Blue Warbler  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Black-throated Green Warbler  3
Eastern Towhee  2
Scarlet Tanager  2
Northern Cardinal  3

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Montage 29 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Cedar Waxwing, Scarlet Tanager (F), Pileated Woodpecker (F), Indigo Bunting (M), Blackburnian Warbler (M), Black-and-White Warbler (M), Black-throated Green Warbler (M), Kentucky Warbler (M), and the tail of an American Redstart (M). (Apr. 29)

Since I was making a formal count, I figured I should post a second photo montage of that day, for the record. These photos aren't that impressive, so I didn't bother to post the montage on Facebook, as I usually do.

Montage 29 Apr 2017B

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Eastern Phoebe, Downy Woodpecker, Worm-eating Warbler, and in center, Black-throated Blue Warbler (M). (Apr. 29)

The above photo montages, and a few new individual bird photos shown therein, can be see on the Wild Birds yearly page.

Finally, I heard and then saw a few Bobolinks at the high part of Bell's Lane on May 1, but skies were cloudy and I couldn't get a good photo. The sun was out when I returned yesterday, but they weren't there. A couple Solitary Sandpipers remain at the beaver pond, but that was about it.

Construction & destruction

While at the top of Betsy Bell Hill on Big Spring Day, I had a good view of the Construction site at the entrance to the Frontier Culture Museum on the east side of Staunton. We have been aware of such plans for a long time, but I am dismayed by the extent of tree removal that has taken place. Construction vehicles were busily excavating land right up to the parking lot where the Bluebird Trail sign is located. In terms of habitat for birds, it's a veritable disaster. In the photo below, you can also see the construction site on the other side of Richmond Road, where a new motel / commercial complex is being built on the site where Western State Hosptial formerly stood.

Construction from Betsy Bell Hill

Construction site as seen from Betsy Bell Hill. (Apr. 29) Roll your mouse over the image to compare it to a photo of the same view (zoomed out) that I took last September.

April 21, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Wilson's Snipes on Bell's Lane

Somehow, I haven't managed to post blog updates about birding recently, and in fact I haven't done as much actual birding as I would like, given that spring migration is in full swing. The big news locally is that two Wilson's Snipes have been seen repeatedly on Bell's Lane since early in the month. I first reported the sighting via Facebook and (a few days later) via the shenvalbirds e-mail list-serve.

Montage 15 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Purple Finch (M), Eastern Bluebird (M), Yellow-rumped Warbler (M), Wood Duck (M), Blue-headed Vireo, ChippingSparrow, Blue-winged Teal (M), and (in center) Wilson's Snipe. (April 15)

There has been some confusion over the species of one shorebird: What I originally thought was a Solitary Sandpiper was probably a Lesser Yellowlegs, but it may be that both species have been to that same beaver pond off and on.

As can bee seen on my Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page, since early this month I have seen several Eastern Towhees, Brown Thrashers, Field Sparrows, Gadwalls, Blue-winged Teals, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Eastern Phoebes. On April 17, I stopped at Lake Shenandoah east of Harrisonburg, where I had a nice view of a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, except that the lighting was poor.

Today I went to Betsy Bell Hill in hopes of seeing some warblers, but the only significant sighting was a male Scarlet Tanager, my first one of the year. Then I went to Bell's Lane once again, and saw two more first-of-year birds: a Gray Catbird and an Orchard Oriole. I also heard a Yellow Warbler, but didn't see it.

Montage 21 Apr 2017

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Orchard Oriole, Wood Duck (M), Red-winged Blackbird (M), Lesser Yellowlegs, House Finch (M), and (in center) Wilson's Snipe. (April 21, except for the Wood Duck: April 18)

Tomorrow is Earth Day, and I hope to lead a bird field trip -- weather permitting! On Tuesday this week I led a group of Augusta Bird Club members on an Earth Day-related cleanup mission along Bell's Lane, which our club has "adopted." It's the second time I've done that, the first being three years ago. This time there was a reporter from WHSV Channel 3 television station in Harrisonburg, and I appeared on TV explaining why Bell's Lane is such a special natural area to preserve for the sake of birds and other wildlife.

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):