Andrew Clem blog home

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

Wild bird montage shadow
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Bird photos

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

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July 1, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Birding in Huntley "Meadows"

On my way back from Washington yesterday, I stopped at one of the real natural treasures of Northern Virginia: Huntley Meadows. It's actually a lush wetland, surrounded by woods, hence the quotation marks above, suggesting a misnomer. I had been there once before, back in the 1980s, and I distinctly recall seeing what I believe was an American Bittern. It was hiding in tall sedges (grass-like vegetation), pale brownish overall with dark vertical streaks and a long bill. So, I was hoping I might find either an American Bittern or a Least Bittern, but the lady at the desk said neither species nests there at present. It's possible that what I saw back then was just an immature Green Heron.

Anyway, I spent a couple hours walking along the boardwalk, and was enchanted by the beautiful surroundings, with all sorts of birds and wild animals -- all within a mile of heavily developed suburban real estate! I was happy to see a Great Egret, but sad that I couldn't get close enough for a good photo. An Osprey kept circling overhead close to the observation tower, which is also where I saw the Hummingbird and one of the Common Yellowthroats. At that tower I met a guy (last name Rieger?) who knows John Spahr and Allen Larner from birding encounters, and was pleased to find out that he is a big Washington Nationals fan, working at Nationals Park as an usher. (I had just seen a game there the night before.) The list below shows the more significant birds I saw:

I also heard but did not see an Eastern Wood Pewee, Indigo Buntings, and some kind of warbler (Prothonotary?), and a probable Red-tailed Hawk in the woods. I also saw a White-tailed Deer, Painted Turtles, Snapping Turtles, and a Bullfrog -- one of many that were making loud noises.

Montage 30 Jun 2016

CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT: Osprey, Common Yellowthroat, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Great Egret, Green Heron, Great Blue Heron. To see larger-size images, go to the Wild Birds yearly photo gallery page.

Huntley Meadows boardwalk from tower

The boardwalk at Huntley Meadows, as seen from the observation tower. On the both the left and right sides, beaver lodges can be seen.

June 29, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Shenandoah National Park birding

As bird breeding season gradually nears an end, each opportunity to see neotropical migrants becomes more and more precious. On June 22-23, Jacqueline and I went up to the Shenandoah National Park for some hiking and relaxation. We knew the weather was going to be iffy, but were startled by the fierce thunderstorm during the night. (That was when the devastating rains and floods struck West Virginia, no doubt part of the same weather system.) We saw several Chestnut-sided Warblers, as well as the other birds in the photo montage below. On our way back, we stopped at the High Top Mountain parking lot about one mile south of the Route 33 intersection with Skyline Drive, hoping to see a Kentucky Warbler that had been reported there. Sure enough, I soon spotted it, but just couldn't get a good photo of it. The winds started kicking up, and rain threatened again, so I decided to try again some other day.

Montage 23 Jun 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Chestnut-sided Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Wood Phoebe, American Redstart, Indigo Bunting, and Scarlet Tanager. All males except for the Phoebe, which is undetermined. (June 20-23, 2016)

On June 18, I hiked along Madison Run for the second time this year, and for the first time I hiked up the side trail toward Austin Mountain. The highlight of the day was a close encounter with a Pine Warbler, who responded fiercely not only to his own song being played, but also to the song of the Worm-eating Warbler, which I heard but did not see. Other birds of note included Louisian Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and a possible Broad-winged Hawk.

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler, June 18. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

While I was at Madison Run, some hikers pointed out to me what I believe was a Northern Water Snake. According to

Nonvenomous; adult size 30 - 60 inches. Basic color varies from reddish-brown to pinkish-purple, with brown to black bands. This common NC snake prefers a wet environment, but during rainy weather may travel a long distance from water. Feed on frogs, toads, and fish. These aggressive snakes will vigorously defend themselves by biting and discharging a foul-smelling musk. ...

They're "aggressive"? Yikes.

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake, at Madison Run, June 18. Roll your mouse over the image to see a closeup.

Finally, on Monday I saw and photographed a Great Blue Heron on Kiddsville Rd., while looking for the Sandhill Cranes that apparently still lurking there. (I saw them there on June 2.) Later I stopped at Betsy Bell Hill, and got some nice photographs of a Scarlet Tanager and a Hairy Woodpecker, both males.

Bird photo update

For the first time in over a year, I have updated my Wild Birds species list page, showing the best photos I have taken for a large majority of species from this area, as well as species seen in other areas, indicated with a distinct color lettering.

June 14, 2016 [LINK / comment]

Birding on Hite Hollow Road

On Saturday, June 11, I drove up Hite Hollow Road to the summit (ridge) of North Mountain, located about two miles southwest of Elliott Knob. This was the starting point of the Augusta Bird Club hike in late June 2013. The elevation is about 3200 feet, high enough for a number of birds that are only seen in this area during the colder months. I was inspired in part by the trip made there by Penny and Lisa earlier this spring, when they saw a Winter Wren and other unusual birds. On the way up the rugged road (a challenge for my Hyundai), I stopped at the hairpin curve and heard a Prairie Warbler below. This was confirmed a day later by Allen Larner. Once at the summit, I didn't do much hiking, I mostly just watched and listened within an area about 300 yards long. After slow going at first, I eventually hit pay dirt. The highlights from the montage below were the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male), Indigo Bunting (female, with young ones not photographed), and an Eastern Wood Pewee (female, presumably) building a nest right over the road at the summit! Others that were seen but not in this photo montage include Dark-eyed Junco, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Northern Flicker. I also heard a Cerulean Warbler just below the summit (east side), as well as a Hooded Warbler. No Canada Warblers or Winter Wrens, however. On the way back down I heard and then spotted a Pine Warbler, and got some good photos. Finally, along the stream at the bottom was an Acadian Flycatcher. Quite a day!

Montage 11 Jun 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Indigo Bunting (female), Great Crested Flycatcher, Pine Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Eastern Wood Pewee, Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. (June 11, 2016)

eBird report

Since it was a semi-serious birding venture, as opposed to something of a more casual nature, I submitted an eBird report, summarized below. Once I figure out the VABBA protocols, I'll submit a report about the breeding Eastern Wood Pewees and Indigo Buntings.

Hite Hollow Road, Augusta County, Virginia, US
Sat Jun 11, 2016 9:35 AM
Protocol: Traveling
Party Size: 1
Duration: 4 hour(s)
Distance: 1.5 mile(s)
Observers: Andrew Clem
Comments: N/A
32 species total

Blue Ridge mini-hike

The day before, June 10, I drove up to the Blue Ridge and stopped at the intersection of Howardsville Turnpike and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and was entertained by a variety of birds. Then I went for a brief "hike" along the trails near the Humpback Rocks parking area. My main "target" was the Cerulean Warbler, and I did hear several of them, but only saw one or two high in the tree tops. Other sightings (besides those in this photo montage) included American Redstarts, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Pileated Woodpeckers.

Montage 10 Jun 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood Pewee, Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Towhee, Cedar Waxwing, and (in center) Chipping Sparrow. (June 10, 2016)
More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

June 9, 2016 [LINK / comment]

FOD Prothonotary Warblers!

I mentioned in my blog post of May 21 that one of my birding goals for this summer was to see and hopefully photograph a Prothonotary Warbler. Well, Jacqueline and I drove down to the Richmond area yesterday, and I did in fact succeed in that particular quest. The last time I had seen that species was almost exactly eight years ago, which means this is not only a first-of-year (FOY) sighting, but a first-of-decade (FOD) sighting! (I just made that up.) The birds were in that very same area as in 2008: the Henricus Park / Dutch Gap conservation area, about ten miles south of downtown. Beginning at just before 10:00, we saw the first of many Ospreys over the James River. We then walked along the trails, mostly right along the James River, and were amazed by the large number of Zebra Swallowtail butterflies all around that area. I remember seeing some in river lowlands in Nelson County, but apparently their range doesn't extend any farther west. The photo at the bottom shows the elongated tail (one of two), something I had not noticed before.

Soon we heard some chirping and saw some rustling in the bushes, and eventually I picked out the unique song of a White-eyed Vireo, one of which was briefly in view. Soon thereafter we heard the repetitive song of a Prothonotary Warbler, or perhaps two of them. They were in an inaccessible swamp, however, so I couldn't get very close. After another 20 minutes of patient stalking, we finally saw one. That was a relief, as I had been growing impatient. Their brilliant orange-tinted yellow color is quite breathtaking. Getting the right angle for a good photograph proved very difficult, however.

On the way back to the parking lot, I had a glimpse of a big brown bird in the forest, and soon managed to get a look at the face of a Barred Owl, the first one I had seen in years! I also heard some Acadian Flycatchers, and finally saw and photographed one. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers also made appearances, while Common Yellowthroats and Louisiana Waterthrushes made themselves heard. Later on, in the early afternoon at the Henricus Historical Park, I saw another Prothonotary Warbler, and likewise it was just too quick for a good photo. I did see and photograph an Acadian Flycatcher there, however. So, I'll probably have to give it another shot next year, perhaps at Great Dismal Swamp. Nevertheless, I was satisfied with the views and the photos that I did get.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler, at the Dutch Gap conservation area, June 8. (Click on that image to see an enlarged version of the photo.) More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly page.

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail, at the Dutch Gap conservation area, June 8.

June 7, 2016 [LINK / comment]

ABC field trip to Highland County

Last Saturday, June 4, I joined Allen Larner who led the Augusta Bird Club's annual early summer field trip to Highland County. The weather forecast was ominous, but Allen was determined to go, so we went! Along with Brenda and Keith Tekin, we drove west to Highland County, and met up with John Spahr and Bob Ake (who lives in the Tidewater area), and John took us to Sapling Ridge, a high-elevation location that was new for us. It didn't take long to find the Mourning Warbler which were supposed to be there, and I was thrilled to get some adequate photos. Higher up, we saw several different species of warblers, most notably Blackburnians. Later on we went to the home of the late Margaret O'Bryan in search of Golden-winged Warblers, and we did identify it but only by sound, not sight. (That was at, where we met the very friendly guy who continues to take care of the property.) Then we went to other locations where Golden-winged Warblers are known to breed, but without success. The trip was marred by mechanical problems in one of the automobiles, forcing us to spend a lot of time trying to get a tow truck. But at least while we were waiting we were able to see a lot of birds in John Spahr's back yard, most notably a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The following list of notable sightings is not complete, as others saw birds that I missed. One of us will probably submit an eBird report in the near future.

As a footnote, I heard some Dark-eyed Juncos, but somewhat surprisingly, I didn't see any. Same for Yellow Warblers. We had a few sprinkles while looking for birds, and then after we started driving back to Staunton, we encountered a couple real deluges! Overall, it was about the same degree of success (i.e., mid-range) as our club's Highland County field trip last year (June 13); see my June 25, 2015 blog post.

Montage 04 Jun 2016

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Bald Eagle, House Wren, Alder Flycatcher, Blackburnian Warbler, Eastern Phoebe, Magnolia Warbler, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Mourning Warbler, and (center) American Goldfinch. (June 4, 2016)
Roll your mouse over the image to zoom in on the "star" of the day, the Mourning Warbler.

Sandhill Cranes visit

A pair of Sandhill Cranes visited Fishersville in the first few days of June, and I was fortunate to be ready to go searching as soon as I got the e-mail alert. After a few quick minutes, bingo! I saw one such bird in the same general area in April 2014*, and four of them west of Harrisonburg in March 2014.

* The caption for the photo erroneously states that the bird was in Madison Run; I may correct that later.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes, north of Fishersville, June 2, 2016. More photos can be seen on the Wild Birds yearly 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):