It was bright and sunny, with cool, crisp autumn air this morning. Walt Childs and I headed west over the Blue Ridge Mountains and south into Rockbridge County. Our first stop was at McCormick's Mill in Raphine. I had been there a few times in previous years, and had only seen a few species there in addition to some domestic geese and ducks. We saw four or five common, avian species on the way there. When we arrived and checked out the small pond near the parking lot, all I saw were two domestic Greater White-fronted Geese and a few domestic Mallards. We didn't count these birds in our trip list as they were not wild birds, but one of the Mallards was quite attractive.
We decided to hike the trail there to see if we could find any birds. This trail must have been under improvement in my previous visits to the mill, as I didn't remember it being so well maintained, nor as "birdy" as it was this morning. There were birds everywhere! We saw lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a few Golden-crowned Kinglets, my FOS Winter Wren and FOS Hermit Thrush, and by the time we ended the hike at the mill, our trip list was up to 27 avian species.
Our next stop was at Willow Lake in Raphine, where we added eight more avian species to our list including, Pied-billed Grebe, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Ruddy Duck, and American Coot.
We decided to drive west on Raphine Road to Brownsburg Turnpike, and then south on New Providence Road where we had seen some good raptors on previous biridng trips. We hadn't seen any raptors yet on this trip except for a few Turkey Vultures. Along the way, we stopped to see some sparrows and other small birds.
We weren't on New Providence Road very far when we saw our first hawk of the trip - a Red-tailed, and the first of eight of them we ended up seeing on the trip. This Red-tailed Hawk had very dark and colorful markings, and perhaps was one of the "northern" race variety.
We continued south on New Providence Road, saw more sparrows and a backlit Palm Warbler, and stopped to see our second Red-tailed Hawk of the trip.
While I was tracking this hawk when it was in flight, a distant and flat-winged raptor came into view of my camera. It was an adult Bald Eagle, and then Walt spotted a second Bald Eagle flying with it - a Basic II sub-adult.
We continued on to Dutch Hollow Road where we saw our first of five American Kestrels on this trip, and more Red-tailed Hawks, Kinglets, and several other species.
Female American Kestrel
We continued north on Walker Creek Road and soon after entering Augusta County, we stopped when we saw a few distant Turkey Vultures, but one of them looked to have flat wings - it was a Golden Eagle!
This was really turning out to be a great birding day, but we weren't done yet. We did some birding in Swoope, and saw several more avian species. We saw a male and a female American Kestrel perched together in a small tree. American Kestrels are fairly common in Swoope, but it is unusual to see a pair of them perched together.
Our 7th Red-tailed Hawk of the trip
As we were leaving Swoope, we saw our 53rd avian species of the day - a Red-headed Woodpecker, and in the same tree where we have seen this species on our last two trips this year to Swoope.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow