We parked and walked down the hill into the park, hearing Golden-crowned Kinglets and White-throated Sparrows singing. Shortly, we walked into a sizeable sparrow flock, dominated by Song Sparrows and Field Sparrows. We also found a good number of White-crowned Sparrows singing, and were able to get fleeting views of the striking plumage of adult birds. Several minutes were spent checking every sparrow, until a Lincoln’s was found foraging a few feet away, right below our noses. The bird offered great views, and was a long awaited Albemarle County Lifer for Baxter.
We continued on towards the marsh, where we hoped to find Marsh Wrens. We arrived, and after pishing and playback, none responded. The trail led into thick grasses and brambles, and many Swamp Sparrows were calling, occasionally seen as they flew into cover.
We came into a clearing, and walked the edge towards a second marsh, where the ones who were smart enough to bring boots walked in. The sneaker-wearers watched from dry ground, waiting for Marsh Wrens to show themselves. With no luck, we continued down the edge, stopping briefly to enjoy the fruit of a persimmon tree.
The White-crowned Sparrows were even more abundant at the end of the trail, and many of the juveniles were brave enough to watch us from the tops of the brambles. We saw a rather light-lored and orange-billed White-crowned Sparrow, possibly the rare western gambelli subspecies?
After finishing up at the park, we drove to the main Old Trail to find that it was pretty quiet. The sparrows were few and far between, so we turned around to head back. As we walked the trail, we spotted a dragonfly hovering low over some grasses, and watched it perch, hanging from the blade of grass. A Shadow Darner, a fairly common species that always found flying and rarely lands. A special treat for the dragonfly enthusiasts in the group!
We checked the pond, looking once again for Marsh Wrens, but only found a tame little Pied-billed Grebe. As we returned to the car, we noticed a flock of late Tree Swallows. We got in the car, drove to the nearest gas station, and treated ourselves to honey buns, skittles, and other snacks.
We then drove 20 minutes north to Innisfree Village, where a Loggerhead Shrike had recently been seen. We had instructions from other birders who had gone to see this rarity, and learned that it had also been seen earlier in the morning, so our chances of seeing it looked promising. We arrived at the spot and admired the gorgeous scenery: rolling pastures dotted with cedars and oaks, with boggy areas nestled in between the hills, all right up against the mountains.
After about ten minutes of searching, the bird was found sitting on top of an oak in field. We all enjoyed the bird and viewed it through the scope. We also noticed several insects skewered onto the barbwire fence we stood along—evidence of the shrike’s presence.
We watched the bird chase a Blue Jay around, later a Yellow-rumped Warbler. It finally came a bit closer and perched on a nearby cedar. How can a bird be so cute yet so menacing at the same time?
We followed the bird around for another hour, enjoying the views, sometimes waiting for him to return from hunting. We departed, satisfied with a good morning of birding.
By Max Nootbaar