Unlike last year, the weather was just fine for this year's Hawk Watch Open House, which was held at the Afton Inn on Saturday, September 21. Many nature-oriented organizations participated, including the Virginia Wildlife Center in Waynesboro. Vic Laubach coordinated the event, while Ann Cline and Penny Warren set up a table display for the Augusta Bird Club, explaining the club's activities to the many visitors who stopped by.
That same Saturday, four members of the Augusta Bird Club (Andrew Clem, Roz Holtzman, Tom Roberts, and Peter Cooper) went on a field trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the adjoining Route 610. The number of warblers wasn't quite as great as expected, but there were some nice surprises, most notably groups of Swainson's Thrushes in two separate locations, and a large flock of Common Nighthawks (25-30 total) swooping directly overhead. That was truly amazing! Afterwards, the group joined the Hawk Watch Open House at the Afton Inn.
On Saturday, September 7, four Augusta Bird Club members (Allen Larner, Peter Van Acker, Ann Cline, and Andrew Clem) hiked all the way up to the summit of Elliott Knob in search of migrating birds. This mountain is located in western Augusta County and is the third-highest peak (measured by "prominence") in the state of Virginia. The grand expedition began at the Falls Hollow trailhead along Route 42, and proceeded up through a variety of woodland habitats, including a lush waterfall with moss-covered rocks and rhododendron bushes. It was there that the first cluster of warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers was seen. After climbing for a while flanked by thick green shrubs, several Blackburnian Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, and other birds were seen. Eventually, the trail intersected with the very steep Elliott Knob fire road, which leads up to the summit where there are several communication towers. That was another "hot spot," full of Dark-eyed Juncos, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and other "winter" birds that only breed in the highest elevations in Virginia. The view at the top was exhilarating, a fitting reward for all of the exertion in climbing. The satisfaction of having accomplished most of our birding "goals" made the painfully long descent back down to the bottom tolerable.
On Saturday June 8, four members of the Augusta Bird Club (Dan Perkuchin, Ann Cline, and Roz Holt, and Andrew Clem) went on a field trip to the Hearthstone Lake area in the northern reaches of Augusta County. This was arranged to support the 2nd Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas project (VABBA-2), an important project that is being coordinated in this area by John Spahr. The air was cool and the skies were overcast, but it didn't rain until later in the day. The group stopped at various trail heads along Tillman Rd., up until the Hearthstone Lake dam construction site, where the road is closed. Among the highlights were a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird perched at the top of the very same bare tree branch it had been four days earlier, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Pine Warbler that was carrying food (an indicator of probable breeding), multiple Acadian Flycatchers, Hooded Warblers (one carrying food), Scarlet Tanagers (probable mated pair), and a Black-and-white Warbler. Others that we heard only included Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Worm-eating Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-headed Vireos, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Wood Thrushes. Near the dam itself were two Bald Eagles, one an apparent mature adult and the other either a second- or third-year bird. We listened for some sign of the American Woodcocks that had been seen near there on May 18, without success. On our way out of the area, we paused to take a look at an Eastern Phoebe at a stream crossing, and noticed three Cedar Waxwings bathing. We ended our visit to the Hearthstone Lake area with 26 species total. Many thanks to Dan Perkuchin for keeping close track of our observations.
Afterwards the group drove up to Reddish Knob, located several miles to the west-northwest. Highlights there included Cedar Waxwing, Chestnut-sided Warblers, an Eastern Towhee, and a Common Yellowthroat. Near the summit, we finally heard a Black-throated Green Warbler, and saw some Dark-eyed Juncos and an American Redstart.
For the second year in a row, the Augusta Bird Club's annual brunch picnic was held at the Humpback Rocks picnic area on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and turnout for the June 1st event was very large once again. Members brought a wide assortment of delicious foods, and went for birding walks in two separate groups. The weather was very pleasant, and a number of interesting and colorful birds made an appearance.
On Monday May 6, eleven members of the Augusta Bird Club went on a field trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Large-scale "fallouts" of warblers and other neotropical migrants were encountered at multiple stopping points along the way. Things got pretty hectic for a while. By the radio tower on Route 610 were Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Scarlet Tanager, Indigo Bunting, Cerulean Warbler, Eastern Towhee, and a Red-eyed Vireo. In addition, a Red-headed Woodpecker was heard but not seen. At Mile Marker 8, near the Humpback Rocks picnic area, were Yellow-throated Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and American Goldfinch. Everyone was startled to see a big flock (over 30) of small birds that landed in a big tree; they turned out to be Pine Siskins! Finally, at Hickory Springs Overlook (near Mile Marker 12), were Scarlet Tanagers, Hooded Warblers, and Cerulean Warblers, as well as a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Total species count for the day is pending...
On April 27, the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watchers team (Vic Laubach, Gabriel Mapel, Baxter Beamer, and Ezra Staengl) participated in our seventh annual Raptorthon to raise funds for Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) and our local hawk watch. Our day lasted 15.5 hours (5:00am to 8:30pm) and covered 186 miles! Although peak spring migration was not quite here yet, we were happy to end up with a total of 111 species, including 8 raptor, 6 waterfowl, 10 sparrow, and 16 warbler. It was a tiring day but great fun! Thank you to all who supported our Raptorthon!
During the middle of April, six members of the Augusta Bird Club (Ann Cline, Lisa Hamilton, Linda Matkins, Grant Simmons, John and Nancy Spahr) went birding in the tropical nation of Panama. They spent five days in a recently constructed Eco-lodge in Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Reserve western highlands in the province of Chiriqui. The second half of their adventure was in a Caribbean coastal island archipelago called Bocas del Toro. Here they lodged and feasted at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Bastimentos island, accessed only by boat. This proved to be a very special trip for all. The weather was most cooperative. The staff and environments at both lodges could not have been better. Most importantly, the wildlife and scenery were unmatched.
On Saturday April 20, three members of the Augusta Bird Club (Dan Perkuchin, Linda Corwin, and I) went on a field trip to Dowell's Draft, in the western part of Augusta County. This is a trail and Forest Service fire road that provides excellent habitat for songbirds, but happens to lie in the path of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Fortunately for us, construction activity in this sector has been suspended for several months. Temperatures were mild, and the skies were clear. As we approached the trailhead, we heard multiple Louisiana Waterthrushes. Soon after we began hiking, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker and then heard and finally saw an Ovenbird, the first of the year for me. We also heard the first of several Blue-headed Vireos, but not until the latter part of our trip did we finally see (and photograph) it. While crossing the clear-cut swath, we heard a Northern Parula singing in the distance, and then we heard a Prairie Warbler fairly close. Those were the two main target birds, which I identified as breeders in that very same area for VABBA-2 last year. Within a couple minutes we had excellent views of the Parula (possibly two), and a so-so view of the Prairie Warbler. Further along the trail, we heard and finally saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, but it proved to be very skilled at eluding our camera lenses. We also saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in that area, and heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the distance. On the way back we saw more N. Parulas and a Black-throated Green Warbler. Altogether, 27 species were observed at Dowell's Draft; thanks to Dan Perkuchin for tabulating our observations on eBird.org. Next we stopped for a short while at nearby Braley's Pond, but the hoped-for E. Phoebes that nest there every year were not seen. We did, however, see another Louisiana Waterthrush, as well as a Muskrat foraging near the stream. All in all, it was a wonderful day of birding! Here are the highlights of our day:
On Wednesday, March 20th five intrepid members of the Augusta Bird Club ventured out this first, frosty day of Spring to conduct a field trip to McCormick's Farm in Raphine, Va. The highlights of the trip included a Kestrel, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet and two Hermit Thrushes. A female Hooded Merganser was spotted on the entrance pond on our return trip from Willow Lake.
An "irruption" to the south of certain northern bird species has occurred this past winter, and during the past few months, a group of Evening Grosbeaks has made regular appearances in nearby Rockingham County. This species was once seen on a semi-regular basis during colder months in Augusta County, but is now considered a rare bird.
Ann Cline recently traveled to Costa Rica, where she observed a wide range of tropical birds. A report on her trip, along with more photos, will appear in the April issue of the Augusta Bird Club Bulletin.
Wednesday, February 27th was a beautiful if rather chilly day, as eight members of the Augusta Bird Club went on a field trip McCormick's Mill Farm. Although the species count was a relatively modest 26, there were some excellent bird sightings. Most noteworthy were the immature Red-tailed Hawk and two Golden-crowned Kinglets, along with Robins, Phoebe, and Red-winged blackbirds. The side trip to Willow Lake did not disappoint. There were many species of ducks, and the Bald Eagle flying overhead filled my heart and soul with happiness.
In spite of frigid temperatures, eight hardy birders showed up on the morning of January 26th for a field trip to the Mill Place trail. Highlights included Red-shouldered Hawk, Northern Harrier, Savannah Sparrow, and American Kestrel. At the big (unfrozen) pond behind Hardee's there were several Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, and two Great Blue Herons, plus the usual Canada Geese and Mallards.
On January 6th four members of the Augusta Bird Club made their annual winter trek to Highland County to seek out the Golden Eagle as well as wintering Finches. The temps started out at 30 degrees but quickly warmed up to 54 with sunshine. Our first stop was the feeders in McDowell which was a bust: only Goldfinch, Junco, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Savannah Sparrow. Next we went to the town of Bluegrass, and on the west side of Snowy Mountain we had three Golden Eagle flying high. In the lowlands just south of Snowy Mountain we had a great view of a juvenile Golden Eagle flying low with two Red-tailed Hawks dive-bombing it. Our search for the Loggerhead Shrike on Dug Bank Road did not pan out, probably because it was a bit windy. Most of the birds were hunkered down yesterday, and we missed several target species in Highland County.
Next we headed south on Route 220, and once in Bath County we had a few ducks on the farm pond to the left: Canada Goose, Gadwall, Mallard, American Wigeon, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, and 44 Common Merganser, Kingfisher, and Bald Eagle. On the way to Lake Moomaw, we had Black-capped Chickadee, Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, Junco, and Song Sparrow. The biggest treat was seeing at least eight Eastern Reddish Bats flying around. At Lake Moomaw we had Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Mallard, and Bufflehead. All in all we ended the trip with about 40 species of birds.