Central Virginia 9/20/14

All photos are Marshall Faintich

This posting may seem a bit negative, but for those of you who are regular readers of my blog pages, you know that I am usually fairly lucky when it comes to photographing birds. In fact, I have photographed 19 warbler species in the past week, and 21 warbler species during this year's fall migration, so read the following with a grain of salt and humor. Nevertheless, it can be a bit frustrating when everyone around you has had a blue ribbon birding day, and all you got was an honorable mention for just showing up. It is unlikely that I will get to photograph a new species here this fall, but I am always trying to get better photos.

Rockfish Valley Trail

My birding pal, Walt Childs, had agreed to lead the Rockbridge County Bird Club on a hike at the trail. Birding has been fairly poor there this fall, so I agreed to meet Walt and the RCBC on the trail. They all met at the main birding parking lot, and I parked just off route 627 where the few good birds have been seen the past few weeks. My plan was to get some idea what might be seen and where, so the visitors to the trail would know what to look for and where.

As soon as I got out of my car, two dove-sized birds flew from the tall grasses and out of sight. I got off one photo as they were flying away, and don't know what species they were - perhaps nightjars?

Unidentified species

I crossed over Reids Creek at the first wooden bridge, hiked a short distance to the downstream trail, and headed west to meet the bird club. On the way, I photographed a warbler foraging in a bush. I was able to get a few photos, and am not sure which warbler species it was - most likely a Common Yellowthroat, but the contrast between its darker back and yellow breast seemed too much for a Yellowthroat, its body didn't apear stocky like most of the Yellowthroats I have seen, and its back was more greenish than brown, although the coloring may have been related to the dark exposure. The only other choice would be a Mourning Warbler, but I can't tell for sure.

Common Yellowthroat or Mourning Warbler

Common Yellowthroat or Mourning Warbler

Anyway, I didn't see many birds on my way along the downstream trail. Some Rock Pigeons posed for me, and I now know what they were saying to each other during the photo.

"We should let his guy get a good photo of us - it might be his best photo of the day."

I was surprised that the bird club was still at the parking lot, and that I hadn't met them on the downstream trail. I then learned that a large flock of Broad-winged Hawks and a Sharp-shinned Hawk had just lifted off from spending the night in the trees next to the parking lot, and Walt and all the visitors had great close-up looks of the hawks. I missed it all. Walt and the club headed downstream, and I decided to hike the upstream trail because I hadn't seen much on the downstream trail, and had just hiked it. I didn't see very many birds at all upstream, although a Red-eyed Vireo puzzled me until I saw it from a different angle.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

When I caught up with Walt and the RCBC, they were still on the downstream trail. They told me that as soon as they started on the downstream trail, they had seen a mixed flock of eight warbler species, and watched the flock until it moved from the trail. Sigh . . .

I continued birding with Walt and the RCBC, but it seemed like every bird I saw was either far away or hidden in the vegetation, unless it was a very common species.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Palm Warbler

Gray Catbird

Bald Eagle

Cooper's Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

American Goldfinch

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

At least there was a colorful Praying Mantis that didn't mind having its picture taken.

Praying Mantis

Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch

Walt and then went up to the hawk watch - most of the birds were only specks in the sky.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

And then a juvenile Peregrine Falcon headed at eye-level right toward the hawk watch, and then turned to the right in front of everyone. My camera was set for a very tight focus spot, so that when I take photos of birds in vegetation, I can focus on the bird and not on nearby branches and leaves. This also means that in continuous shooting mode for birds in flight, if the first shot is out of focus, then the entire burst of photos are as well. Everyone at the hawk watch, even those with inexpensive point and shoot cameras, got great close-up photos of the falcon; that is, everyone but me - all of mine were out of focus. At least I was able to get some shots of the falcon as it circled high above.

Peregrine Falcon

Well, the bugs continued to cooperate.


Monarch and Swallowtail

Stoney Creek

When I got home, I decided to hike here in Stoney Creek. Right off the bat, a Palm Warbler and a pair of Scarlet Tanagers posed for me, and I thought that my luck today was changing.

Palm Warbler

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

The only other interesting bird I saw in Stoney Creek was an Indigo Bunting with some leucistic coloring.

Indigo Bunting

Rockfish Valley Trail

Ever the optimist, I did some late afternoon birding back on the Rockfish Valley Trail. Once again, I only got good photos of some common birds.

Indigo Bunting

Chipping Sparrow - note the tail feathers

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Eastern Phoebe

Empidonax Flycatcher

I hiked all the way down Glenthorne Loop to the second wooded bridge. As I crossed the bridge, there was a beautiful Cooper's Hawk perched about 30 feet from me on a branch over Reids Creek. The hawk saw me before I saw it, and it flew away before I could raise my camera for a photo. Sigh again . . .

There was a hawk perched here

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