The summer showers in this week of July meant many days being in away to the confines of my office. However, as in life, there were breaks from the storm.
Mornings were luckily when many of these breaks occurred, which led to me being able to complete several bird surveys.
While many local breeders continued to defend territory or feed their recently fledged young, it was evident that there is much more migration occurring in July than people give it credit for. Louisiana Waterthrushes are virtually gone from our region by August apart from stragglers sticking it out on their territories. I noted this species on almost every one of my transects this week.
Late July is around the peak of Louisiana Waterthrush migration in our region; I have confirmed that they are not breeding on this section of the Blackwater River in previous surveys. One can find both of our waterthrushes far from their expected habitats in migration but note that it is still on the early side to be finding migrant Northern Waterthrushes.
Another sign of bird migration was finding two Tennessee Warblers actively working the treetops along the Blackwater Rail Trail in front of historic downtown Thomas. This species is not historically known to occur here in July. Below is a map generated from eBird data that shows all of the July records of Tennessee Warbler. The red pin right (red pins on eBird indicate the record occurred within the last 30 days) around Thomas indicates my record.
I noted this species late last July in Garrett Co. Either based on increased observer coverage or due to their population increasing due to outbreaks of spruce bud worm, during the last two years in late July there have been several observations in the general region — almost entirely adult males in some form of molt moving through. Perhaps the males do not play as large of a part in the parental duties and then complete part of their migration and stop and begin to molt. Note the same sort of observation from the Turkey Point Count last year: https://ebird.org/atlasmddc/checklist/S92543425 .
A Tennessee Warbler of similar plumage
I was able to complete a lone butterfly survey this week where I made observations along the Blackwater Rail Trail in front of downtown Thomas. While detections of butterflies were generally low which could be attributed to the damp conditions — I still made an interesting observation. I noted my first sighting of the year of Sachem, a type of skipper.
This species is a resident of the southern United States as far north as coastal Virginia; however it regularly migrates north to the areas north of the aforementioned area. This species moves in regionally into our area into July migrating in almost annually to West Virginia, reproducing and have another brood in the state. However, this species is unable to overwinter in the area, which is the reasoning why they have to migrate back in year after year.
A male Sachem along the Blackwater Rail Trail in downtown Thomas, perhaps freshly arrived from parts farther south.
Anywhere that is a weedy, disturbed spot is a decent location to look for this species, which is true for many of the species that get blown in in late summer as the jet stream produces winds originating from the southwestern Gulf region. This is the same mechanism that brings Franklin’s Gull and Cave Swallows as well as other species that should be around Texas in late October through November into our region. Look for species such as Sleepy Orange (usually seems to seek out drier spots such as shale barrens that can be found in the Ridge and Valley of the state), Variegated Fritillary, Common Buckeye, and Fiery Skipper. This goes to show that several species of butterflies are quite subject to getting blown around and wandering.
On Friday evening participants from the Cumberland area joined me to bird the Freeland Road boardwalk. Our highlights included a Merlin flying by with some recently caught dinner (appeared to be a Cedar Waxwing), and a flock of around 64 Bobolinks in the meadow leading up to the wetlands.
A live Cedar Waxwing for your viewing pleasure
Afterwards we decided to check out the Visitors Center at the National Wildlife Refuge where we saw a Green Heron. We also found a family of Pine Warblers that presumably bred in the suitable yet non-native pine plantation that borders the north edge of the parking lot. This species is a scarce breeder in Tucker County and is the first time I have been able to confirm its presence as a breeder. The family unit stuck high in the treetops as they foraged, but here’s a handsome male Pine Warbler from earlier this spring.
Upon wrapping up a great evening of birding, I was joined by several participants at the nature center at Blackwater Falls State Park, where State Park naturalist Paulita Cousin and I attempted to attract species of moths with a black light setup that was focused on white sheets. We were glad to see several species that were new to all of us, despite the on-and-off rain showers.
With these showers I left my camera in the car safe from the impending doom that a heavy shower would cause it; however I still got several photos with my phone!
Blinded Sphinx moth
Chocolate Prominent moth
American Ear Moth
With July coming to an end make sure to check out the fresh August schedule of events with Friends of Blackwater — that will hope to witness the visual movement of birds among other fascinating nature experiences!
~Best Wishes, Aaron