Rockfish Valley Trail 9/30/11

All photos are Marshall Faintich


It was a beautiful morning to be on the trail - cooler temperatures, lower humidity, and sunny skies. When I arrived at 8:30, there wasn't a lot of activity - perhaps a bit too early as a lot of the trail was still in the shadows of the Ragged Mountains, or perhaps there were predators about. Turns out that both assumptions were correct. By 9:00, however, there was plenty of avian activity on the trail.

There were large flocks of Cedar Waxwings and Starlings, and I ended up with 31 species for the morning's list.


Cedar Waxwings


Starlings


Belted Kingfisher

The most interesting birds were a couple of Yellow-billed Cuckoos. I saw the first one on the east side of Reids Creek near the second wooden bridge, and the second one in the brush at about the same location, but on the west side of Reids Creek. The first one appears to be a juvenile as there is still a lot of black on its upper mandible. Compare this Cuckoo to the adult I photographed on the trail on September 8, 2011. The second one must be a young juvenile, as there is no yellow in its bill. It does have a yellow orbital ring and a white throat that distinguishes it from a Black-billed Cuckoo, although it is a bit late in the year (according to Sibley's guide) to be seeing an all-dark bill on a young juvenile. Unfortunately, I could not see the size of the white spots on its undertail to be sure that it was not a Black-billed Cuckoo.


Juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Yellow-billed Cuckoo (9/8/2011)


Young Juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo


Young Juvenile Yellow-billed Cuckoo

However, it was the hawks that stole the show. As soon as I crossed the second wooden bridge to the east side of Reids Creek, there was a lot of commotion in a freshly cut field. A mob of Crows was harassing a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that had landed in that field to eat its breakfast. They soon chased the young hawk away, and a Turkey Vulture landed less than a minute later to see what was left to eat. And then papa Red-shouldered Hawk flew to the field to make sure that junior was okay, circled, and headed back toward the downstream trail. I then saw several large kettles of mixed Black and Turkey Vultures.


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Turkey Vulture


Red-shouldered Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk

As I made the turn around the bog area, I saw a Red-tailed Hawk in the distance. It must have been the same one I photographed on the September 17th Virginia Environmental Assembly bird walk on the trail, but this time I got better photos. The white bars on its back are more clearly visible, along with its very light head, and wing tips that fall quite short of the tail tips. It appears to be a Harlan's sub-species.


Harlan's Hawk

Suddenly I heard the loud call of a Red-shouldered Hawk. It was papa again, probably shouting instructions to junior who had just joined one of the kettles of Vultures.


Red-shouldered Hawk


Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk

The 31st species I saw this morning was an unidentified warbler. All I saw of it was its solid, bright and deeply colored, yellowish-olive backside as it flew into the low and dense vegetation along the upstream trail. And if all that excitement weren't enough for one morning, two of the rams in the upstream field were having a major disagreement.

In a reversal of fortune from yesterday's weather, it clouded over as soon as I got home. This morning's list (31 species):

Eastern Bluebird
Indigo Bunting
American Crow
Catbird
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Northern Cardinal
Rock Pigeon
Carolina Wren
House Wren
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Unidentified Warbler
Flicker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
American Goldfinch
Blue Jay
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Belted Kingfisher
Starling
Cedar waxwing
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Northen Mockingbird
Red-shouldered Hawk
Harlan's Hawk
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Raven



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