Blue Ridge Parkway; Rockfish Valley Trail 5/3/13

All photos are Marshall Faintich

This was the third day in a row that Walt Childs and I headed out to look for warblers. We didn't know that it would turn out to be the best day of this three-day adventure.

Even though we knew that there was major roadwork up on the Blue Ridge Parkway between mile markers 11 and 13, we took a chance to bird before and after the construction area. The forecasted sunshine had not appeared, and the skies were almost completely overcast. When we got to mm. 13, there was fresh pavement and we heard some birds, so we decide to take a look. There were a few Red-eyed Vireos and a couple of American Redstarts.


American Redstart


American Redstart


Red-eyed Vireo

And then I heard a familiar song - an elusive Cerulian Warbler. Although this is a tough bird for many birders to find, I have seen them every year along the first 14 miles of the parkway, and they have nested in previous years just north of mm. 12. However, with the start of the parkway improvements at the end of May 2012, I hadn't seen them since early May 2012. Then I located the Cerulean - it was fairly close by. Walt was really excited - although he is an experienced, international birder, he said that this was the best look he had ever had of a Cerulean. Well, if that's all we were to have for the day, Walt's day was already a success.


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler

A Red-tailed Hawk made a close flyover, and then we headed north on the parkway. Between mm. 13 and mm. 12, we saw a Broad-winged Hawk perched along the parkway.


Broad-winged Hawk

Whe we got to mm. 12 (Hickory Springs Overlook), the road crew had already moved farther north, and there wasn't any construction there. This overlook has been one of my two favorite spots for birding along the first 14 miles of the parkway. The first thing that Walt noticed was the wild trillium flowers in bloom there.


Trillium


Trillium

There were female American Redstarts, which was a good sign that they were nesting nearby, and we saw a Yellow-throated Vireo.


American Redstart


American Redstart


Yellow-throated Vireo

We continued north, made our way through the smelling and steamy fresh asphalt that was being laid, and stopped at my other favorite parkway stop - the large cirque between mm. 7 and mm. 8. This is where we had good looks at a Worm-eating Warbler two days earlier, and where we saw the bear. Once again, we heard a WE Warbler, but it was a bit higher up in the woods and we did not see it. But there were more female American Redtsarts and a Scarlet Tanager. A chipmunk tried unsuccessfully to hide from my camera.


American Redstart


American Redstart


Scarlet Tanager


Chipmunk

We stopped just north of the Humpback Rocks visitor center, where we saw a Black and White Warbler feasting on a large bug. We then exited the parkway at route 610, but headed north parallel to the parkway, rather than down the Blue Ridge as we had done two days earlier. We saw several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and a Pine Warbler - our 5th warbler of the day.


Black and White Warbler


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


Pine Warbler

It was still heavily overcast, but we decided to head north onto Skyline Drive, and made our way up to the Riprap Trail about 15 miles from the southern end. I made my usual 100 foot walk along the Appalachian Trail, as I always do when I get to part of it - I like to tell people that I have hiked parts of the AT, but try not to tell them how much (little) of it I have hiked :-). We didn't see or hear very much on Skyline Drive - a few Redstarts, Chipping Sparrows, and a Tufted Titmouse.


Tufted Titmouse

We drove south again, went into Waynesboro for some lunch, and decided to make our way back down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Reids Gap at mm. 14. The sun was starting to come out, and we hoped that the sunshine might bring out a few more warblers. When we got to the cirque between mm. 7 and mm. 8, there were male American Redstarts, and a very cooperative Cerulean Warbler let me take lots of photos of it.


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler


Cerulian Warbler

When we stopped at Hickory Springs Overlook for the second time today, there were several male American Redstarts.


American Redstart


American Redstart


American Redstart

Then I saw a flash of yellow - our first Hooded Warbler of the year.


Hooded Warbler


Hooded Warbler


Hooded Warbler


Hooded Warbler


Hooded Warbler

With six warbler species for the day, I suggested that we drive down route 664 and continue around route 627 so we could check out the east side of Reids Creek on the Rockfish Valley Trail. I knew where Common Yellowthroats were nesting, so we should be able to add at least one more warbler to the day's list. Walt dropped me off at the second wooden bridge, and drove down to the first wooden bridge to pick me up. Along the way, I added eight more avian species to bring our day's count to 52. Sure enough, there was a Common Yellowthroat near the small pond.


Common Yellowthroat

And then I got lucky again. As I approached the first wooden bridge, I heard an unfamiliar warbler song. Not too far from me in some small trees sat a beautiful Prairie Warbler.


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler

After taking a few photos, I met up with Walt and we both walked back to where the Prairie Warbler had been singing. We heard it again, and a small bird flew into the trees along Reids Creek. It appeared to be a different Prairie Warbler because it has bolder facial markings.


Prairie Warbler


Prairie Warbler

Walt and I ended our three-day warbler hunt with 10 warbler species and a few good photos.



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