Whip-poor-wills, Owls, Warblers, and More! That was the siren that went out as the Birdathon team known as Shrike Force scoured Loudoun County in their search for as many species they could find last Saturday. Read about their adventure in their report below:
Whip-poor-wills, Owls, Warblers, and More!
by Shrike Force
Shrike Force, comprised of Laura McGranaghan, Gerry Hawkins, Mary Ann Good, and Joe Coleman, competed in the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy’s Birdathon this past Saturday. We met at 3:45 am in far western Loudoun County in hopes of finding Whip-poor-wills and owls and wrapped up at the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project near Oatlands almost 18 hours later.
While we missed whips at our first stop, we did hear at least four Barred Owls. However, at our next stop, near where Appalachian Trail Road intersects with Rte 719 north of Round Hill, we heard not only a couple of Whip-poor-wills but two Great Horned Owls calling to each other. We next traveled to another location close to Bloomfield in the southwestern corner of the county where we heard two Screech Owls as well as a few other early risers. We were off to a great start and so excited!
Our next two stops were up on the ridge a little south of Snickers Gap on the very far western edge of Loudoun County, where we not only watched a beautiful sunrise over Loudoun Valley but ticked off 12 different warbler species including Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Cape May, Hooded, Worm-eating, and the first of several Yellow-breasted Chats. We also found Wood Thrushes, a Veery, and the first of several flocks of Cedar Waxwings.
After a brief stop along the Potomac River immediately downstream of Harpers Ferry where we picked up Common Merganser, we spent a little over three hours at one of Loudoun’s most special natural areas, the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship. There we not only added a number of species to our count, we made some of our most exciting non-avian finds of the day.
Among the many birds we found were another Barred Owl, a Red-headed Woodpecker, White-eyed Vireos, a Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-winged Warblers, a couple of Cerulean Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, and more Yellow-breasted Chats. We also first heard and then had great looks at two Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Blue Grosbeaks, and Scarlet Tanagers. It was wonderful to watch a dragonfly dancing in the riffles along Sweet Run while it laid its eggs in the rapidly moving water as well as numerous butterflies, including two Monarchs, along Butterfly Alley.
We were thrilled to find large flocks of Bobolinks in two different locations, at least 50 in a field along Edgegrove Road west of Hillsboro and more along Ebenezer Church Road near Bloomfield. Unfortunately three of us missed a Wild Turkey crossing a farm lane because we were concentrating on the Red-headed Woodpeckers which are common in the area around Bloomfield.
Scouting these areas earlier in the week certainly paid off as both a Willow Flycatcher and one of the flocks of Bobolinks were exactly where they’d been the previous day; unfortunately neither the Osprey nor the Pied-billed Grebe were still around. We also found one Wilson’s Snipe where there had been four a few days earlier.
After spending most of the day in western Loudoun County we headed over to the Broadlands Wetlands, which is right off of exit 6 of the Dulles Greenway, where the previous day’s scouting also paid off handsomely, adding several species there including Blue-winged Teal, Least and Pectoral Sandpiper, Prairie Warbler, a Savannah Sparrow, and another flock of Cedar Waxwings. And as we were getting back on the Greenway an immature Bald Eagle astounded us by flying alongside the car and almost joining us in the car!
At our last stop, the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, we added a few more species such as Greater Yellowlegs and Swamp Sparrow, watched the Bald Eagles feed their two nestlings, and heard a couple of Virginia Rails when we met up with the Raven Loonatics. We also got great photos of a Luna Moth. Unfortunately only two of us were able to ID the Lesser Yellowlegs that were also on the wetlands and therefore were not able to add them to the team’s total.
After wrapping up at the Wetlands we headed into Leesburg for a bite to eat and to pick ticks off of ourselves while celebrating matching our previous high count of 113. Our final team total included 21 species of warbler, eight species of sparrow, and seven species of shorebird.