Monday, October 3, 2022

Fall Birding in Virginia's Southwestern State Parks

 We spent ten days from September 17th to 27th in western and southwestern Virginia focusing on the state parks. 

On September 17th we stopped by Shenandoah River SP and Seven Bends SP and the Edith J Carrier Arboretum in Harrisburg. A flock of migratory Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, mostly first year birds without much color enjoyed the autumn wildflowers.


American Goldfinches, many recent fledglings, found the seed heads a tasty treat as did this female:

Another fall migrant, the Yellow-rumped Warbler,  was seen in small flocks as well.


On September 18th we visited Douthat SP near Clifton Forge. The woods, lake, and dam spillway attracted migratory warblers and resident birds including this Grey Catbird: 


 This female Rose-breasted Grosbeak:


And this Magnolia Warbler:


On September 19th we started the day with a foggy morning visit to Natural Bridge SP which includes the natural bridge and surrounding lands.

A Belted Kingfisher flew back and forth along the river that cuts through the natural bridge:


The top of the rocky natural bridge proved a perfect ledge for a flock of Common Rock Doves (Pigeon):

We drove south to Smith Mountain Lake SP and took the road to the peninsula of lad in the large lake. Migratory warblers fed in the norther red oaks and maples there like this Common Yellowthroat:

This Pine Warbler:

And a Scarlet Tanager not so scarlet in its non-breeding plumage:

On September 20th we visited Fairy Stone SP and heard more than saw birds including Yellow-throated Vireos and a small flock of angry Carolina Chickadees. On September 21st we visited Shot Tower SP and part of New River Trail SP. There we got views of migratory Yellow-throated Vireos:

And Chipping Sparrow:

And Eastern Bluebirds:

And a flock of Tree Swallows:


On September 22nd we drove west and into higher elevations at Grayson Highlands SP. There we saw  Dark-eyed Juncos which breed at higher elevations before moving closer to sea level in the winter months:


And Black-capped Chickadee which prefer higher elevations year round:

Grayson Highlands SP has wild ponies which we didn't see except in a gathering pen, but the trail we took led us to an escaped small herd of cattle with a steer that had apparently decided we had walked far enough:

 Late in the day we visited Steele Creek State Park in Bristol, Tennessee, where the lake gave us distant views of a small group of Pied-billed Grebe and a closer view of a Great-blue Heron:

On September 23rd we drove to the far western tip of Virginia to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Wilderness Road SP and Natural Tunnel SP. The migratory warblers were enjoying the sunny morning and the insects on the poplar trees: We saw Tennessee Warblers:

Cape May Warbler:

Black-throated Green Warbler:

Eastern Wood-pewee:

And a year-round and young Red-Shouldered Hawk doing morning hunting from a hay roll:

And a Tufted-titmouse gleaning on the ground:

On a rainy September 24th we drove northwest to the VA/KY border to Breaks Interstate Park. The scenery was great but the birds were hiding for the most part. We did see Wood Thrush and a flock of Cedar Waxwings, but most birding was done by listening through the rain. The weather cleared late day when we arrived at our hotel in Abingdon VA which was situated next to a farm with grazing horses and a small stream. There in the late day sun we saw more migratory birds including the Palm Warbler:

And Eastern Wood-pewee:

As well as Eastern Bluebird:

And Song Sparrow:

Sometimes the best birding is done in unexpected places!

On the 25th we headed up I-81 and stopped at Hungry Mother SP where the morning mist gave way to beautiful sunny lake views and a very wayward Brown Booby:

A flock of Canada Geese heading southward:

And Spottled Sandpiper in the lake's spillway:

We continued north on I-81 and stopped at Claytor Lake SP. Osprey and Double-crested Cormorant skirted the lake as thick rain clouds gathered. An American Crow spoke its displeasure at our presence on the lake shore:

A Palm Warbler searched for food as it migrated through:

And a Song Sparrow made its presence known:

September 26th found us on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we stopped at Peaks of Otter and had what we called "The Warbler Show" along the roadside. We just leaned against a split rail fence and counted the migratory warblers ducking in and out of the foliage, some with tasty insects in their beaks.

Black and White Warbler: 

Black-throated Green Warbler:

Chestnut-sided Warbler:

Tennessee Warbler:

Scarlet Tanager:

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male and female):

Yellow-billed Cuckoo:

We also saw the Red-breasted Nuthatch which prefers the higher elevation of the Blue Ridge Parkway:

We drove north and stopped at the one of the view points on the parkway and saw a flock of migratory Swainson's Thrush flitting back and forth across the road:


The Blue Ridge Parkway ends at Rockfish Gap and there is where we saw the hawk watch folks who spend several weeks in September counting the raptors and other birds that fly over the mountains. Thousands of birds are counted during this time. We enjoyed the show of the birds soaring high over the mountains the brief time we were there.

Broad wing Hawk:

 Cooper's Hawk:

ON September 27th we continued north toward home, taking the slow and scenic Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. We stopped at Big Meadows to do a little morning birding. There in a acres of open wildflowers edged in woods, we saw Eastern Bluebird fledglings:

American Goldfinch fledglings:

 Field Sparrow:

 Song Sparrow:

And Blue-headed Vireo:

It was a wonderful ten days of scenery and birding: Seeing the migratory warblers wearing their non-breeding plumage as they made their way south was a highlight. We'll hopefully see them again in their brighter colors come spring.