Highland County, VA 12/2/13

All photos are Marshall Faintich

There have been reports from the past few years of a Long-eared Owl, and reports last week of a juvenile Northern Goshawk, in Highland County, Virginia. Both of the these species would be life birds for me. I may have seen Northern Goshawks twice in the past, but did not get good enough looks at them to make the call for sure. Highland County is also a good place to look for Golden Eagles. Although there was complete cloud cover, Walt Childs and I made the drive there to look for these species and whatever else might turn up. The cloud cover might even make finding hawks and owls a bit easier.

On the drive up from Monterey to the Blue Grass Valley, we saw two Red-shouldered Hawks along route 220.


Red-shouldered Hawks

We saw various small birds in Higland County, but a pair of them was a bit puzzling. In the field, these two birds looked to me like Common Grackles, as I saw all black birds with light pupils and bluish sheen on their heads. But the photos clearly show a short tail and a brownish back, so Rusty or Brewer's Blackbirds are also possibilities.


Grackle/blackbird

After taking Wimer Mountain Road (642) to almost the West Virginia border, we headed back and turned onto Hardscrabble Road (644). Just before we got to route 643, I saw a female American Kestrel perched on a fence post, and got out of the car to get a few photos.


Female American Kestrel

And then the fun really started. While I was photographing the Kestrel, I heard a bird calling behind me and out of sight over the top of a ridge. The best way I can describe it was that it sounded like a very loud scream. A few seconds later, while I was still focused on the Kestrel, Walt called out, "Large raptor flying to the left!" I looked up to the sky, but didn't see anything. Walt yelled at me to look lower to the ground, but we were looking down into a valley with a mountain ridge behind it, and I never saw the bird. Walt said it was really big, and wondered if it might have been a Golden Eagle. I took out my Sibley birding app and played the Golden Eagle calls - no match. Then I played the juvenile Northern Goshawk call - it was identical to what I had heard. With my hearing the Goshawk, and Walt's seeing it, we logged it as a trip bird, but I didn't call it a life bird because my personal criterion is a visual and/or a photo. We decided to turn down route 643 to try to re-locate the Goshawk. A short distance down the road, a hawk flew up, but it was a Red-tailed, and this hawk flew farther down the road and perched in a tree with another Red-tailed Hawk.


Red-tailed Hawks

We spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker along route 643, turned left onto route 642, and took it all the way down to Blue Grass Valley Road (640). No Goshawk.


Red-headed Woodpecker

We decided to go back along that route and head north on Hardscrabble Road from where I had heard the Goshawk, to see if it had returned to that area. A short way up on Hardscrabble, we stopped when we saw an eagle perched in tree. From that distance, we thought it was a Golden Eagle, especially since Golden Eagles are more often seen in the Blue Grass Valley than are Bald Eagles, at least from our experience birding there.


Eagle

This eagle then took off, flew to the north, and then reversed direction and flew low and directly over my head! Turns out that it was not a Golden Eagle, but a juvenile Bald Eagle. I took lots of photos of the flyover, and have posted only some of them, but enough to give the reader a feeling of what I experienced.


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle


Juvenile Bald Eagle

It was getting to be late in the afternoon, and with increasing dark cloud cover, we decided to head for home, but chose to take Blue Grass Valley Road back to route 250 instead of route 220. Along the way, I spotted something white in a small creek far below the road, and we stopped to get a better look. There were no other birds around. It was a juvenile Tundra Swan! What the heck was it doing there?? We saw the swan eating vegetation from the creek.


Juvenile Tundra Swan


Juvenile Tundra Swan

Well, I almost got a life bird on this trip, and it sure was an exciting chase.

Today's list (31 species):

Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Red-shouldered Hawk
Northern Goshawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
European Starling
Eastern Towhee
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Grackle/Blackbird
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow



E-mail comments on this report


Return to blog page home