With the soreness in my right ankle still continuing, I tried my best to stay off it this week, knowing that on Friday I would be heading off for a 2 week vacation to Indiana and Minnesota, where I'd be doing a lot of exercising. On Monday, while driving home from work, I spotted a pair of Wood Ducks on a small pond off Kings Grant Road just south of Edinburgh Drive. I went home quickly and grabbed my camera & headed back out to try and photograph them. The Wood Ducks it turned out, also had a full brood of ducklings with them on the pond, and there was another adult female in the group. I took photographs from the pullover spot on Edinburgh Drive just east of Kings Grant Road, and also from Kings Grant Road just south of Edinburgh Drive. This was the first time I'd ever gotten to see a family of Wood Ducks, another wonderful thing about my new neighborhood. The ponds here are wooded & secluded enough that the Wood Ducks don't seem to mind nesting here. On Wednesday, I brought my camera in to work so that I could try my hand at photographing some of the nesting Least Terns over at Lynnhaven Mall. I grabbed a parking spot at Dick's Sporting Goods and set up near the stormwater pond between there and the Toys'R'Us store on Lynnhaven. I watched for about 10 or 15 minutes as the terns visited the pond to get drinks of water, at one point, there was at least 25 of them over the pond, and plenty more in the air over the parking lot & the mall. By the end of my lunch, I'd taken about 50 shots, and only really got one or two that were in focus well enough to post online. These terns are tiny (about 9" in length only), they're extremely fast, and they can turn on a dime making it very hard to track them through a camera lens. If I get another chance in the next few weeks, on a sunnier day I'll give it a shot again, it was a nice way to spend my lunchbreak rather than just eating at my desk.
Friday finally arrived after a long week or trying to staying off my ankle. I ended up leaving work around 1 PM and threw all my luggage in the car and headed north and west out of the Hampton Roads region. After 3 hours of driving, I made it to Waynesboro where I made a special stop, to try to photograph a rare bird. For the past couple of weeks, reports have been coming in from birders & photographers from all over of a Purple Gallinule that has been sighted in a coldwater spring in Waynesboro. I decided to stop to see if I could photograph this species for the first time, and add it to my Virginia list since we are very far outside it's normal breeding range. I've seen gallinules in Flordia, at the Everglades National Park as a teenager, but for them to be seen north of Georgia is very uncommon. When I arrived at the spring, no gallinule was visible, but I could see right away what brought this bird so far from it's home territory. The spring is a beautiful, clear pool of water that flows out through a small stream and empties into the South River nearby.
The small stream is lined with very thick trees & underbrush so the gallinule is able to hide when it wants, and then come out to feed in the spring pool at it's discretion. I walked along the stream on a bike path hoping I might catch a glimpse of the bird, and spend about 30 minutes doing so, but unfortunately it didn't come out of the forest. In it's absense, I did get some great shots of a group of Cedar Waxwings, and also saw some American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, American Robins, and Common Grackles & Song Sparrows. I'm still glad I stopped, since it was worth the attempt, and it was great to see the spring & the wildlife that surrounded it, included a pair of Woodchucks on a nearby meadow. Following rarity reports from other's has been a mixed endeavor for me. Last December I was able to see my first King Eider in Virginia Beach after seeing reports that folks had posted online of it's whereabouts. I feel that it sort of cheapened the experience of adding a life bird to my list, but it was still amazing to see the bird in the wild, so it's kind of a tossup. Because of this, I didn't mind so much that the gallinule didn't show up, even though it would have been great to see. I'm hoping when I do see one, that I can be the first in the location to spot one, and then let others decide if they want to chase the rarity or find one on their own. After my stop off at the spring I kept onward down I-64 westward and eventually set up for the night at hotel in Winchester, Kentucky, right outside Lexington.
I got up early, about 6 AM at the hotel and took off towards Indiana, reaching my mother's house in Munster at 10:30 AM Central Time. I got in early enough where I was able to unload all my gear, grab a quick bite to eat, and then take her out to the Indiana Dunes State Park for an afternoon walk. I was surprised at the gate to the park to find out that the cost of entry was $10 for an out of state vehicle, which seems a rip-off to me, but I guess it is what it is. We parked near the Wilson Shelter like I've always done when going hiking in the park. This time though, instead of walking Trail 10 to the north of the parking area, we walked Trail 2 to the southeast of the lot. This trail runs along the south side of the main marsh, then crosses on a long boardwalk to meet up with Trail 10. While walking we heard some Tufted Timice that eventually showed themselves, and then ran into a woman who said the mosquitoes ahead were horrible. We had a good laugh about this since it was about 4 years ago when we'd walked out without any bug spray along Trail 10 and gotten eaten alive until we reached the lake and the breeze knocked them all out of the sky. This time though, we noticed no bugs so clearly the woman had no idea what she was talking about, or she was wearing perfume or something else that attracted them to her. The boardwalk in the marsh turned out to be completely waterlogged. Segments of the wooden spans were floating in the water after apparently becoming buoyant from sitting in the foot deep water of the marsh. Since my mom was with me, this was as far as we went, and then turned around. Had I been alone, I probably would have considered just getting my feet wet but my decision today was made easy for me. Along the way back to the car, we saw some American Goldfinches, heard some Gray Catbirds, and a I got a couple shots of my first Eastern Chipmunk of the year. I miss having these guys around, since all we have in Virginia Beach & the surrounding area is the Eastern Gray Squirrels. We made it back to the car with no mosquito bites, dry feet, and an appetite so we headed back home for dinner.
On Sunday, my mom's whole side of the family was all coming over to her house for a pool party, and had we had it yesterday during the 85 degree sunny heat it would have been great. Today instead, was only 55 and it was pretty cloudy & windy out. Since the party started at 1 PM, I went out early in the morning back to the Indiana Dunes SP to get a longer hike in. Yet again I paid the annoying $10 fee at the gate, though I could have taken my mom's car & saved $5, but, I like driving my own vehicle. I parked again at the Wilson Shelter but this time headed onto Trail 10, knowing that Trail 2 was a dead end as long as the marsh water elevation remained so high. Along Trail 10, it is evident that there was a controlled burn in some of the valleys on it's north side. The trees are all scorched and the underbrush has yet to return to the areas. I'm not sure of the purpose for this particular burn, but around Virginia they do this to kill off invasive species of plants, and also to re-kickstart the growth of the forest. Near the junction with Trail 9's shortcut, I watched as a pair of White-tailed Deer ran up the ridge above the valley they were feeding in. Also nearby, an Eastern Fox Squirrel was hopping around looking for acorns on the ground to eat. I didn't see much in the way of birds, aside from American Robins, and a couple of Gray Catbirds, though I could hear lots of birds in the forest canopy.
With the cloudy skies it made seeing anything high up essentially impossible. I walked Trail 10 to the far eastern side of the park and then headed up and over the dune ridge out onto the beach. Along the ridge I could hear an Ovenbird singing, but as is the case most of the time with these birds, I couldn't locate him visually. When I reached the beach I was amazed to see just how windy the lake was. The waves looked more like what I see on the ocean beaches in Virginia than what I remember ever seeing on Lake Michigan. They had to be in the range of over 5' high. The beachfront was mostly eaten up by the incoming waves, and water was constantly lapping almost all the way to where the dune grasses began growing. I walked the beachfront down to the Beachhouse Blowout dune area & then headed inland. Along it, I found a few Ring-billed Gulls, and some interesting green bugs on the beach debris, but that was it for wildlife. While walking up into the blowout I heard a Prairie Warbler singing up on the ridgeline. I walked up the side dunes in search of it, and though I'm certain it was only a few feet away from me in a tree, I just couldn't spot it. After a solid 20 minutes of searching I finally gave up and kept along the ridge line toward the back of the blowout. The sun had poked out briefly while I was on the high ground, and provided me an opportunity to take some photographs of the lake & the surrounding duneland terrain.
While photographing this, a Field Sparrow flew in very near me and landed on some of the wood fences that work to stop dune erosion in the park. I switched out lenses & got just one shot of it before it flew off. I'd only seen my first of this species just a few months ago in Virginia, and now it seems I'm seeing them quite often when I'm out hiking, its very funny how that seems to occur. Once you've identified a bird for the first time, they start popping up everywhere. From the top of the blowout, I took the trail down into the valley behind the dunes. Since the sand is soft and deep here I got to run down hill while leaping and taking huge strides, it was a lot of fun, and a lot more fun than going up the dune was. Down in the valley, I saw an Eastern Towhee that was perched on the end of treebranch, snapped some shots, and continued on along the Trail 9. I took the "shortcut" trail back to Trail 10, hitting it just where I'd seen the White-tailed Deer earlier in the morning. From that point I followed Trail 10 back to the car, and didn't see anything else eventful on the way. I then headed back to my mom's house for the party where I got to see my sister Ellen & her boyfriend John, my cousin Paul, his wife Marjorie & their daughter Riley, my cousin Sarah, her husband Jason & their daughter Annabelle, my Aunt Annette & Uncle David, my Aunt Roz & Uncle Peter, and my Uncle Daniel as well. After the party I got all my stuff packed back up and got everything ready to head out early Monday morning en route to the house I grew up in, in Ely, Minnesota!