Paddy Knob, VA, 6/1/16

All photos are Marshall Faintich

Mourning Warblers are rare migrating birds here in Virginia, but are rare summer residents in a few high elevation mountain areas. The most reliable place to find them that I know of, is along the road to the summit of Paddy Knob, south of Monterey in Highland County. Public (fire) Road 55 starts off of route 84 just after the highway leaves Virginia and enters West Virginia, and the gravel road to the summit runs along the two state boundary. There is a clearing about 3.3 miles from the start, and this site is a good place to find Mourning Warblers.

Walt Childs and I were there in June 2012 and 2013, and on our second trip there, I did see and photograph a Mourning Warbler, but I wanted some better photos of this rare species, so we decided to try it again. We hoped for decent weather with all the recent rain, and the forecast was for morning sun changing to partly sunny skies late morning, with early evening rain.

Public Road 55 was in better shape than I had remembered, but I still recommend not going there alone in case of a problem, as it is in a fairly remote area. We started hearing and seeing birds as soon as we got onto PR 55, including at least one American Redstart, at least one Black and White Warbler, Red-eyed Vireos, and other avian species.


Black and White Warbler

We stopped along the way to the clearing to listen for birds, and spoke with some bear hunters who were letting their dogs loose to practice for bear hunting season. When we got to the clearing, I hiked along the gravel road, and soon heard a Mourning Warbler a short distance beyond the trees on the side of the road across from the clearing, but could not locate it. A Chestnut-sided Warbler did make an appearance. The sunny skies were soon covered with a large, dark cloud.


Chestnut-sided Warbler

Just beyond the clearing, I stopped when I heard, and then saw, two Mourning Warblers that were flying back and forth across the road. This was the same place where I had seen and photographed a Mouring Warbler in June 2013. Walt and I got some good looks at the birds, but they never stayed in one spot very long, were mostly partially hidden in the vegetation, and whenever one of them was out in the open, it was always backlit, making photography a challenge. I did get a few photos.


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler


Mourning Warbler

It didn't seem like I was going to get a really good photo, one of a Mourning Warbler out in the open facing good sunlight, but we didn't want to overdo our stay there. I suppose that I will have to try again in the future. Our second priority target species was Golden-winged Warbler. We had seen this species a few times on previous trips to the Blue Grass Valley, but were told that they were more common along Route 607 from Mustoe to Bolar, and the dark clouds were moving north towards the Blue Grass Valley, so we head south to Mustoe. We saw a good number of birds along Route 607. but the only warbler was a Common Yellowthroat that I heard but did not see, and we ended the day's birding trip with 45 avian species.


Chipping Sparrow stalking its prey



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