Augusta & Highland Counties, VA; WVA, 4/5/16

All photos are Marshall Faintich

Walt Childs and I headed west over the Blue Ridge mountains into the Shenandoah Valley and points west of there. I had two photo objectives for the outing. The first was to stop at the Great Horned Owl nest in Augusta County that Walt and his wife, Nancy, had found last week. Walt and I had gone to see it a couple of days later, but it was windy and very cloudy, and I wanted to try for some morning sunlight shots. There was bright sun this morning, but it was cold. The morning temperature at lower elevations was right around freezing, and in the upper 20s at higher elevations. The second photo objective was to return to the four-way intersection up on Reddish Knob to look for Red Crossbills. This was my third trip there in three weeks. I had lots of good photos of male Red Crossbills, but I wanted better photos of female Red Crossbills.

When we arrived at the owl nest site, we had good views of the Great Horned Owl and its owlet. The nest was far from the road on private property, but the long camera lens and good sunlight resulted in a few decent photos.


Great Horned Owl and owlet


Great Horned Owl and owlet

When we arrived at the Reddish Knob site, there were three Red Crossbills gathering grit, but we couldn't see them at first, and they flew up into a tree as we approached them. One of the Crossbills appears to be an immature male, as it was starting to get its red coloring. The others were a male and a female.


Female Red Crossbill


Immature male Red Crossbill

The Red Crossbills flew back into the forest, and a few minutes later, seven Red Crossbills showed up. Three male and three female Red Crossbills landed to gather grit, while a male Red Crossbill remained perched in a nearby tree - perhaps doing sentinel duty?


Male Red Crossbill


Female Red Crossbill


Male and female Red Crossbills


Male and female Red Crossbills


Female Red Crossbills


Female Red Crossbill


Male and female Red Crossbills

Just as I started to circle around the flock to get a better sunlight angle on the birds, a car came speeding up the road and the Crossbills took flight into the trees.


Male and female Red Crossbills


Male and female Red Crossbills

I was able to get a few more photos before the flock left the intersection.


Female Red Crossbill


Female Red Crossbill


Female Red Crossbill


Female Red Crossbill


Female Red Crossbill

We decided not wait for the Crossbills to return for more photos, and rather than head back down Briery Branch Road, we chose to take route 25 down the West Virginia side of Reddish Knob, drive over to route 220, and head south into Highland County, Virginia, and then do some birding in the Blue Grass Valley, going onto Wimer Mountain Road from the north rather than our usual route from Monterey. A short distance down the road from the Reddish Knob four-way intersection, we stopped when a Ruffed Grouse was on the road shoulder, so close to the car that I could only get a head shot of it. I then slowly exited the car to get a few more photos before it slowly descended down the steep grade into the forest.


Ruffed Grouse


Ruffed Grouse

We stopped again a short distance later to view a White-breasted Nuthatch and a Blue-headed Vireo.


Blue-headed Vireo

The Blue Grass Valley wasn't very "birdy," but we did see a few good birds, and it was the first time we had gotten there from the West Virginia side. Best birds there were a pair of Vesper Sparrows and a Red-headed Woodpecker. We ended the day trip with 44 avian species.


Red-headed Woodpecker


Vesper Sparrow


American Kestrel


Squirrel



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