Blue Ridge Parkway & Warbler Road, VA, 4/15/16

All photos are Marshall Faintich

We are one to two weeks away from the usual influx of migrating and summer resident warblers here in the mountains and valleys of central Virginia, although a few of the early migrants have started to appear. Southerly winds of the past few days may have gotten the birds moving toward us. I had never been to Warbler Road off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and my birding buddy, Walt Childs, had only been there one time in previous years. It's a bit of a haul to get there, and most of the warblers seen there can also been seen closer to home, either along the first 14 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, at other high elevation sites along the Skyline Drive and in the Allegheny Mountains, as well at some good lower elevation sites. But Walt and I were eager to see some of this year's warblers, so we thought that heading south might give us a sneak preview.

Warbler Road isn't the actual name of the road, but a name given by Virginia birders to a series of fire roads leading down from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Warbler Road begins on route 812 at the Sunset Field Overlook at mm. 74.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and continues on fireroads 768 and 59, and then route 614 to I-81. Warbler Road starts at an elevation of 3,472 feet and drops 2,700 feet to the James River. Some warblers are most commonly found at specific elevation ranges, and descending Warbler Road offers the potential of seeing a variety of warbler species. In the Virginia section of the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had never been south of route 60 near mm. 46.

We got onto the Blue Ridge Parkway at Reid's Gap (mm. 14) and headed south. There was very little vegetation above 2,000 foot elevation. Around mm. 26, we stopped when we saw my FOS (first of season) Broad-winged Hawk perched in a tree, and when it took off, I got out of the car to get a few photos.


Broad-winged Hawk


Broad-winged Hawk


Common Raven and Broad-winged Hawk

Well past route 60, we stopped when I heard a warbler singing. It was a Black-throated Green Warbler (my FOS of this species). There were two of them at this stop, as well as a Blue-headed Vireo.


Black-throated Green Warbler


Black-throated Green Warbler


Black-throated Green Warbler


Black-throated Green Warbler


Blue-headed Vireo

Our next stop was at the Blue Ridge Parkway bridge over the James River. This was a neat place to visit, and a pedestrian walkway across the James River is under the parkway. We saw Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows flying over the river, and there were several other species along the river. Cliff Swallows had built mud nests under the parkway that were easily seen from the pedestrian walkway.


Northern Rough-winged Swallow


Cliff Swallow


Cliff Swallow


Cliff Swallow


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Yellow-rumped Warbler


Eastern Phoebe gathering nesting materials

We spotted a Red-tailed Hawk, and then a second one arrived carrying a meal in its talons. Both hawks circled a few times and then headed west along the river.


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawks

When we got to Warbler Road and started its descent, there were very few birds. We saw a few Carolina Chickadees, Blue-headed Vireos, and a Wild Turkey.


Blue-headed Vireo


Blue-headed Vireo


Blue-headed Vireo


Wild Turkey

We did see a few high elevation wildflowers.


Wildflowers


Wildflowers

We encountered more birds below 1800 feet, including four more Black-throated Green Warblers, and ended the day trip with 31 avian species. We didn't see as many warblers as we had hoped to see, but nevertheless, it was an enjoyable outing.


Eastern Bluebird



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