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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 (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)

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 28 Sep 2016, 12: 42 AM

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