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Andrew Clem led a field trip to Chimney Hollow on Saturday December 1, joined by five other members of the Augusta Bird Club. Within the first ten minutes, at least ten Wild Turkeys flushed from the trail ahead, only about 20 yards away. The high-pitched calls of Golden-crowned Kinglets were all around, but only about 4-6 were actually seen, mostly high in the tree tops. Other notable sightings included a Brown Creeper, a few White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees, a Raven or two, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker. The total distance covered in the hike was over three miles.
On Sunday, October 7, Andrew Clem led a field trip to Augusta Springs Wetlands, pausing at several places in the Swoope area on the way out and on the way back. Highlights in Swoope included large flocks of Canada Geese, White-crowned Sparrows, two Bald Eagles, Kestrels, several Northern Harriers, Pied-billed Grebes, several Lincoln's Sparrows, a large flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds, and many Palm Warblers and Phoebes. At Augusta Springs, where it was drizzling, we observed a mixture of newly-arriving winter birds (e.g., Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Swamp Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos) and late-departing neotropical migrants (e.g., Blue-headed Vireos, Philadelphia Vireo, and Red-eyed Vireo, and Nashville Warbler, Magnolia Warblers, Pine Warbler, Black-throated Green Warblers, and a male Scarlet Tanager). We were extremely busy trying to keep track of everything at one particular hot spot. Phoebes were again numerous, and Towhees and a Pileated Woodpecker made impressionable appearances. Allen also spotted some Green-winged Teals and Wood Ducks flying along with some Mallards. Altogether, 61 species were seen.
On Thursday, October 4, Penny Warren led a field trip to Licking Hole Creek in Crozet. After some searching, they found a Marsh Wren, which had been seen in that area recently. They had great views of the wren and were treated to an extended "musical performance." Also seen were six specis of warblers as well as an adult Bald Eagle in the nest. Two of the club members saw a Black-billed Cuckoo near the parking area.
On Friday, September 28, Gabriel Mapel led a field trip to the Riprap Trail at the base of Shenandoah National Park, near Crimora. They found a total of 31 species including such highlights as Red-shouldered Hawk, Pileated Woodpeckers, Phoebe, Red-eyed Vireo, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Swainson's Thrush, and several warblers: Nashville, Hooded, Cape May, Magnolia, and Black-throated Blue.
Congratulations to Gabriel Mapel for being named eBirder of the Month. It's a big honor to gain such national recognition, especially for someone so young. See ebird.org, the online system for reporting and keeping records of bird sightings. It is a wonderful resource that is free and open to everyone.
We recently passed the peak of our 36th annual fall raptor migration season at Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch (www.rockfishgaphawkwatch.org), which began on August 15. There are still plenty of hawks and other raptors coming through the area, until the end of November. The Hawk Watch is held on the grounds of the Inn at Afton, located on the southern side of Rockfish Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, right off I-64 exit 99 (at the intersections with Rt 250, the southern end of the Skyline Drive and the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway) just 5 miles east of Waynesboro and 20 miles west of Charlottesville. Visitors are more than welcome! There's always a chance you'll see something as spectacular as this:
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of warblers and other neotropical songbirds migrating through Virginia, such as this little one:
On Saturday morning, June 2, eight members and friends of the Augusta Bird Club held their annual adventure to Highland County for some early summer birding. In spite of temperatures starting in the upper 40s and a brisk wind, we had quite a few highlights and surprises. First we stopped at the graveyard near the town of Blue Grass, and we found a few Bobolinks singing and displaying. Also the fence rows were yellow with at least 100 Goldfinches. The big surprise was a second-year Golden Eagle and one Bald Eagle (uncertain age), mixed in with several Turkey Vultures. Our second stop was at the O'Bryans' home, where we soon saw the main target bird: a Golden-winged Warbler, and possibly hearing a second one. Also here we had a Chestnut-sided Warbler (seen) and Common Yellowthroat (heard). Moving on, we went up Rt. 642 to to the beaver dam on Straight Fork in hopes of finding an Alder's Flycatcher, which has been seen there in years past. We did see a flycatcher, but it was not singing so to be safe we chalked it up as an Alder's / Willow. We also saw two Common Yellowthroats and a large Black Bear out in the meadow. Our next main stop was just before the bridge at Laurel Forks where we had at least 3 to 4 Canada Warblers. From there we went up to the upland clear-cut area on the state line, which is not so clear-cut any more. Here we had excellent looks at a Mourning Warbler and several Chestnut-sided Warblers, and caught glimpses of (or heard) a Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pewee, Veery, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. On the way home on Rt. 220, we saw two Bald Eagles in a field to the north of the new slaughterhouse. Altogether we tallied 67 species of birds, including 13 species of warblers. Not a bad day of birding in Highland County.
by Allen Larner
On Tuesday, May 22, Mary Baldwin College held a dedication ceremony for the new water feature on the Pannill Center Lawn, near the top of the hill. This project received funding assistance through a gift from the Augusta Bird Club. The bubbling water is already attracting birds, which have been observed bathing and drinking there, with a Song Sparrows nest nearby. Native plantings have been added to provide a natural environment to encourage the return of songbird species. In a prime location with mountain vistas, it improves the habitat for wildlife on the MBC campus and also adds beauty and visual interest for us humans to enjoy. Thanks are due to Tish Folsom and Springdale Water Gardens for helping to make this possible. MBC employees (and Augusta Bird Club members) Crista Cabe and Bruce Dorries took the initiative in getting this project going.
On May 6th, 21 members of the Augusta Bird Club ventured out in 11 parties consisting of 1 to 4 members, looking for and recording bird species over most of Augusta County. Each group was assigned a specific area to cover so that no one crossed the lines of the others. The day started off with temperatures as low as 58 and a high of 73. Some members had to deal with heavy fog in the mountains, and most parties either had partly or mostly cloudy skies, with some periods of rain during the day. A total of 660 miles was covered by car, and by foot around 10. There was a total of 82 hours spent in the field either covering the mountain ranges and lowland fields, to feeder watches.
The total number of bird species seen or heard that day was 148, by far the largest number found in one day during Big Spring Day in Augusta County. The total number of birds counted was 11,888. Also, according to our book Birds of Augusta County, this count added at least 50 "book-breakers," in terms of early dates, late dates, or peak spring counts. Of all species of birds counted, we had seven species of ducks, seven species of hawks, seven species of woodpeckers, seven species of flycatchers, six species of vireos, five species of swallows, five species of thrushes, 27 species of warblers, ten species of sparrows, and five species of blackbirds.
by Allen Larner
For a change of pace, this year's 'Birding and Brunch' (on May 5th) was held at a new location: Ridgeview Park in Waynesboro. The weather wasn't ideal, but the rain held off until members had returned to the picnic shelter for some potluck treats and friendly camaraderie. Two groups formed for birding walks across the South River and nearby wooded areas. The main highlight of the day was a Red-shouldered Hawk's nest, high up in a tall tree. Also seen were a Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Great-crested Flycatcher. Many thanks to Linda Matkins and others on the club's Hospitality Committee for setting up the coffee pot, cups, plates, and other amenities.
Several members of the Augusta Bird Club helped out with the club's kiosk for the celebration of Earth Day in downtown Staunton on Saturday April 14. Darrell Schwalm put together a very attractive photographic display, featuring the club's various activities, and Catherine Kohus prepared the ingredients for the yummy peanut-butter, bird seed, and pine cone treats, which were a big hit with kids. Our club also plans to participate in the upcoming Riverfest in Waynesboro, on April 28. See www.riverfestwaynesboro.org.
As the spring migration season rapidly unfolds, several field trips have been held lately, and more are planned for the next few weeks. On Saturday April 7, Andrew Clem led five other Augusta Bird Club members and two guests on a hike along the Chimney Hollow trail. The air was chilly early on, but the skies were clear blue, and by noon the weather was almost ideal. Among the highlights we observed were some Louisiana Waterthrushes, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, as well as Pileated and Hairy Woodpeckers. Three of us then headed over to nearby Braley's Pond, where we were surprised to see two Pied-bill Grebes at fairly close range.
At recent club meetings, the notion of a new club logo was discussed, partially prompted by the fact that a new brochure is being developed and it seemed like an opportune moment to consider a new bird logo. The general consensus was to have a bird that is a year-round resident in our area, and the Eastern Meadowlark was selected. It is very exciting to see the final version and to begin to include it in our printed materials!!! And so, the previous logo, shown below on the right, is officially retired:
A Rufous Hummingbird has been seen at a home near Middlebrook all winter, and on March 10 it was banded, and positively identified as a female Rufous Hummingbird.
This year's winter field trip to Highland County had to be postponed one day because of bad weather. Those who braved the harsh conditions on Sunday, January 21 were treated to some wonderful frosty scenery, as well as some excellent birds. Near the town of Blue Grass, a light-phased Rough-legged Hawk was briefly observed circling low over a nearby ridge along Wimer Mountain Road. Allen Larner spotted some Rusty Blackbirds in that same area. A juvenile Golden Eagle was seen from Hardscrabbled Road near the West Virginia border at Snowy Mountain. In addition, there were several active Bald Eagle nest sites, one of which had two adults on it. Finally, perched on utility line along Route 220 just south of Monterey was a Red-shouldered Hawk, which is uncommon for Highland County. Here are some scenic photos of the trip taken by Allen Larner: