Monday, June 1, 2009

New River Day 4: High Country

Chestnut-sided Warbler 4-30-09

Today is cold and rainy once again as we set off on a High Country Adventure. Our bus travels bumpy dirt roads and wet paved lanes through the West Virginia countryside. Our guides today are Connie Toops, Paul Shaw and Steve McCarthy.

Bluets 4-30-09

Soon it stops alongside a bog where we clamber out to watch birds. A light rain is falling once again and I marvel at the delicate bluets growing alongside the road. These tiny eastern flowers are a favorite of mine, so much so that I would have had them as my wedding bouquet if I could have, but they are so tiny and fragile that I can only enjoy them in the wild. Looking at them now with nodding heads I recall that I used their colors as inspiration for my wedding instead. It'll be 32 years on June 4th since Gus and I were married. Now, here I am in the woods and meadows of West Virginia while he holds down the fort at home.

Roadside Bird watching 4-30-09

We stop along a couple of places with small ponds and bogs. We see king fishers and swamp sparrows, and red-shouldered hawks. We hear a sedge wren and capture a quick flash of its tiny buffy body as it darts from sedge to sedge. A pair of gnatcatchers scolds us from the brush, while in the distance the red-winged blackbirds trill. At some stops the rain is just too heavy for taking photographs, so I and others leave our cameras on the bus.

Stone work at Babcock State Park 4-30-09

It's mid-morning by the time we reach Babcock State park. The bus lets us off at the top of the road and we walk our way in past this stone structure. The woods are deep green and gray around us. Birds sing from the treetops and bushes. We stop alongside the Rhododendron bushes where we hear a Swainson's warbler call. However, it never comes out into full view for us, no matter how hard Paul and Steve try to call it up.

Alien in the woods 4-30-09

In misty gray light we walk past ancient trees with roots that look like alien bodies buried long ago and now squeezed from beneath the earth. The bus is waiting for us by the old mill and we eat our lunch inside its warmth. It is too cold and wet to dine outside on the picnic tables. Still, many of us try to capture the beauty of the old mill that is so famously photographed by so many people. Soon, we are off to watch birds again. Our ultimate destination today is the bobolink fields. After hearing their calls last night recorded by Wil Hershbereger and played for us at Smokey's on the Gorge I am looking forward to seeing this species of bird more than any other on this trip. We pile into the bus and head up Glade Creek road to our destination.

Great-crested Flycatcher 4-30-09

Along the way we continue to stop and hunt for birds, for birds are everywhere. here by an old farm house with pastures and cows, a pond and some woods the birding is excellent. A great Crested Flycatcher calls from a tree and I am amazed at how loud its voice is. It could easily be confused with our Brown-crested flycatcher or Ash-throated flycatcher if we were in Arizona. thank goodness we are not. This is a Life Bird for me.

Blue-headed vireo 4-30-09

You won't find a blue-headed vireo at your feeders, for these are insect eating birds. I have added 3 species of vireos to my life list so far. These are birds you have to go out and find or look up in your yard. And if you want vireos in your yards, don't spray pesticides! The vireos and other insect eating birds will take care of the bugs for you!

Chestnut-sided warbler 4-30-09

Warblers are everywhere and I finally am able to capture some decent photos of a chestnut sided warbler. the rain has tapered off, and the sun is even starting to peek out now and again. We are all shedding our rain coats and jackets as the muggy temperature rises.

Intense bird watching 4-30-09

Cameras and binoculars are getting a good workout this day. I think they are all looking at a broad-winged hawk on her nest.

Mystery in the water 4-30-09

We wander the gravel road where we discover bear scat and flowers. In a shallow pool we find these flaming orange candles growing from dried leaves. There is mystery and wonder everywhere.

Paul Shaw holds up a clump for all of us to see.

And then, we climb back into the bus. The time is passing by quickly. none of us wants this day to end but poor Connie has to be back to give a speech for the Elderhostel and it is getting late. We finally reach the rolling green fields where bobolinks play. Once again the West Virginia fog has rolled in. We walk through knee high grass. the farmers dogs rush out to greet us with cheerful barks. Normally I love to see dogs, but today I am focused on the birds. These birds. These electronic sounding black balls of feathers. Where are they? Where are they?

I search the field and sky with my bins. I listen with all my might. I find an eastern meadowlark on the wires, but I want to see the bobolinks and then...

Bobolink 4-30-09

I hear them. Then I see them and one lands near enough for me to photograph. but it is still so far away. The light is bad and the ground is wet and we have to go and I don't want to! I want to stay in the bobolink field for the rest of the day! i want to listen to them sing and watch them play. I want to fill my head and ears and eyes with bobolinks. I want to remember this day forever and ever. I pray there will always be bobolinks in the fields of West Virginia. This bird out of all the others is the one I want to go back and see again.

Birds Seen Today *Life Bird
  1. Great blue Heron
  2. Turkey Vulture
  3. Broad-winged hawk
  4. Red-shouldered hawk
  5. Cooper's hawk
  6. Osprey
  7. Killdeer
  8. Mourning dove
  9. N. Flicker
  10. Red-bellied woodpecker
  11. Downy woodpecker
  12. Pileated Woodpecker
  13. Great-crested flycatcher*
  14. Eastern Phoebe
  15. Eastern Kingbird
  16. King Fisher
  17. Red-eyed vireo
  18. Black-throated blue vireo
  19. Blue jay
  20. Common Raven
  21. Crow
  22. Northern Rough-winged swallow
  23. Barn Swallow
  24. Tree swallow
  25. Blue-gray gnatcatcher
  26. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  27. Brown Trasher
  28. Eastern Bluebird
  29. Robin
  30. Wood thrush
  31. Black-capped chickadee
  32. Tufted titmouse
  33. White-breasted nuthatch
  34. Sedge wren* (heard with a brief glimpse)
  35. Starling
  36. Hooded warbler
  37. Black and white warbler
  38. Common yellow-throat
  39. Blue-winged warbler
  40. Black-throated blue warbler
  41. Chestnut-sided warbler
  42. Swainson's Warbler* (heard only)
  43. Louisianna Water thrush* (heard only)
  44. Ovenbird
  45. Song sparrow
  46. Chipping sparrow
  47. Swamp sparrow*
  48. N. Cardinal
  49. Indigo bunting
  50. Red-winged blackbird
  51. Brown-headed cowbird
  52. Bobolink*
  53. Eastern meadowlark
  54. American Goldfinch
All of today's photography is by Kathie Brown with the Nikon D80 and the 70 to 300 mm lens.


Anonymous said...

The bobolinks were special for me, too. I had the same sort of mystical reaction to seeing (and hearing) them.

Gaelyn said...

How wonderful, a bobolink, haven't seen or heard one in many years. This is such a great trip Kathie.

Deborah Godin said...

Good for you - your life list must go down the block and around the corner by now!

Warren and Lisa Strobel said...

Congrats on the life birds! And on your upcoming anniversary!!

Dawn Fine said...

I am amazed by the great birds you all saw! I already know that the group dynamics was wonderful.

I hope to get a group together when I get to Arizona this winter...talking to Sheri Williamson..about a Bird/nature blog get together..bird outing.
Let me know if you are interested.
And if you know others that would enjoy the outing. It will be great fun to meet other bird/nature bloggers..
we are having an event in Ma. in a few weeks.

DeniseinVA said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts from the West Virginia trip Kathie. Marvellous photos!!!

Larry said...

Strange to see everyone waering coats.I love the stonework but that alien thing looks like it came from a bad horror movie.-Great bird photos too-as always.

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Kathie, you did a great job of chronicling our day trips-- I so enjoy reliving them through your accounts!!

Heather said...

Hi Kathie - I'm getting caught up on your reports of the New River trip. Oh what a fantastic time you must have had. I really enjoy the detail with which you recount your days. Glad you got to add so many great birds to your life list. I just added the Bobolink to my list this past weekend (there are pics and details over on my blog).
Oh, and congratulations on your son's wedding!

TR Ryan said...

What amazing photos! I love reliving our week through your blog. We must put Sycamore Canyon on the list of Flocker reunion locations!!!

Diane AZ said...

Those bluets are so pretty, I can see why you would want to use their color for your wedding. Happy 32nd anniversary to you and Gus!

Celeste said...

What a fantastic day of birding, I am so glad that you saw the elusive Bobolink, aren't they wonderful birds?