Blue Ridge Parkway and Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch 9/14/10

Got an early start this morning, and wanted to see if any warblers were on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I got to the mountain cirque between mile markers 7 and 8 at 8:30 a.m., and all I heard were a couple of Towhees, an Indigo Bunting, and a distant Pileated Woodpecker, so I did not stay there long. I passed the open area at m.m. 9 because there was a parkway work crew operating machinery there, and headed to Hickory Springs Overlook.

There were more birds at the overlook, but most of them were hidden in the tree canopies. I did see a pair of warblers, and was able to get off a couple of not-so-good shots, as they were deep in shadow. After some post-processing, I can narrow down the species to a few choices.

Unidentified Warbler

Unidentified Warbler

They could be first fall female Black-throated Green Warblers, but the facial pattern is weak, and the breast seems to be too yellow. First fall Blackpoll Warblers is a possibility, but the facial features don't look quite right. Perhaps Pine Warbler, but the breast is too streaked, or maybe Prairie Warbler, but the wing bars are too strong, and the undertail coverts are white and not yellow. Once again, identifying fall warblers is a challenge.

I then stopped off at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch for a couple of hours, and saw a Northern Harrier right off the bat, and then a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks. It was a fairly quiet morning there as well, until a few minutes before 11:00. I spotted a distant black bird far to the north over the ridge across I-64, and called it out. Another spotter said it looked like a Turkey Vulture, but I kept looking at it with my new, second-hand, 10x binoculars, remembering that I had been teased about not mistaking Turkey Vultures for something else after upgrading from 7x binoculars. When I said that the wings did not look right for a Turkey Vulture, a spotting scope was put on the bird - a Bald Eagle - YES! And then a minute later, another Bald Eagle. The second one turned to the west and then circled back to follow the first one to the east of us as they headed south.

Bald Eagle

A couple of minutes later - a third Bald Eagle following the first two, and then a fourth, and a fifth and sixth, and finally a seventh Bald Eagle - all within 20 minutes and following the same path. Two of the eagles were flying in close proximity, and interacting as if they were playing with each other. The leading one of the pair was an adult, the following one was a juvenile.

Bald Eagles

juvenile Bald Eagle

Now that's what I call a good morning at the Hawk Watch!

[9/15/10 update] These were the first 7 out of a record-setting one day total of 19 Bald Eagles seen at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch.

Rob H. (MD): Of the species you mention, Blackpoll Warbler is to me the only viable candidate because the feet are quite pale. The bird resembles the individual labeled "c" in the Dunn and Garrett Warblers guide and Blackpoll Warbler was the species I thought of when I sleepily looked at the photos a few minutes ago.

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