The end of this month marks ten years that I have been doing birding, and a lesson that I have learned and re-learned over this period is that you can't predict what you might see on a birding outing.
Shenandoah Valley, VA; 12/2/16
I picked up Walt Childs in Stoney Creek (Wintergreen), and we headed south and west over the Blue Ridge Mountains. The skies were bright and sunny, with only a light breeze, and with the temperatures in the upper 40s, we expected to see lots of birds. Our first stop was along Guthire Road in Stuart's Draft, where we got a quick look at a Northern Harrier and a small flock of Horned Larks.
Our next stop was a McCormick's Mill in Raphine, where we had seen lots of birds on our last visit there. All we saw there this time were a few Cardinals, one Carolina Chickadee, one Tufted Titmouse, and one Red-bellied Woodpecker.
We stopped at Willow Lake and saw a small flock of Canada Geese. We decided to try New Providence Road, where we had seen a fair number of hawks and other species on previous trips. We saw our second Northern Harrier of the trip, and a few other birds.
Where were all the birds? We took Brownsburg Turnpike to Swoope. Along the way we saw a couple of American Kestrels and a few Turkey Vultures, as well as out third Northern Harrier of the trip, and one Red-tailed Hawk. As we were driving on Hewitt Road in Swoope, we saw another Northern Harrier, and another Red-tailed Hawk.
We stopped at Smith Lake in Swoope. At the far end, there was a huge flock of Mallards and a smaller flock of Green-winged Teals. A Belted Kingfisher made some noisy flights across the lake.
We saw another Red-tailed Hawk on the way back, but little else. It was a fun outing, but not very many birds.
Old Trail; Crozet, VA; 12/3/16
It was cold, sunny, but windy this morning. I decided to hike from my house in Old Trail, as I suspected that the winds would keep many of the birds hunkered down. With temperatures in the upper 30s to low 40s, and fairly strong northwest winds, it felt really cold, but I wanted to get some test photos. Even with 115,000+ photos on my newest camera body (Canon 7D mark II), I was still not satisfied with my photo keeper rate for distant flying birds, although I am extremely happy with photos taken of closer birds. I had seen Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Cooper's Hawks this past week here, and hoped that I could see one or more of them, and try some other camera settings to photograph them in flight.
I saw a good mix of smaller birds in and near dense vegetation.
I was hiking on the Lindy Bain loop trail, and as I got close to the golf course, I heard a strange bird call, and watched a medium-sized bird fly from the golf course and land some distance away to the east. When I got my camera on it, I could see that it was a Common Grackle.
I then turned around and looked to the west, and saw another bird about the same size and distance from me, and first assumed that it was another Common Grackle. However, when I got my camera on it, and focused the lens, I could see that it was a Merlin (my Old Trail avian species # 106). I had been looking for a Merlin in that area ever since moving here, as Chris Murray had posted Merlin sightings here on several previous occasions. The Merlin was having its breakfast (an unidentified small bird), and it didn't mind that I got closer for more photos. Perhaps it will spend the winter here?