Dutch Gap, Richmond, VA; Piney Grove Preserve, Waverly, VA 7/23/12

All photos are Marshall Faintich

Walt Childs and I headed east to the Dutch Gap conservation area just south of Richmond and then 40 miles southeast from there to the The Nature Conservancy's Piney Grove Preserve near Waverly, VA. The last and only time I had been to Dutch Gap was on June 5, 2012, when I found my target bird, a Prothonotary Warbler, but it was under dark skies that turned to rain, and I wanted to try again under sunny skies and stay longer to explore there.

Our target bird at Piney Grove was the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which would have been a new life bird for me. Center for Conservation Biology biologists documented ten breeding pairs on Piney Grove Preserve during the breeding season of 2012. This is a modern-day high for Virginia, and represents a five-fold increase from the low of two breeding pairs in the spring of 2000. Breeders produced 26 young this year, and along with 45 total adults, the population of this species has reached its highest level in Virginia in more than 20 years.

When we arrived at Dutch Gap and 10:30, the temperature was already 87 degrees. It wasn't too bad when we were in the shade, but it soon rose into the 90's, and it did get a bit toasty. Our first stop off the perimeter trail was at the 0.1 mile mark down to the fishing dock. We heard a Black-crowned Night Heron in the tall marshy vegetation. There were quite a few birds, but they became a bit agitated as two trucks drove down the path for their crews to take a look at the fishing dock that had separated from the ramp. I heard three Prothonotary Warblers, two of which were close by, and this pair made their way quickly through the dense tree cover and left the immediate area.

Prothonotary Warblers

We continued farther down the perimeter trail, and took another interior trail just past the 0.4 mile marker. This trail led to where I had photographed a Prothonotary Warbler in June, and we heard a few but could not locate them. The heat and time of day kept quite a few birds hunkered down to keep cool, but we did end up with 33 avian species at Dutch Gap in about 2 hours. A lot of the trails had linear spider webs across them, and some of the rarely used trails had huge orbweaver spider webs, along with the spiders, across the paths. One of the highlights on this hike was a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher


Osprey with its lunch


Great Blue Heron

Great Egret

Tufted Titmouse

Laughing Gulls

House Finch



Another Orbweaver

Dutch Gap list (33 species):

Eastern Bluebird
Northern Cardinal
Brown Thrasher
Blue Jay
Northern Mockingbird
American Goldfinch
Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Great Crested Flycatcher
American Robin
Red-eyed Vireo
Barn Swallow
Mourning Dove
Red-winged Blackbird
American Crow
Laughing Gull
Turkey Vulture
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Carolina Wren
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
Blue-gray Gnatcather
House Finch
Pine Warbler
Prothonotary Warbler
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret

Our second stop was at the Piney Grove Preserve. The web site for this preserve featured the 0.3 mile long Darden Nature Trail. So we headed to that trail head and started our hike with great anticipation of seeing a Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Right off the bat we saw a pair of Prairie Warblers deep in the dark vegetation - a good omen, perhaps? But the rest of the Darden Nature Trail was a bust - we saw one Yellow-billed Cuckoo and heard one Eastern Wood-Pewee. We didn't see any signs of the RCWP, or any trees that were nesting sites. Walt and I decided to drive around a bit, and soon saw that the preserve was much larger than the nature trail, but not birder friendly, as there were "No Tresspassing" signs everywhere. We drove slowly around the trail perimeter, saw a Pine Warbler, a juvenile Blue Grosbeak, and a few more Pewees.

We realized that the Big Woods WMA had one boundary adjacent to the Piney Grove Preserve, so we entered the WMA and drove slowly along the perimeter road. At one point, I saw a black and white woodpecker fly across the road from the preserve into the WMA, but we were about 150 feet away, and I couldn't identify it as a RCWP. So we stopped the car, and I headed down the road to look for the woodpecker with my camera. All I saw was a Mourning Dove. When I got back to the car, Walt reported seeing a possible female or immature Bay-breasted Warbler in the brush next to where we had stopped the car. I wish I had seen it so that I could have documented it, and a Bay-breasted Warbler is one of the three remaining central Virginia warblers that I want to photograph. The only other bird species we saw in the WMA was an Eastern Kingbird. IMHO, it wasn't worth the 80 mile round-trip from Dutch Gap.

Prairie Warbler

Pine Warbler

Juvenile Blue Grosbeak

Juvenile Blue Grosbeak

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