I took a short hike during the late afternoon down to the Allen Creek Nature Preserve. I saw a few species, but there wasn't too much avian activity.
I awoke to dense fog this morning. By the time I arrived at the trail a little after 9:00, the fog had cleared from the valley, but avian activity was very sparse on the trail. The cooler and drier air had gone, and the humidity and heat had returned. Some of the birds I saw flew into dense tree cover before I could identify them, and I left after seeing 15 species in 45 minutes.
Great Blue Heron
It was still fairly early, so I decided to head up route 664 to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Reids Gap (mm. 14) to check for warblers. Hickory Springs Overlook (at mm. 12) has been a consistently good warbler spot for at least the past six years with nesting American Redstarts and Cerulean Warblers, and is a good spot to look for migrating warblers. My other favorite spot on the first 14 miles of the parkway is the south (upper) end of the large cirque (near mm 7.5) that can sometimes be loaded with warblers. As I drove up the 2000 foot climb on route 664, I could see that the fog had cleared from the east (Rockfish Valley) side of the Blue Ridge.
When I arrived at Reids Gap, I noticed two problems. The fog on the west (Shenandoah Valley) side was still dense. In addition, a road crew was working on the road shoulders on the parkway. The first 14 miles of the parkway have been under re-construction for the past two years, and have played havoc with birding there. I thought that most of the road work had been completed, but it looks like they will be working their way to the north end of the parkway. For sure, they will be at Hickory Springs Overlook right smack dab in the middle of warbler migration next month.
I arrived at Hickory Springs Overlook a few minutes later, and there was dense fog, but I decided to wait for a while to see if it cleared. After a short wait, the fog rolled in and out in waves, and I could see a lot of avian activity during the sunny interludes. There were Eastern Towhees, Gray Catbirds, American Goldfinches, Tufted Titmice, Red-eyed Vireos, and Woodpeckers. I was surprised to see a Black-capped Chickadee as they are uncommon on the east side of the Shenandoah Valley. Some of my photos are grainy from shooting through light fog.
And then I saw some smaller and more colorful birds foraging low in the brush. The first one was a Worm-eating Warbler.
The second warbler I saw was a bit more difficult to identify. Some of these warbler photos were taken through light fog. This drab colored warbler could have been one of five species: Blackburnian, Cerulean, Blackpoll, Pine, or Bay-breasted, as fall female plumages of all of these species are similar. I eliminated the first two because the tail looked to be too long, and eliminated Blackpoll because it did not have yellow feet. But it was a tough call for me to decide between Pine and Bay-breasted, but I think that Bay-breasted is the best call because of the strong wing bars. Any other opinions would be appreciated. I think that the top and bottom photos are of the same bird, but two different birds are a possibility.
[Update] I took another look at the photos of this bird that I did not use, and one of the photos shows white tips on the tertial and primary wing feathers, confirming the Bay-breasted Warbler identification.
Then I got a few good shots of one of my favorites: a fall plumage Northern Parula.
The fourth warbler species at this stop was a quick look at a Black and White Warbler.
Black and White Warbler
Next stop was at the cirque where there wasn't a lot of activity. A large flock of Common Grackles flew by, and then I saw a female American Redstart and a male Black and White Warbler.
Black and White Warbler
Black and White Warbler
After passing the visitor center, I left the parkway for a short ride on route 610. I saw a few common woodland birds.
I got back onto the parkway a little farther to the north, only to find that the parkway was entirely torn up the last two miles to Rockfish Gap. Oh well, I usually haven't seen too many birds on that stretch, and planned to stop for a while at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch. When I got to the hawk watch site (northeast corner of the Inn at Afton), there was a construction truck parked on the grass right where we sit to watch for the hawks. The truck door was open, and the radio was blaring loudly so that painters and other workmen could enjoy their music while they worked. It was really loud, and I am sure that no hawk would come near to the noise, so I left. Hope that the workers are gone soon.