Week Ending September 14, 2014

Though I was out of town over the past weekend in Nashville, Tennessee, and didn't make it back to Virginia Beach until late Monday night, I heard a lot about how much rain we had over the weekend. On Monday, some parts of the area reported 4-5 inches of rain, which is an incredible amount in a 24-hour timespan! Thanks to this nasty weather to start the week, I'm sure not too many folks ventured out to seek out wildlife. Even at the Hawkwatch site at Kiptopeke State Park on the Eastern Shore, only 2 raptors (1 Osprey & 1 Merlin) were observed on Monday. So, for the sake of wildlife viewing, I'm not too bummed that I was traveling back to Virginia beach on Monday, but I do love a good downpour, so I still wish I'd been here to see it. Rainfall is kind of the reason I do the full time job I do (hydraulic engineer), and flooding control is my specialty so it's very interesting to me when I get to see just what nature can conjure up against engineered systems like storm drain culverts & inlets. The weather hung around for Tuesday as well, and yet again resulted in another slow day at the Hawkwatch site, though much better than the prior day with a total of 29 raptors sighted. No new species were recorded, but a Peregrine Falcon (only the 3rd thus far this season) was seen. Wednesday, the weather finally took a turn for the better and it was quite a gorgeous day out. As my luck would have it, and I'm going to blame this on all the traveling and running around I've had to do recently, I came down with either a cold or a nasty bout of fall allergies. So another day for me of not getting outdoors, and it was the perfect day to get out, the Hawkwatch sighted 275 raptors, the most in a single day thus far this season! Among the raptors included the first Swainson's Hawk sighting of the season, a species that shows up in small numbers during migration but is typically a more western species, and a bird that I've never had the pleasure of seeing.

Black-throated Green Warbler, one of many migrant songbirds I saw while out of town this weekend. Folks have been reporting numerous species in Hampton Roads this week as well.

There was also a lot of reports of huge numbers of shorebirds out on flooded farmfields across southern Virginia Beach on Tuesday and Wednesday, though I've been told the birds have since moved off as the field have totally dried up now. Thursday, continuing my illness, I missed out on my final chance for the week to get out and about in the area. Unfortunately, though I'm excited, I'll be heading out of town Friday around lunchtime to head up to the mountains of North Carolina for a good buddy's bachelor party at a cabin near Grandfather Mountain. I'm hoping to get out to do some hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway on Saturday and maybe Sunday before we head back, but will not have any further personal observations to report on from the Hampton Roads area as a result. I am also hoping that whatever is causing me to not feel so hot the past few days will relinquish it's hold on me so I can enjoy the weekend with my friends. 

Another migrant songbird, the beautiful Blue-headed Vireo.

On Friday, I made the trip out to Boone, NC with my friend Chris, who is getting married in October, and chose to have a bachelor party out here in the mountains at a cabin with three of his groomsmen (myself included). Friday night, still not feeling well from whatever I caught this week, I went to bed pretty early compared to the other guys, around 11 PM. Because of this, I was up right at 6 AM like I usually am, which was welcomed. Everyone else was still sleeping through the morning, so I spent some time out on the back porch of the cabin, which was on the second floor of the building, and looked down on the treetops below. I hadn’t expected much, given that it was a dreary, on-again off-again rainy morning, but I started to see songbirds almost immediately. For a couple of hours, I walked the grounds of the cabin (the Kumbaya Cabin, officially known), and I managed to pick up quite a number of migrants starting to make their way south for the coming winter. Black-throated Green Warblers, Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, American Redstarts, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were all seen, better than I could have anticipated. By the time the other guys had gotten up and moving, I’d probably taken 200 photographs and seen 20 odd species of birds from the porch. Once ready, we grabbed lunch at a local bbq joint, which was not very good, and then three of us headed out to Grandfather Mountain State Park. About the time we reached the park, the clouds actually broke and the sun began to come out, just in time! We parked on the way up the mountain side and then hiked the last 500’ or so elevation change to the swinging bridge at the top. This was Chris’ and his friend Mike’s first time to the park, to which they were shocked by the $20 admission fee per person (as was I), but, they were amazed by the views from the top so at least everyone was happy. There is apparently a Hawk Watch program here at the park similar to the one at Kiptopeke, and when I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk, someone radioed to the team that one was sighted coming down the mountain. They ran past us as we exited the Mile High Bridge and went back down to the parking area. We stopped down at the zoo section of the park, saw the bears, and actually the Cougars as well, then headed out down the Blue Ridge Parkway southward towards Linville Falls. At Linville, we walked the typical trails out to the first two overlooks, finding the river flowing quite full and some of the trails being a sloppy mess. We headed back again to the car, this time driving back to the cabin for dinner.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, one of the most hyper songbirds you can find, rarely sitting still for more than a split second...I got lucky on this one.

On Sunday, we got an early start, and stopped halfway in Burlington, NC to watch part of the first NFL games of the day, but then made it home about 4 PM or so to Virginia Beach. I did some catching up on what was going on around my area while I was out of town and the Hawk Watch site at Kiptopeke reported huge numbers of raptors moving down the Eastern Shore with over 500 Ospreys being sighted on Saturday & Sunday. Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks also look to have begun showing up now as 130 of the two species were counted, and 446 American Kestrels were seen as well. Sunday also proved to be the best day so far for Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and Broad-winged Hawks as well. Interestingly, while I was out in the mountains I had gone up to Grandfather Mountain and found out that it also is a hawk watch site. I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk and a park worker radioed it down to the team, whom I later saw running up the mountain to try and spot it, though it doesn't appear they recorded it in their counts, I plan to send in a photograph that I took of the bird as soon as I get a chance too. It also seems that the same birds I was seeing out in the mountains were being seen around here on their migrations as well. Warblers appear to be the big ones that people have been focusing on, with lots of beautiful photographs being added to Facebook over the weekend, especially from Weyanoke Bird Sanctuary in Norfolk. Many warbler species like Common Yellowthroats, Prairie, Palm, Black-and-White, Magnolia, and Black-throated Blue Warblers have been sighted in Hampton Roads. With Craney Island now open every other Saturday for birders, this has also become a hotspot for seeing fall migrants. This week, folks reported an Eared Grebe, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Wilson's & Red-necked Phalaropes as well. This coming week I should be able to put together a bit better of a blog since I will finally be in town for a weekend and hope to get out hiking quite a bit. It seems that everything is now on the move south so the migration is really starting to get going, and there should be some great sightings over the next week as well!

The view from Grandfather Mountain looking east down the slopes of the Blue Ridge.