On Saturday, December 15, birders in the Augusta County count circle observed a total of 86 bird species, plus 3 more during the count week (defined as three days before and three days after the count day). Final tabulations are still in process, but in the mean time, here are the totals for the main groups:
On Saturday December 8, six members of the Augusta Bird Club braved freezing temperatures on a field trip to the new trail at the Mill Place industrial park in Verona, just north of Staunton. It is a very scenic nature spot that seems to have been developed with great care in planning, featuring a sheltered picnic area, multiple benches for resting along the way, and a wooden foot bridge. The trail is all asphalt. Even better, it is an excellent habitat for a variety of sparrows and other songbirds. Highlights of the day were a Red-shouldered Hawk, a Hermit Thrush, and a Swamp Sparrow. In the reeds, two members spotted a very small brown bird that was most likely a Marsh Wren or a Winter Wren, and some of us saw what was either a Yellow-rumped or a Palm Warbler. The list of 21 species is not yet final, pending confirmation from others who were there.
An Augusta Bird Club member recently reported that a Rufous Hummingbird has been making regular appearances at her house in the Stuarts Draft area of Augusta County. According to Birds of Augusta County, it is the first such sighting in these parts since January 2013, in Middlebrook. Rufous Hummingbirds breed in the northwestern U.S.A. and Canada, but every year in the fall, some of them migrate to the eastern states before heading south for the winter.
Wednesday, November 7 was a beautiful day to conduct a field trip to this wonderful area of southern Augusta County. Six members of the Augusta Bird Club enjoyed 34 species of great birds and good weather. Many special sightings of several species were most memorable. To see a Hairy, a Downy and Red-bellied Woodpecker on the same tree at the same time was fun. Along with the Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Brown Creeper putting on a show, wow. Can't leave out the beautiful female Northern Harrier carousing the fields. My day was satisfying.
On October 29, eleven club members, including two young birders, Ira and Eli Lianez, and guests joined in on the bird walk along Bell's Lane. (This was the second trip there during the month.) The weather forecast was uncertain, but it turned into a great morning: some sun, a little breeze, and just-about-right temps! We were treated with great looks of many of the 26 species that we tallied. The highlights were both Kinglet species, a Blue-headed Vireo, Cedar Waxwings, and a nice group of White- throated Sparrows foraging on the roadside. When we arrived at the top of the hill at Carolyn Ford's farm, we saw a Kestrel, then an adult male Harrier ("Gray Ghost"), and then another Harrier! At the beaver ponds we saw three Wilson's Snipes, along with three Killdeer and a Kingfisher. A group of probable White-crowned Sparrows was foraging along the road, and later in the day, a Vesper Sparrow was seen!
On Wednesday, October 17, six members of Augusta Bird Club led by Jo King met at McCormick's Farm to pursue our interest of bird watching. The weather was fairly cool but the sun shone brightly on many birds of which 35 species were counted. The best finds were the Double-crested Cormorant and four Warbler species. It was a beautiful trip.
On Saturday, October 13, nine members and friends of the Augusta Bird Club went on a field trip to Swoope and Augusta Springs, led by Andrew Clem and Allen Larner. The weather was cool and breezy, with alternating clouds and bright sunlight. Along Livick Road there was a mixed flock of Savannah Sparrows and Grasshopper Sparrows, as well as Northern Flickers and some Killdeers. After crossing a recently-repaired bridge that had been washed out by floods just a few days earlier, we saw a Cooper's Hawk perched in a tree and three Northern Harriers flying low. Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, and Eastern Phoebes were seen at multiple locations. There was nothing at Smith's Pond, where the water was very high, so we proceeded directly to Augusta Springs, which was unusually busy. A flock of about 50 Cedar Waxwings was flying around distant tree tops, and some of them came closer. We also had nice views of Pine Warblers, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Eastern Towhees, but the most notable sighting was a small group (four?) of Red-breasted Nuthatches. A White-breasted Nuthatch was also observed, along with White-throated Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows. Another big highlight came near the very end: an early-arriving Hermit Thrush that was hiding in the bushes! After that, some of us went back to Swoope, and around the Boy Scout camp we saw several Palm Warblers, a Swamp Sparrow, a Magnolia Warbler, some Eastern Phoebes, and a probable Eastern Wood Pewee. It was a very good day!
On Saturday, October 6, Stan Heatwole led a group of four Augusta Bird Club members (including Ann Cline, Carolyn Ford, and Andrew Clem) on a canoe / kayak trip along the Maury River. Within minutes of the start, a Bald Eagle was sighted downstream, but it flew out of sight and did not return. Multiple Green Herons and Great Blue Herons were seen at various points along the river, as well as Belted Kingfishers, Eastern Phoebes, Cedar Waxwings, Canada Geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks, and lots of Blue Jays. Several Paw Paw trees were identified along the river bank, and even a Paw Paw fruit (overripe)! The weather was perfect, almost summer-like, and the water was a little high after all the recent rains, but not too turbulent. We hope to do more such river field trips next year.
From April 2-11 of this year, Grant Simmons and the Lawlers (Ed and Nancy) participated in the "Spring in South Texas" birdwatching tour run by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. The idea was to catch some of the early spring migrants, and to go birding with Nancy and Ed's favorite bird guide, Barry Zimmer. A complete report of their trip will appear in the October issue of the Augusta Bird Club Bulletin. Here are a few of the highlights they saw (and photographed!):
On Wednesday, September 19, nine members of the Augusta Bird Club met at McCormick's Farm to conduct a field trip to this diversified southern most part of Augusta County. We were greeted on the lane to the parking area with Savannah Sparrows, Bluebirds, and Chipping Sparrows. A Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, a Warbling Vireo, along with many immature Phoebes delighted the group. The weather was ideal early on but became quite warm by 10:00 AM. Among the other highlights were: Red-shouldered Hawk, Killdeer, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
On Saturday, September 8, five members of the Augusta Bird Club went on a field trip to Dowell's Draft, where Northern Parulas and Prairie Warblers (presumably breeding) were observed over the summer. The skies were mostly cloudy, and it started to rain once again toward the end of the trip, as the group was visiting nearby Braley Pond. The highlights were Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Wood Pewees, an Empid flycatcher (Least?), a Pileated Woodpecker, a possible Prairie Warbler (Pine?), several American Goldfinches, and some Worm-eating Warblers. Dowell's Draft lies along the right of way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, and future access to this area is uncertain.
In the course of doing surveys for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project (see news items below), on June 30 Andrew Clem "discovered" a birding hot spot that was previously unknown to the local birding community: Dowell's Draft, which is close to Braley Pond and Chimney Hollow, near the village of West Augusta. Near the trail head, an Acadian Flycatcher was singing, along with Ovenbirds and Worm-eating Warblers. At least two Northern Parulas were heard and seen just a bit further along the fire road. The highlight was a singing Prairie Warbler, briefly scuffling with another bird, presumably of the same species. A couple hundred yards after that, another Prairie Warbler was singing, and several Black and White Warblers and American Redstarts were making a racket, probable families in both cases. After a stream crossing, the trail begins a long uphill climb toward the east. Along the way, Scarlet Tanagers and Red-eyed Vireos were seen, and Pine Warblers were heard. At a clearing near the summit of Chestnut Oak Knob were Indigo Buntings, Eastern Towhees, and Worm-eating Warblers.
Dowell's Draft happens to be located in or adjacent to the right of way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline project, which began to clear a wide swath of trees in western Augusta County this past spring. How this project will affect birds and other wildlife remains to be seen...
A second visit to Dowell's Draft on July 10 yielded multiple Northern Parulas once again, as well as Ovenbirds and Worm-eating Warblers, but no Prairie Warblers.
On July 14, Penny Warren, Ann Cline, and Andrew Clem made a follow-up visit to Dowell's Draft, seeing or hearing most of the same birds as before. Most importantly, a singing male Prairie Warbler was photographed, confirming probable breeding activity in that location. Another nice surprise (not previously seen there) was a Black-throated Green Warbler, either female or juvenile. There will probably be a field trip to Dowell's Draft in early September.
On June 16, John Spahr led five other Augusta Bird Club members on a second field trip focused on the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. (See the June 2 report below.) The main destination was Braley Pond, near the village of West Augusta, but most of the time was spent along the Johnson Draft trail upstream from the pond. That trail turned out to be very rich in terms of likely breeding birds, and a number of Northern Parulas, Worm-eating Warblers, and Indigo Buntings (including a female with nesting material) were heard and/or seen. Afterwards, some of the members stopped for lunch at the nearby convenience store, where a Ruby-throated Hummingbird came to a feeder. Finally, they spent a while at the Chimney Hollow trail, where they succeeded in locating an Acadian Flycatcher and Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as some juvenile Eastern Phoebes.
On Saturday, June 9th the Augusta Bird Club held its annual spring picnic brunch, this time at Humpback Rocks Picnic Area on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Attendance was HUGE -- about 30 people -- reflecting the nice weather and the recent surge in club membership. Crista Cabe and Andrew Clem led two separate groups on hikes along nearby trails, and a nice variety of birds were heard and seen. Among the highlights were Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Cerulean Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blue-headed Vireos. And to top it off, the picnic food was wonderful! Many thanks to Linda Matkins, who organized and carried out the big event, and to all the folks who took the time to prepare tasty treats, and finally, to those who helped set up and later clean up all of the picnic paraphernalia.
On June 6, three Augusta Bird Club members went on a hastily-improvised field trip to Highland County, taking advantage of momentary good weather. They succeeded in spotting three main target species. At the Blue Grass cemetery, several Bobolinks were singing and displaying. A few miles north, two male Golden-winged Warblers were seen, along with other warblers, including a female Yellow Warbler in her nest. Finally, at Paddy Knob (on the southwest corner of Highland County, on the West Virginia state line), an elusive Mourning Warbler was briefly spotted, as well as Black-throated Blue Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a Least Flycatcher.
On June 2, John Spahr led five other Augusta Bird Club members on a field trip around the Swoope area, as part of the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project. The big highlight was when Nancy Lawler spotted a Ruby-throated Hummingbird nest on a horizontal tree branch not far away, and soon the mother-to-be was seen in the nest! In a nearby tree, two Eastern Wood-Pewees seemed to be preparing a nest. Also close by were two Yellow-billed Cuckoos, but efforts to photograph them did not pan out.
On May 24, seven Augusta Bird Club members went hiking along the Shenandoah Mountain Trail, going south about a mile from the Confederate Breastworks. The weather was almost perfect. Among the highlights were Yellow-billed Cuckoos (two heard, one glimpsed), Black-throated Green Warblers, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warblers (M&F), Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees.
On May 12, a group of Augusta Bird Club and Rockingham Bird Club members went to the Shenandoah Wetlands Bank, under special arrangements made by Allen Larner. (It is a special nature preserve closed to the general public.) Virginia Rails were heard calling in multiple locations, a hopeful sign of breeding activity. A variety of migrant birds and (year-round residents) were observed as well.
Raptorthon 2018 on May 13 was a HUGE success! (We're calling it epic!) Our team, the Rockfish Gap Hawkwatchers (Vic Laubach, Betty Mooney, and Baxter Beamer) spent 15 hours driving nearly 300 miles birding throughout 2 states and 4 counties, with a major focus being on Highland County, VA. We had tremendous fun, the weather was gorgeous, there were birds everywhere, and it seemed that every location we came to yielded new species! Our efforts were rewarded with a total of 122 species. The biggest highlight of the day came at 5:30pm with the sighting of a Mississippi Kite in Weyers Cave, Augusta County. In terms of raptors, we ended up with 7 species (Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Mississippi Kite, Barn Owl, Barred Owl). As for warblers, we totaled 21 species.
If you haven't been outside looking for birds lately, you'd better hurry!
April 18 was a good day for a field trip to McCormick's Farm in Raphine, Virginia. Nine birders conducted a walk for the Augusta Bird Club. Altogether, 41 species were noted. Observing the male and female Red-bellied Woodpecker at their nest hole was a beautiful sight, as were the five Blue-winged Teal. The Green Heron gave us all a fun show as well.
On April 14, three ABC members went on a field trip to Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro, followed by a walk along the trails by the South River on the northeast side of town. Aside from the birds shown below, Blue-headed Vireos and a White-eyed Vireo were seen as well.
On Wednesday, March 28th, Jo King led a good-sized group to McCormick's Mill in Raphine, Virginia, where they found 34 species, including Gadwall, Wigeon, Towhee, Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Field Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and Great Blue Heron, among the "usual suspects."
On Monday, March 19th, five members of the Augusta Bird Club participated in a trip to Bell's Lane. It was definitely a chilly morning but we managed to get 45 species. Among the highlights (posted at ebird.org) were Wood Duck, Gadwalls, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue Heron, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawks, American Coots, Wilson's Snipes, American Kestrels, Eastern Phoebes, Tree Swallows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Meadowlarks, and American Goldfinches.
In January, Ann Cline traveled to Florida, where she photographed several very special birds. Here are some of the best photos she took:
Weather conditions improved on January 27, as ten members and friends of the Augusta Bird Club went hiking along the Madison Run Fire Road, on the edge of the Shenandoah National Park near the town of Grottoes. Approximately 22 species were identified by sight or sound, including some at a nearby house with a feeder. The highlight was a brief view of a Ruffed Grouse that flushed from the bushes along the road. A Hermit Thrush and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were also seen. Afterwards, some of the participants paid a brief visit to Bell's Lane and saw two Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Northern Harrier.