Highland and Rockbridge Counties 8/20-21/12

All photos are Marshall Faintich


A two day birding adventure turned out completely different from what I had planned. I was scheduled to give my "Birds of Wintergreen" presentation to the Bath-Highland Bird Club on Monday evening. My original plan was to arrive in Monterey, VA in Highland County mid-afternoon, doing a little birding there and north in the Blue Grass Valley, get up early Tuesday morning and head back to the Blue Grass Valley, and then make stops on the way home along Cowpasture Rd. and the Confederate Breastworks in Highland County, and Ramsey's Draft in western Augusta County. I had seen Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Northern Parula Warblers there during June and July, and was hoping to see them again plus some migrating warblers, and perhaps a Golden Eagle.

All of last week the weather forecast for Monday and Tuesday in these areas was sunny with highs around 70. On Sunday, the forecast changed to 40% chance of rain on Monday and 20% chance of rain on Tuesday. A small rain front moved through the Wintergreen area early Monday morning, and the state radar picture looked like the rain front had moved through to the east, so I headed out early for Monterey.

It was sunny with a few clouds all the way until the last Allegheny Mountain ridge before Monterey, and as I crossed over the ridge I saw that the entire valley was under a black cloud. It was starting to rain as I got to Monterey, and I had to stop on the way north to Blue Grass Valley because of heavy rain and hail. The weather cleared a bit, and there was some sunshine when I reached Margaret O'Bryan's place north of Blue Grass. Margaret said she hadn't seen much lately, but I was welcome to look. I didn't see very much during a couple of hours there and driving around Blue Grass: American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, American Robin, Barn Swallow, Carolina Wren, Cedar Waxwing, Turkey Vulture, American Crow, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Phoebe, and American Kestrel. It started to rain again, so I headed back to Monterey.


Song Sparrow

When I got back to Monterey, the sun had come out, so I headed west over Monterey Mountain, and on the way back I saw a Bald Eagle. The bird club meeting was held in Bolar, Virginia about 11 miles from Monterey, and I saw an Osprey eating a fish atop a pole on the way, probably caught at a nearby fish hatchery.

I decided to change plans for Tuesday - get up early and stop at Bill and Nancy O.'s place along Cowpasture Rd., and then head down southwest of Lexington, Virginia, where Walt Childs and I had looked unsuccessfully last week for the four Swallow-tailed Kites that had been seen for about two weeks, and were joined by a Mississippi Kite on Sunday.

When I got to Bill's place, Bill was outside and was happy to see me. He had extended an open invitation to Walt and me to park on his property and bird there as well as along Cowpasture Rd. Bill asked me to come inside so he could show me something. One of his house windows, about two feet wide by three feet tall, was almost completely covered by a hornet's nest - fully formed on the outside, but flat against his window like the ant farms I saw as a youngster. I could see all the passage ways and hornets at work inside the nest. Bill asked if I wanted to take a photo of it, but it was much too close for my 400mm lens, and I forgot that I could have used my Ipod Touch camera that was in my car - bummers! It was really neat to see.

I spent about an hour there and saw Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers, a lot of Eastern Towhees, Black and White Warbler, American Redstart, Carolina Wren, Indigo Bunting, Great Blue Heron, Catbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, and a probable Philadelphia Vireo.


Carolina Wren


Juvenile Eastern Towhee


Great Crested Flycatcher


Black and White Warbler


American Redstart


Philadelphia(?) Vireo


Philadelphia(?) Vireo


Great Blue Heron


Great Blue Heron

I then headed off to the country road intersection southwest of Lexington. I didn't have a good map with me, but thought I could find the location as it was less than a week since Walt and I had tried to find the Kites. As I started on the back roads southwest of Lexington, emergency vehicles sped past me three times, and then as I drove onto the final road, two more emergency vehicles passed me. I was only about 400 yards from the intersection where the four Swallow-tailed Kites had been seen perched every day, when I drove around a curve and - "Oh NO!" The road was blocked by an accident. Was fate trying to keep me from seeing the Kites? I barely had enough room to turn my car around and drove back to a place where I could pull off the road to flag down other cars and trucks so they could turn around.


Emergency vehicles

I drove back a short distance and saw a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, a Broad-winged Hawk, Turkey and Black Vultures, Mourning Doves, American Crows, Barn Swallows, Indigo Buntings, and Cedar Waxwings, but no Kites.


Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk


Broad-winged Hawk

I headed back - the road was still blocked, so I continued to wave down approaching cars. And then one of the drivers said, "Marshall?" It was Marty Rockett, the woman who had first reported the Kites two weeks ago, and Walt and I had met her and her husband there last week. She told me to follow her car, and she led me around a back route to get to the intersection where I wanted to be. A few minutes after she left, another birder showed up. It was Dick Rowe, the VMI biology professor who had been documenting the Kites, and he only came back because he wanted to try to find the Mississippi Kite. We stayed there for a while, saw lots of Vultures, a Red-tailed Hawk, and another Broad-winged Hawk.


Broad-winged Hawk


Broad-winged Hawk


Broad-winged Hawk

Dick then suggested we drive in his car and look for the Kites. As we approached the road where I had seen the juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, Dick said, "There's one!" We spent the next five minutes getting lots of photos of a new life bird for me.


Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite


Swallow-tailed Kite



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