Rockfish Valley Trail and Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch 10/29/10

The winds shifted to the northwest, and a cold front was moving through the area. I was eager to see what might have moved into or out of the Rockfish Valley Trail, and was chomping at the bit to get to the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch to see what might be riding through on the strong wind currents.

I got to the trail around 8:45, and it was still a bit too early for the low sun to illiminate the trail. However, there were a few birds about, but not a lot of small ones, so I suspected that a hawk might be in the area. Sure enough, I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree just after I crossed under the route 151 bridge and started on the downstream trail. A couple of minutes later, a Red-tailed Hawk flew across the fenced field and into the bog area. Curiously, the crows were not mobbing these two hawks this morning.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

By 9:00, the sun was above the mountains to the east, and there was a lot more bird activity. The temperature was 49 degrees, and there was a light breeze, but I was dressed for the weather, and the warm sun felt good as I hiked the trail. As I turned the corner around the bog area, a lone cow took a good look at me, and then I noticed why - a new calf! Mama was looking out for her little one, who had only one thing on its mind - getting enough milk for breakfast.

I only stayed on the trail for an hour, logging 15 to 20 species, and then headed home to get some items to take with me to the hawk watch. I think that except for a few lingering and possible late migrating birds, the Rockfish Valley Trail is settling into its resident winter bird mode, so I will be hiking the trail a bit less often until next spring.

Mama and calf

Lincoln's Sparrow

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Mockingbird

Even though I changed to a heavier sweatshirt, it was not warm enough for Afton Mountain. The temperature was 42 degrees, and the cold winds were strong and gusty. I met Vic L. who had already been there for almost two hours when I arrived at 10:45. We kept moving our chairs to try to get out of the wind, into the sun, and still be able to see the skies to search for raptors. We saw a few Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and Red-tailed Hawks, and a distant juvenile Bald Eagle. There were lots of vultures around, but not too many raptors for us to count. Vic spotted a Merlin that zoomed by so quickly that I missed it. We decided to stay until 1:00, but it was so cold that we changed our minds to leave at 12:45.

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I didn't think that I was going to get anythng special this morning, but about 20 minutes before we left, I was following what looked like a Kestrel to the east of us, when a larger bird crossed the field of view of my binoculars. I called out to Vic to take a look, and he said that it looked like a duck. This bird had come from the east, turned into the winds to the north, and then changed its mind, and headed south. It must have been blown off-course, and was trying to get its bearings. As we both watched, now Vic though his binoculars and me through my camera viewfinder, we realized that it was not a duck but a Common Loon. My Wintergeen area bird species # 163, and a new life bird for me. It made my chilled body and even colder hands a bit warmer, but not enough to want to stay much longer. This year's hawk watch officially ends in a couple of weeks, so I plan to go back just a few more times this year.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

Common Loon

On the way home, I stopped at a couple of Stoney Creek (Wintergreen valley) ponds to see what was there, and have combined what I saw with my report from the morning of 10/30/10.

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