Birding in March and April
Being under severe time constraints work-wise, I did relatively little birding in March and only slightly more for most of April. Saturday March 5th was pleasant and sunny, and I spotted an Eastern Bluebird and Red-bellied Woodpecker out back. In the afternoon I headed to the trail behind the Murphy-Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville for a vigorous walk. There weren't many birds there, but I did get nice views of some House Finches and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead. I then went to Bell's Lane and saw an Eastern Meadowlark as well as my first Tree Swallow of the year.
On March 11 I went to the Mill Place trail in Verona and saw several Red-winged Blackbirds, as well as an American Kestrel and a Killdeer or two. Then we had another big snowfall, and on March 13 I was astounded to see a Fox Sparrow out back! I was able to get very good photos in spite of the awkward angle of the sunlight and the glare of the snow, which soon melted.
On March 18 I spotted my first Eastern Phoebe of the spring, high in a tree along Bell's Lane, but it was cloudy so my photos were mediocre. The weather was much better the next day (a Saturday) Jacqueline and I went for a casual drive through northern Augusta County, stopping first at Natural Chimneys. There we saw some Chipping Sparrows and found the trail that leads to the top of the cliff along which the "chimney" rock formations are situated. It leads up a precarious slope with a rope that serves as a handrail, and that is where I saw my first (and only) Winter Wren of the 2021-2022 season. Then we drove to Todd Lake, in the mountains about five miles west, and just as I had hoped, I heard and then saw my first Pine Warbler of the year! Finally, we went to Elkhorn Lake, and again my anticipation paid off, as we soon spotted two Bald Eagles that were flying around and tending to a nest along the north side of the lake.
On Tuesday March 22 I took advantage of spring break by checking out Leonard's Pond, where I saw a Killdeer, and then stopped at the James Madison University arboretum, where I saw a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a Field Sparrow, and an Eastern Phoebe. Stopping at Bell's Lane on the way home I saw another Phoebe, as well as some Tree Swallows.
The month of April got off to a good start when I went for a hike along the Madison Run fire road on Saturday, the second day of the month. The skies were clear blue, but the birds were few at first. Eventually I had nice views of a Pine Warbler, a Blue-headed Vireo (or two?), a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and an Eastern Phoebe.
One week later, Saturday the 9th of April, I hiked along the Chimney Hollow trail for the first time this year. For the most part it was a big disappointment (no Brown Creepers for the entire winter season!), but at the very end, just as I was about to cross the highway to where my car was parked, I spotted a Louisiana Waterthrush lurking near the stream -- my first one of the year! Over at Braley Pond there were a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and Pine Warblers, but the main attraction was a dozen or so Blue-winged Teals, both male and female. On the way home along the 262 bypass I spotted a small flock of Wild Turkeys and snapped a quick long-distance photo of one just as they were retreating into the bushes.
On April 15 a Gray Catbird appeared on our back porch, the first one of the year for me. In the afternoon I went to Montgomery Hall Park and saw a Golden-crowned Kinglet as well as my first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the year! The next day Jacqueline and I were driving up to Bridgewater and I spotted a large raptor in a nearby tree. I couldn't stop until we were a half mile down the road, unfortunately, but I was able to identify it as an Osprey, my first one the year. On April 18 we had our last snow storm of the season, and "our" Catbird out back probably regretted migrating north as early as he did. But the snow melted quickly and the next day I was surprised to see a Pileated Woodpecker foraging for grubs in a tree stump out back; I was lucky to get a fine sunlit photo of it. On April 22, while getting some fresh air out back, I happened to see a kettle of Broad-winged Hawks flying overhead, perhaps a dozen total; they were my first ones of the season. A Red-shouldered Hawk was passing by, as well. More signs of spring were a Gray Catbird and American Goldfinch out back. In the evening, as I was leaving Mary Baldwin University, I heard and then saw my first Chimney Swifts of the season!
On the morning of April 23 I saw a fledgling Carolina Wren on the ground out back, so I carefully approached to get a photo. Early breeding!? Around the middle of the day I walked through the woodland trails at Hillandale Park in Harrisonburg, and almost immediately heard and then spotted a nearby Wood Thrush -- my first of the year! Further along were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Eastern Towhees, and a FOY Ovenbird. At Cook's Creek Arboretum in Bridgewater I saw an Eastern Screech Owl and another Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Finally, on my way to the Kites 'n Kritters event on Bell's Lane in mid-afternoon, I saw an Eastern Phoebe, a Belted Kingfisher, and a Red-tailed Hawk.
I spent the late morning and early afternoon of April 25 (a Monday, after my classes at Mary Baldwin had ended) at Montgomery Hall Park, and tallied seven first-of-season birds, including Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Red-eyed Vireo, as well as a Black-and-white Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a Black-throated Blue Warbler. The first two warblers were too far away, and the latter one was too close for a good photo -- very frustrating! Yellow-rumped Warblers were all over the place, as usual, and I also saw several Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers (FOY). I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher there once again, and this time got a much better photo than during my previous visit.
The weather on the morning of Friday April 29 was a gorgeous, and while walking along Bell's Lane I saw four bird species for the first time this year: Yellow Warbler, House Wren, American Redstart, and White-eyed Vireo. (The latter was mostly hiding in the bushes, hence the semi-obscured photo below.) I also had nice views of Brown Thrashers and their relatives, the Gray Catbirds, as well as some Eastern Meadowlarks. All were very active and vocal. I also heard an Orchard Oriole (first of year) and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but never saw either of them.
Saturday, April 30th was Big Spring Day, when the Augusta Bird Club systematically counts birds all across Augusta County. This year I covered (sequentially) Dowells Draft, Braley Pond, and Chimney Hollow in the foothills in the western part of county. Unfortunately, the weather turned rather bleak, and it was drizzling for the first two hours. Four of the approximately 42 species I identified (duly reported via the eBird website) were the first ones of the year for me: Indigo Bunting, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Northern Parula. Among the other highlights were a Red-breasted Nuthatch, two Wood Thrushes, and a Wild Turkey that flew over Rt. 250 as I was beginning my return trip to Staunton.
The above photo montages, including some closeup images and additional photos, can be seen on the Wild Birds chronological photo gallery page.