Rockfish Valley Trail and Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch 8/20/10

Interesting morning on the Rockfish Valley Trail . . . well, let me start at the beginning.

Given my recent mornings on the trail, I did not think that I needed to rush over there very early. My almost-waterproof boots were still soaked from Tuesday's outing, and I knew that my supposed-to-be-waterproof boots that leak like a sieve would not keep my feet dry, so I donned my waterproof (kayaking) socks and the latter pair of boots, knowing that these socks are hot and I was going to have wet feet no matter what I chose to wear. Got to the main trail kiosk at 8:30, and I headed downstream along the Rockfish River.

The stalled front had moved a bit to the south, but the NW winds were very light, and it was supposed to get into the 90's by the afternoon. I was hoping that perhaps a few birds might have started their migration with the shifting winds.

I soon logged eight species:

Rock Pigeon
Eastern Bluebird
American Crow
American Goldfinch
Eastern Phoebe
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Red-bellied Woodpecker (a noisy pair - probably the ones I saw last time on the trail)

However, there weren't a lot of birds, and I wondered if there might be a hawk in the area. I now need 21 species as my target, because my birding neighbor Frits is giving me grief over counting Rock Pigeons!

Sure enough, in the large tree at the end of the downstream trail sat a Red-shouldered Hawk that flew away as it saw me approaching. Within a couple of minutes there was a lot more bird activity, and I added:

Tufted Titmouse
Cedar Waxwing
Carolina Wren
Carolina Chickadee

I looked back upstream, and on top of the highest branch of the largest dead tree in the area (by the picnic table), there was a Green Heron. I had 14 species in the first 18 minutes on the trail, but although there were lots of birds to be seen, especially Bluebirds, I saw no additional species as I walked into, and then around the bog area. Wondered if I would get even 20 today.

Green Heron

I decided not to walk on the other side of Reids Creek, as I got soaked on Tuesday, and the trail was mowed on the trail side of the creek. As I got farther down the Glenthorne Loop trail, I saw a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a few Eastern Wood-Pewees, and a female Cardinal, bringing my total to 17. Rather than walk back the same path, I crossed the second wooden bridge, and decided to walk along Glenthorne Loop Rd. (route 627) back to the first wooden bridge. Although I was on the sun side of Reids Creek, I was a good distance away. However, there were a few mowed paths where I could walk in toward the creek. As I approached the small pond along route 627, I saw a Green Heron - sized bird fly from the edge of the pond into the nearby bushes, but I was looking through dense branches and leaves, and could not tell for sure what it was.

When I got to the mowed path that leads down to the nursery trailer, there was a Grasshopper Sparrow sitting on a tall reed, and down that path in addition to several Field Sparrows, I saw a Northern Mockingbird, an Indigo Bunting, and a Blue Grosbeak, bringing my morning species count to 21 (Frits - are you happy now?). I then saw a flock of Starlings.

Grasshopper Sparrow

As I approached the first wooden bridge, a Green Heron was sitting near the top of the dead tree at the end of the downstream trail where I had seen the Red-shouldered Hawk earlier.

Green Heron

I crossed the first wooden bridge, and there were two Great Blue Herons sitting in a dead tree about half-way between the picnic table at the end of the downstream trail. As I walked back toward the kiosk, I saw a Cowbird - raising the morning total to 24, but still no Turkey or Black Vultures - it was 10:00 by then, and not seeing any vultures was unusual. I decided to walk the upstream trail to the benches, and another Green Heron was in the river at that bend and flew away as I approached. No more species, but as I got back to my car at 10:30 a lone Turkey Vulture flew overhead, making 25 species for this morning.

Great Blue Heron

It wasn't that the 25 species is a great morning, or the species that I saw, but the order seen and location of the birds, especially the herons high up in dead trees was interesting to me.

I went up to the Hawk Watch on Afton Mountain for about 2-1/2 hours this afternoon, but only saw a few Ravens, Turkey Vultures, a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

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