Skyline Drive 7/28/12

All photos are Marshall Faintich

This morning's birding adventure turned into more of a scouting expedition. I live 15 miles from the Rockfish Gap, which in addition to being the location of the local autumn hawk watch that starts in mid-August, is the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway (north end, mm 0), and the end of Skyline Drive (south end, mm 105) that runs along the western ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

I often look for migrating warblers that can be found anywhere along the first 14 miles of the BRP, and I have two favorite spots: the cirque between mm 7 and 8, and Hickory Springs Overlook at mm 12 (2940 ft. elevation). It has been more than a decade since I was on Skyline Drive, partially because there is great birding on the BRP, Skyline Drive is outside of my "Wintergreen area," and there is a fee to drive on it. I just learned that I could get a lifetime senior pass for national parks anywhere in the US for only $10 (such a deal!), so I decided to try my luck on Skyline Drive and could use the pass in the future.

Indigo Bunting

I have heard many reports that there is good warbler birding at Pocosin cabin located just 0.2 miles off Skyline Drive at mm 59.5, but that's a 60 mile drive from my house to maybe see something of interest. I really wanted to see if there might be some good spots closer to Rockfish Gap.

I stopped at every overlook on my trip this morning from mm 105 to Simmons Gap at mm 73. My criteria for a good spot to see warblers was an open area where I could see the tops of brushy vegetation, or see the tops of nearby tree canopies, or both. Along the way and at the stops I saw lots of Indigo Buntings, a couple of American Crows, one Turkey Vulture, a few Chipping Sparrows and Barn Swallows, and one Pine Warbler, and I heard a few Eastern Towhees and an American Redstart.

Pine Warbler

Chipping Sparrow

I identified six candidate locations for warbler viewing, and plan to go back to them to look for migrating warblers in late August through mid-October.

McCormick Gap Overlook (mm 102.5, 2434 ft. elevation): a good view of brushy vegetation and a lot of deciduous trees, although the trees are not very close to the overlook;

Beagle Gap (mm 100, 2490 ft. elevation): this a large mountain meadow with lots of brushy vegetation and a mowed trail that leads up into the forested area; also appears to be a good place to spot migrating raptors as there is almost a 360 degree view of the skies;

Calf Mountain Overlook (mm 99, 2485 ft. elevation): a good area of open brushy vegetation;

Sawmill Ridge Overlook (mm 96, 2210 ft. elevation): a small opening, but a good number of nearby coniferous trees;

Crimora Lake Overlook (mm 92.5, 2975 ft. elevation): a good view of brushy vegetation, but trees are a bit too far away;

Moormans River Overlook (mm 92, 2975 ft. elevation): a spectacular view of vegetation and trees, but it is looking to the east and may be a problem looking into the early morning sun.

I did not find another good overlook for the rest of the scouting expedition. In addition, there are very few places where you can pull over off the road unless it is at an overlook or parking area; whereas the BRP has lots of places to pull off the road if warblers are heard.

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