Blue Ridge 9/4-5/14

All photos are Marshall Faintich

During the past 7 years, I have spent a lot of time on the first 14 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway looking for spring and fall migrating warblers. Although anywhere on the parkway has good possiblilties for seeing warblers, I have found two locations that are exceptionally good. The first one is Hickory Springs overlook, just north of mm. 12. Searching 100 to 200 yards north and south of the overlook often produces lots of warblers and other birds, although many of the trees and vegetation are 50 to 100 feet away, and some of the sightings are a bit distant for good photos. Cerulean Warblers have nested every year just to the north of the overlook.

The other location is a large cirque (natural curve in the mountain) between mm. 7 and mm. 8. There is a large rock outcropping in the middle of the curve. This location sometimes produces many warblers - I have seen as many as seven warbler species at one time near the south (higher elevation) end of the curve. Canada Warblers have been at the south end near a (curve) road sign every May. Although there is no formal overlook there, there is enough room to park three or maybe four cars off the road near the south end on either side of the road sign. If you park there, be very careful as other cars may come around the bend at fairly high speeds.


I may have found a third "hotspot" that needs some more attention this fall.

September 4, 2014

It was very foggy early this morning. Walt Childs and I decided to try my favorite warbler hotspots up on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then head up to Pocosin Cabin off of Skyline Drive where we had multiple warbler species two days earlier. By the time we got to Hickory Springs overlook, the fog was starting to clear, but there weren't a lot of birds there. We did see a Black-throated Blue Warbler about 50 feet north of the overlook. It was probably a first fall male, as there was a bit of white on its chin.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The cirque wasn't "birdy' either. We saw a few more species there than at Hickory Springs, including two warbler species. One was a first year Prairie Warbler, and the other was seen as a silhouette as it flew over our heads. Some computer processing brought out a few details, and my best guess is a Cape May Warbler based on the tail pattern, but a few other warbler species are possibilites.

Prairie Warbler

Cape May(?) Warbler

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Baltimore Oriole

The long drive up to Pocosin Cabin was not worth the drive. There were only a few woodland birds there, and no warblers. We saw a few interesting birds on the drive there and back.

American Kestrel

Red-eyed Vireo

Wood Duck and friend

We decided to stop again at the two Blue Ridge Parkway sites on the way back, and then do a short hike down in the valley on the Rockfish Valley Trail. All we saw of interest on the parkway was a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

The Rockfish Valley Trail wasn't very "birdy" either. It was very hot and muggy, and the smarter birds were hunkered down in the cooler shade. But we did see an interesting bird. There were a few Eastern Wood-Pewees flying about, but one of the flycatchers looked a bit different. We also heard it singing a call that I had never heard before, and it was identical to the Olive-sided Flycatcher (OSFC) pit-pit-pit calls #2 CA recording on my Sibley birding app. If fact, it flew back to us a couple of times after I played the recording. It did have some features that looked like an OSFC: a dark head, a partial dark vest, patterned undertail coverts, a somewhat short tail, and it looked larger than a Pewee. But it also lacked some OSFC features - the lack of a complete dark vest, a tail that was a bit too long, but not as long as a Pewee, it looked smaller than other OSFCs I have seen, and although it perched near the top of the trees, it wasn't at the very top where OSFC like to perch.

The short tail may have been a result of foreshortening from looking up at the bird, and the bright sunlight on its breast made seeing the vest difficult. I tried to get side photos to look for a white rump patch, but didn't see one, but it did appear to have weak wing bars like that if an OSFC. I got other photos of a flycatcher that may have been the same bird, but I am not positive. So this bird doesn't quite look like an OSFC, but it doesn't look like a Pewee to me, either. Any opinions on this bird would be appreciated.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Olive-sided(?) Flycatcher

Olive-sided(?) Flycatcher

Olive-sided(?) Flycatcher

Same(?) bird as the Olive-sided(?) Flycatcher

We also saw a very large Praying Mantis on the trail.

Praying Mantis

September 5, 2014

After looking at the somewhat confusing photos of the flycatcher, I headed back to the trail in the morning to see if I could re-locate it and get more photos, but I could not find it. I saw 15 species on a short hike there.

Indigo Bunting

Tail-less Indigo Bunting

It was getting hot and muggy again, so I headed back to my warbler hotpsots on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I got to Hickory Springs overlook at 9:30, and stayed there for 30 minutes, during which time I saw 12 avian species, including two warbler species: Blue-winged and Hooded.

Blue-winged Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Female Hooded Warbler (?)

Red-eyed Vireo

Downy Woodpecker

Next stop was at the cirque where I saw only a few birds.

Common Raven

Scarlet Tanager (?)

I drove down the parkway to mm. 3, and then headed back to the cirque and Hickory Springs overlook for another look-see. Still not much at the cirque. As I was nearing Hickory Springs, I stopped when I saw and heard a lot of activity about 1/2 mile to the north of Hickory Springs. There was enough room on the right side of the road for three or four cars to park safely. In a short time there, I logged 16 avian species - mostly woodland birds, and a lot of Bluebirds, but also two warbler species: Black and White and Black-throated Green.

Black and White Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Carolina Chickadee

Eastern Bluebird

Cedar Waxwing

Hairy Woodpecker

Hickory Springs overlook yielded two more species, making it 14 at that site for the morning. Many of the birds I saw 1/2 mile to the north may have moved there from Hickory Springs. I plan on visiting the new site a few more time to see if it becomes my third favorite warbler site on the parkway.

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