This summer, I have spent many hours birding Elkhorn City blocks SE, CE, CW looking for evidence of breeding to contribute to the Virginia Breeding Atlas II. I managed to complete Elkhorn City SE block, which is a priority block by confirming 30 breeding species. The CE block still needs a lot more atlasing during the remaining years of the atlas. The CW block also needs more atlasing, however, it is remote and difficult to get to the small area covered in Virginia (most of the block is in Kentucky which doesn’t count).
Throughout the summer, I heard a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calling from the woods in the priority block and Elkhorn CE. I never actually got to see it. I wonder if there is only one. There are not many hairy caterpillars around, which they like to eat. This may mean that they are not successfully breeders at BIP. More observation is needed. On the other hand, there are plenty of moths at BIP, and Whip-poor-wills are present (they eat lots of moths). I was unable to confirm breeding though I suspect that there may be a nest that was predated by a bobcat! I heard a confrontation between the species during the night!
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds birds were present at BIP this summer. I never found breeding evidence. Mostly they buzzed by without pausing. Only once did I see one perched on a branch! It was a male located right at the entrance to the park.
Notably absent from the area: No Northern Mockingbirds or House Sparrow were observed in Elkhorn City SE, Elkhorn City CE, and Elkhorn CW breeding blocks! In fact, I only found two Northern Mockingbirds in Dickenson County.
In Buchanan County, I found one pair with fledglings. Interestingly, as soon as you cross into Russell County, Northern Mockingbirds become common.
Here are my findings for breeding activity broken down by breeding blocks:
Elkhorn City SE (Priority) Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017
The priority block falls in the developed area of Breaks Interstate Park (BIP). Observing breeding activity from late May to early August, I noticed patterns of breeding success. Some of the species that were confirmed breeders for this block were seen outside of the park at a wetland area and a golf course. I have noted them separately below.
In the priority block within the developed area of the park:
I witnessed Chipping Sparrows having up to three successful broods.
A pair of Carolina Wrens appeared to have two or three broods also. A family of Carolina Wrens were still feeding older fledglings in early August.
American Robins had nests near the visitor center and at least one pair had a nest in the woods. The nest in the woods was predated by a Red-Shouldered Hawk at least twice. I do not know if any of the nestlings survived from that nest.
The Eastern Phoebes were breeding at many buildings and structures. They had the most nests of any species in the park of those that I was able to find.
During my first birding outing at BIP, I heard a Barred Owl singing. There was no activity for awhile that I detected. The next thing I noticed was Barred Owl fledglings calling (more like…Hissing) in the trees. I heard them a lot for a few weeks after that they finally stopped hissing. In August, I heard Barred Owls singing again.
I believe they had a nest in the woods near Cold Springs Trail. A pair was there consistently. I witnessed predation of the American Robins nest and a Red-Shouldered Hawk carrying a robin nestling in the direction of Cold Springs Trail.
I observed four different pairs with nests with young.
The pair had two broods in the same nest located in a utility pole.
Common Ravens had a nest near Pinnacle Rock Overlook. Once the nestlings fledged, they moved around the park quite a bit traveling between the CE and SE block. Then they all left the park.
They nested in the park and the fledglings stayed close to their parents all summer. They primarily spend their time in the priority block. I think that there is only one family of crows that raised at least two fledglings.
Red-eyed Vireos (REVE)
I never found a REVE nest. It was not until July that I confirmed breeding when I started to see fledglings chasing adults and getting fed in trees. Then it seemed for about two weeks, I keep seeing and hearing the fledglings!
Wetland Area/Golf Course/and Buchanan County area nearby:
A male was observed from outside of the park carrying food into part of the woods that I believe belong to BIP.
I heard a White-eyed Vireo singing at the wetlands area outside of the park just south of the village of the Breaks. I finally confirmed breeding when I spotted a fledgling in the same spot. I did hear a White-eyed Vireo singing once at the BIP Campground in Elkhorn City CE block. I never heard or saw one in the BIP again though.
I observed a nest with young and both adults carrying food to the nest in a tree at the golf course! No Eastern Kingbirds were observed in BIP.
Red-winged Black Birds
Multiple pairs successfully breed in the wetlands. After the young had fledged, I think they traveled into the park as I observed them in a wetland area in the priority block once. They didn’t stay though.
List of Confirmed Breeding Species in Elkhorn City SE block 2016-2017
Great Crested Flycatcher
Black-throated Green Warbler
Update: Blue-headed Vireo (August 10)
Elkhorn City CE Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017
This block covers the area of Stateline Overlook, the Geological and Ridge Trails, the Campground, Deer and Beaver Pond Trails, Much of the woods where the Mountain Bike Trails are located, and the area of the park that is along the road on the drive north from the village of Breaks up to the Kentucky-side of the park. It also covers the area under the new bridge on Conaway Road, Happy Hollow Road and Breaks village.
All of the birds listed below were observed breeding in BIP, with the exception of Wood Ducks and House Finches, which I explain:
I stumbled onto the Wood Duck family when I pulled over to let a car go by in Buchanan County area of Conaway Road. There was a small waterway right there and I flushed a female Wood Duck with her fledglings. This was the only observation of Wood Ducks I made in the area. So for once, I actually appreciated a speeding tailgater!
I have not observed any House Finches in BIP. They were observed breeding along Happy Hollow Road, Buchanan County.
List of Confirmed Breeding Species in Elkhorn City CE block 2016-2017
Elkhorn City CW Block – Breeding Birds Observed 2017
No breeding birds observed. This block covers only a small area of Virginia within Breaks Interstate Park. It is difficult to access this area. It requires a hike up a rocky trail for a few miles from the Kentucky side of Breaks Interstate Park. I traveled up the trail with a biologist with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. We hoped to observe Peregrine Falcons that nested in the park in 2016. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in finding the falcons this year. A few birds were heard singing, however, no birds were observed during our hours long visit except for vultures.