Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch 9/3/10

Hurricane Earl was on the east coast of Virginia this morning, and I wanted to see if the strong winds may have blown any shore birds our way, so I headed up to Afton Mountain. I arrived at the Hawk Watch at 9:00. Tom M. was already there. The sky was heavily overcast with Earl's western cloud bands, and there was a lot of distant haze. The west side of Earl was generating strong winds from the northwest.

As neither of us were offical Hawk Watch counters, and lacked the "eagle eyes" of some of the experts, we did our best. However, except for some flocks of Rock Pigeons, a few crows, and the occasional Goldfinch, there wasn't too much to see until a little before 11:00. We saw two Northern Harriers a few minutes apart. Each one flew over the ridge across I-64, gaining height in a thermal, and then zoomed past us going south, far to the east of us.

Northern Harriers

A few minutes later, I left to run an errand, and returned around 12:30 and stayed until 3:00. Tom had left, but another unofficial hawk watcher was there. The strong NW winds continued, but the sky gradually brightened as Earl's cloud bands moved to the north. A little before 1:00, a lone Solitary Sandpiper flew by. And this was followed by a flock of 8 to 10 Chimney Swifts.

Solitary Sandpiper

Chimney Swift

About 10 minutes later, we ware talking about the sandpiper and out of nowhere, a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk appeared at eye level about 30 feet away from us. By the time I could get my camera on it and achieve focus, it was already on its way to the west.

juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk

A little while later, I thought that I saw a Bald Eagle flying south far to the east, as my photos appeared to show a white head, and then I saw two more over the ridge across I-64. Howvever, after computer processing the photos, it turned out that the white I was seeing on the camera viewfinder was only the white tip of the beak of a Turkey Vulture, so none of them were eagles. Strange weather from the hurricane - did not do much for seeing raptors.

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