Highland County, VA, 1/7/16

All photos are Marshall Faintich


It was a beautiful winter day for birding - bright, sunny skies, and afternoon temperatures in the upper 40s. Walt Childs and I decided to make the 80 mile, 2 hour drive to the Blue Grass Valley in the Allegheny Mountains of Highland County to look for Golden Eagles and other winter birds. On the way there, we saw three Red-tailed Hawks and some other common species.

We arrived at the Blue Grass Valley around 11:00 a.m, and headed up Wimer Mountain Road (Route 640). Birds were fairly scarce as we drove, but we did see a fast-flying Bald Eagle as we neared the West Virginia border. It was unusually quiet there. Snow from earlier in the week remained on northern slopes and in shaded areas. We hoped that we would see some good birds there, in addition to the spectacular scenery, but we weren't very optomistic at that point.


White-breasted Nuthatch

We headed back down Wimer Mountain Road, and turned west on Hardscrabble Road (Route 644). We still didn't see very many birds - one American Kestrel and few Blue Jays and Crows. We got to Heavener Road (Route 643), and decided to continue west. On several previous trips there, Walt and I had good luck seeing Bald and Golden Eagles west of Heavener Road, but never went more than about one mile west of Heavener Road. Still no luck. Well, the road was dry with a few potholes, and we decided to go even farther, catch a road on the West Virginia side of the mountains, and then head back to the top of Wimer Mountain Road. We stopped in a mile or so to get a good look at our second Bald Eagle of the day, and it flew after a couple of minutes of our being there.


Bald Eagle


Bald Eagle

About a half mile later, we stopped when the road headed sharply downhill on the north side of a ridge, and the road was ice covered. We didn't know what to expect if we continued on, or if we could get back up that stretch of road if we needed to turn back, so we decided to save the loop trip for a summer trip there. Going back toward Heavener Road turned out very well for us. Before we got there, we stopped when I spotted a large brown bird perched in a distant tree. It was an immature Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle

We got out of the car for me to take some photos, and for Walt to get some looks with his binoculars. After a minute, the Golden Eagle flew from the tree and circled low over the field. We didn't know if it was going to perch again or fly away.


Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle decided to go somewhere else, but slowly circled over and over again as it climb in a thermal. I'm not sure how many loops it made before leaving, but it was circling for about 10 minutes as it climbed! Needless to sy, I took lots of photos, and here are a few of them.


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle


Golden Eagle

Well, that made the trip worthwhile! We turned south on Heavener Road, and then east on Route 642. We saw another American Kestrel and a few more species. When we got to Blue Grass Valley Road (Route 640), we opted to go west and south rather than heading back to Route 220 to Monterey, and we continued past Route 250 all the way to Route 84, where we headed east to Route 220 and north to Monterey before returning home. Along the way, we saw three more American Kestrels, two more Red-tailed Hawks, and out first Red-shouldered Hawk of the day. We saw our sixth Red-tailed Hawk east on I-64 and ended up with 25 avian species for the trip.


American Kestrels


Red-shouldered Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk



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