Highland and Augusta Counties 2/21/13

All photos are Marshall Faintich

Some days turn out to be really good birding days. When Walt Childs arrived at my house at 8:45 this morning, we hadn't made up our minds where we would go this day. We talked about Dutch Gap south of Richmond, southern Albemarle County, Stuart's Draft in Augusta County, and then Walt asked me to pick, as he has already seen most of the birds that we might see anywhere within a two hour drive from here in Stoney Creek. I decided on Highland County first to look for Golden Eagles, and then ending the day in the Swoope area of Augusta County to look for the Short-eard Owls that I had missed 10 days ago when I was there. I had previously taken some "just okay" photos of Golden Eagles in previous years at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch, and a few really poor photos of SE Owls near Zion Crossroads last year. Hoping, but not expecting to see any new life birds, my targets for the day were for better photos.

We headed northwest on route 250 to Monterey, and then north on route 220, and then west to the Blue Grass Valley. We saw six Red-tailed Hawks along route 250 in Augusta County, and stopped at points along the way to check fields and bird feeders. By the time we ended the day we logged almost 30 avian species, including a dozen RT Hawks, about the same number of American Kestrels, and the bird species that are described below. When we got to Blue Grass, we turned north on Wimer Road, and planned to drive slowly up to the highest elevation on that road, just before the Virginia boundary with West Virginia. We thought that Wimer Road might be the best route to see Golden Eagles, and we drove slowly to check for a Long-eared Owl that had been reported there multiple times during previous years.

As we neared the apex, Walt looked over his shoulder, and proclaimed, "Eagle!" We stopped the car, and near a distant ridge, saw a juvenile Golden Eagle.


Golden Eagle

We watched the eagle for about a minute, and then it headed our direction. Less than a minute later, a second juvenile Golden Eagle appeared over the same ridge and followed the first one. When the pair of Golden Eagles got to us, they soared in circles over our heads for a few minutes, as if to say "Look at us and take some photos!" and then they headed off back and over the same ridge.


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle

We continued up to the apex of Wimer Road, got out for a few minutes, and as we were getting back into the car, Walt told me look in the field across the road - a possum! Not an unusual species, but rare to see in the day time.


Possum

We head slowly back down Wimer Road looking for the Long-eared Owl when I saw a flock of six to eight sparrows in one of the fields, and I asked Walt to stop the car so I could get a better look. They were American Tree Sparrows - a new life bird for me, and a new Virginia bird for Walt!


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow


American Tree Sparrow

We took a different route back to Monterey where we had a late and leisurely lunch. Along the route there we saw a large Fox Squirrel and a Ewe giving birth. After watching the sheep, we were pleased that it was still quite a distance to drive to get back to Monterey for our lunch break :-)


Fox Squirrel


Ewe

Our last stop of the day was at Swoope in Augusta County to look for the Short-eared Owls. We arrived there around 4:30 and drove around Swoope slowly looking for other birds, as we did not expect the SE Owls to be out much before 6 p.m. To our surprise, when we turned the corner on Cattleman Road just past Livick Road at 5:10, there were already two of the SE Owls perched in a nearby tree.


Short-eared Owls

I got out of the car and slowly approached the tree where they were perched. One of the SE Owls soon flew away, but the other SE Owl did not mind my getting closer.


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl

And then the second SE Owl took off, and we saw another SE Owl flying in the distance - perhaps the first one?


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl

We ended the day's adventure watching distant Owls, a perched Northern Harrier, and a fox all searching in the same field for dinner.


Fox



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