June 11, 2012
My birding activity in recent months has been a little less than what I would want, but much more than what might be suggested by the lack of any wild bird blog posts since last November. So, I'll try my best to get caught up by summarizing the main birding ventures I have undertaken over the past six months, illustrated with some of the bird photos I have taken recently.
Dan Perkuchin, Penny Warren, Josephine King, Jacqueline Clem, and I gathered for a journey into the wilderness this past Saturday morning (June 9) and conquered the second highest peak in Augusta County: Reddish Knob. I didn't realize that it was almost exactly two years after Jacqueline and I made our first trip to Reddish Knob: June 2010. Our first stop this time was the pond in Mount Solon, full of Mallards with one Pewee in the distance. We then crossed into Rockingham County, drove up Briery Branch Road, and observed quite a few Goldfinches at the reservoir. The whirring sound of the Periodical Cicadas was prevalent there, and in some other wooded areas.
We stopped at the road intersection at the top of the mountain, and soon saw a Scarlet Tanager, plus a few others. We heard some oddly familiar songs that turned out to be Dark-eyed Juncos, which were fairly numerous. We then headed north along a very rutted road with several deep puddles toward Bother Knob, where we finally spotted the main attraction: a Veery. Then we retraced our steps, drove for a mile or so in the direction of Sugar Grove, WV, and then turned around again and drove to the parking lot at the summit of Reddish Knob. Fantastic high-elevation 360-degree view with mostly blue skies! That is where Jo King succesfully lured a Chestnut-sided Warbler into close photographic range with her iPhone birding app. On the way back down we finally saw one of the Black-throated Blue Warblers that we had been hearing.
After descending to the valley again, we turned left into Hone Quarry Recreation Area, which was full of birds, butterflies, and Periodical Cicadas. Persistence paid off as we finally spotted one of the Parulas that was singing in the tree tops. We never did see the Blue-headed Vireo, though.
Back in Augusta County, we went looking for Red-headed Woodpeckers, to no avail. We did see a Kestrel at very close range, however, and a fledgling House Wren that was being fed. Here are the highlights of what we observed, 55 species altogether.
This year's Augusta Bird Club early summer trip to Highland County was led by Allen Larner, and it was a big success. Before we even left Staunton, we had a very memorable sighting during a quick stop on Bell's Lane: a Bobwhite that Allen lured (by whistling) very close to where we were standing. Upon reaching Highland County, the first stop was at the graveyard near the town of Blue Grass, where we found a few Bobolinks, and spotted a Bald Eagle as well as a Golden Eagle flying overhead. Then at the home of Margaret O'Bryans, we saw the main target bird: a Golden-winged Warbler, as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler. At the Straight Fork meadow, we saw a flycatcher that could have been an Alder's or a Willow, plus two Common Yellowthroats and a Black Bear which I spotted about 200 yards away. In the lush green rhododendron thickets near Laurel Forks we saw some Canada Warblers darting every which way. Finally, at the upland open area along the West Virginia border, we saw another key target bird: a Mourning Warbler, as well as several more Chestnut-sided Warblers. I spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker near that area as well. It was a wonderful trip.
This year's Augusta Bird Club picnic was held in Waynesboro's Ridgeview Park for the first time. The weather wasn't very good, but we still had a nice walk and saw a few neotropical migrants such as Northern Waterthrushes, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Great Crested Flycatchers. The highlight was seeing a Red-shouldered Hawk nest with fuzzy white babies popping their heads up begging for food.
The next day, May 6, was the annual Big Spring Day, and I counted 43 bird species at three separate locations in Staunton: the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad trail, Montgomery Hall Park, and Betsy Bell Hill. The habitat was rather similar for the most part, ranging from semi-open to heavily wooded. It was pretty slow going early on, but there was a fair amount of bird activity at the final stop, Betsy Bell Hill. That's where most of the neotropical migrants were found, some of which were singing loudly. I got great looks at the Yellow-rumped Warblers, the Black-throated Green Warbler, a Scarlet Tanager, the Swainson's Thrush, and one of the Wood Thrushes. Odd that the only sparrows I saw at those locations were Chipping. No Bluebirds or Nuthatches either. I submitted a full report to eBirds, from which these highlights were extracted:
School and other obligations kept me away from birding for much of April, but as soon as I finished with my last class of the semester (May 3), the first thing I did was head for the Blue Ridge and go bird watching. Fortunately, it was a lovely day, though a bit warm and muggy. I stopped at five or six places along or near the Parkway, from Route 60 (near Buena Vista) to Route 56 (Montebello). Here is a summary, with the first seven listed being first of the year for me:
I heard other warblers, but the only ones I could positively identify were the Ovenbirds. Probably Ceruleans as well. Early that same morning, I'm pretty sure I saw an Osprey carrying a meal over I-64 near Waynesboro.
Jacqueline and I saw some Baltimore Orioles as well as Orchard Orioles at two different locations in early May: along Lewis Creek east of I-81, north of Route 262; and by a stream that crosses Route 705 just west of Swoope. Beautiful!
On Saturday April 7, I led an Augusta Bird Club field trip to Chimney Hollow. Six Augusta Bird Club members plus two guests showed up for the field trip to Chimney Hollow on Saturday morning. The air was chilly early on, but the skies were clear blue, and by noon the weather was almost ideal. Unfortunately, birding activity was below normal. Three of us then headed over to nearby Braley's Pond. Here the highlights of what we observed at both places:
The total species count was only 20, but at least we got a couple of the key target birds, as well as a nice surprise with the two Grebes, at fairly close range.
The big news over the late winter and early spring was the appearance of a Lark Sparrow by a pond on Brenneman's Lane near Stuarts Draft. I went there three times before I finally saw the darned thing, enduring bitterly cold temperatures, but it finally paid off. I had seen that species once before, near Burbank, South Dakota in 2006.
I found the time to help with the Christmas Bird Count this year, covering the trail behind the Staunton-Augusta Rescue Squad. It was December 18, 2011, and I only saw 15 species total, including these highlights:
In early December someone spotted an American Avocet north of Mount Crawford, Virginia. I took some photos of it, but it was too far away to get a good image. I saw an Avocet at Lake Andes, South Dakota, back in 1998, but not at all since then, as far as I can tell.
Closer to home, a Northern Harrier returned to the usual hunting grounds in the fields along Hall School Road near Stuarts Draft. This is a freeze frame from a video clip that will be on YouTube soon. I also saw a Kestrel there, but not the Rough-legged hawk that was seen there several times.
I posted that photo, along with a Hummingbird albino I took back in August 2011, on the Wild Birds (year by year) photo gallery page.