Breeding Bird Atlasing at Breaks Interstate Park and Surrounding Areas: Elkhorn City SE (Priority), Elkhorn City CE, Elkhorn City CW

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:

Chipping Sparrows
I witnessed Chipping Sparrows having up to three successful broods.

Carolina Wrens
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
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.

Eastern Phoebes
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.

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Barred Owls
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.

Red-Shouldered Hawks
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.

Hairy Woodpeckers
I observed four different pairs with nests with young.

Northern Flicker
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.

American Crows
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:

Scarlet Tanager
A male was observed from outside of the park carrying food into part of the woods that I believe belong to BIP.

White-eyed Vireo
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.

Eastern Kingbird
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

Red-shouldered Hawk
Mourning Dove
Barred Owl
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Wood-Pewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
Eastern Kingbird
White-eyed Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Carolina Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Eastern Towhee
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird

Update: Blue-headed Vireo (August 10)

American Robin
all rights reserved Kelly KRechmer

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:

Wood Duck
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!

House Finch
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

Wood Duck 
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Gray Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Ovenbird
Black-and-white Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Pine Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch

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.

Elkhorn SE Breeding Block (PRIORITY) Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)

Virginia Breeding Atlas II, as of June 2017, 15 breeding bird species have been confirmed for Elkhorn SE, Dickensen County. This is a priority block. Fifteen of 20 probable breeding species have been confirmed.

Confirmed breeding birds 2016 to Present:

Peregrine Falcon
Hairy Woodpecker
Brown Thrasher
American Crow
White-breasted Nuthatch
Tufted Titmouse
Blue Jay
Chipping Sparrow
American Robin
Eastern Towee
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Phoebe
Common Raven
Carolina Chickadee
Northern Flicker

SOURCE:
eBIRD, 2017. eBird: An online database of bird distribution and abundance [web application]. eBird, Cornell University of Ornithology, Ithaca, New york. Available: http://www.ebird.org. (Accessed: June 20, 2017)

 

Update: Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020) (known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 1 1985-1989) 

During the current Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (2016-2017), thirteen breeding bird species have already been confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far: 

 • The only species that was found during the first atlas that has not been confirmed for the second atlas is: American Kestrel. All other species from the first atlas have been re-confirmed during 2016-2017.

 • The current atlas has already identified seven newly observed breeding species: Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow. 

Update: Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989 -Fauquier County.)

This block contains most of the Weston Wildlife Management Area and the a woodland area of C.M. Crockett Park.

So far for 2017, one additional species is breeding in this block: Blue-gray Gnatcatchers!

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), ten breeding bird species were confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. 

Results so far:

Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Carolina Wren, American Robin, and Barn Swallow. 

The current atlas has already identified eight new breeding species: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow. 

 Three species were identified during the first atlas that were not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (however four years still remain to confirm these species): American Kestrel, Blue Jay, European Starling.

Remington CE Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Remington CE Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Remington Block 4 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)
-Fauquier County.

This block contains the center of Bealeton; a growing town. It is primarily residential and commercial with few remaining agricultural fields. Route 28 and 17 coverage here and the rail road runs through this block. 

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), 16 breeding bird species were confirmed for Remington CE. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only four species were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  •  Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: American Robin, Common Grackle and Barn Swallow. 
  •  The current atlas has already identified seven new breeding species: Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, House Sparrow, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Willow Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove. 
  •  Only one species was identified to be breeding during the first atlas that was not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (four years still remain to confirm this species): Yellow-throated Vireo. However, the Yellow-throated Vireo has not been observed in the breeding block yet. 
  • During the first breeding atlas, Northern Bobwhite quail were observed. No breeding was confirmed. During the first year of the current breeding atlas, no Northern Bobwhite have been observed in the block. There has been significant development in the block since the first breeding atlas that probably has negatively impacted habitat for quail.

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)
-Fauquier County.

This block contains most of the Weston Wildlife Management Area and the a woodland area of C.M. Crockett Park.

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), ten breeding bird species were confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  •   Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Carolina Wren, American Robin, and Barn Swallow. 
  • The current atlas has already identified seven new breeding species: House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Chipping Sparrow. 
  •  Three species were identified during the first atlas that were not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (however four years still remain to confirm these species): American Kestrel, Blue Jay, European Starling.

Midland NW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Midland NW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Midland Block 1 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 (1985-1989)

Birding hotspot, C.M. Crockett Park is located primarily in this block (most of thr parks wood trails fall under Catlett SW). John Marshall’s Birthplace (another birding hotspot) are also in this block. This block contains most of Midland, VA, including the main area of the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport.

During the first year of the current Virginia Breeding Atlas (2016), 24 breeding bird species were confirmed for Midland NW. To date for the second breeding atlas: observed: 62, possibly breeding 27, probably breeding 24, confirmed breeding 24, total 75.This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only 22 were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989. Results so far:

  • Only 12 species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: Eastern Bluebird, Wood Duck, European Starling, House Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Tree Swallow, Common Grackle, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove. 
  • The current atlas has already identified 12 new breeding species: Carolina Chickadee, Eastern Phoebe, Purple Martin, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Kingbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Red-eyed Vireo and Indigo Bunting. 
  •  Ten species were identified during the first atlas that were not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (however four years still remain to confirm these species): American Kestrel, Canada Geese, Mallard, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Tufted Titmouse, Song Sparrow,* Blue Grosbeak. 

*Song Sparrows were noticeably absent in this block in 2016, however, many have been observed in 2017.

                    

White-eyed Vireo

A recent birding trip to Government Island resulted in an unexpected surprise sighting. On my way back to the parking lot I heard some chirping in a thicket. I was surprised to see a White-eyed Vireo feeding a fledgling. 

I had been seeking to find breeding White-eye Vireos since April with no success. I had found many singing males and returned to their locations to follow up hoping to find evidence of breeding. No luck. 

I was happy to stumble upon the vireos at Government Island. I tried to get a photo of the fledgling, however, it remained deep in the thicket making it impossible to get a photo that was anymore than a blur. Luckily, the adult male was so busy looking for insects that he perched near where I was able to snap a good photo of him!

Fauquier’s Top Birding Spot in 2016: C.M. Crockett Park

 

Have you birded C.M. Crockett Park? It definitely is a birding hot spot. Records in the eBird database show that 168 species have been found at this park.

It is worth the effort to travel to this park as it has a number of bird habitats within its boundaries.There is a large man-made lake in the center, Germantown Lake (named for the town that was submerged when the lake was created). Great Blue Herons can be found at the edge of the lake often. On occasion, Ospreys and Bald Eagles can be spotted fishing the lake or perched in the trees. Rare visitors, include seagulls, grebes, and terns. Of course, you will likely see some Canada Geese on the lake.

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There is a large grassland area at the top of the parking area. At the edge of the grassland, there is a small woodlands section. The grassland is busy during breeding season. There are numerous Indigo Buntings, Eastern Meadowlarks, Grasshopper Sparrows, swallows and more. The woodlands section hosts Carolina Wrens and Chickadees year around. During breeding season, Yellow-billed Cuckoos can be spotted in the woods although often they are only heard calling.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoos have also been spotted in the parking area. The trees that are in the parking lot are surprisingly productive for birding at times. Neotropical migrants can be found in these trees. During breeding season the Chipping Sparrow, Northern Cardinals, and Northern Mockingbirds, are often in the trees in this area. This past spring, a Prothonotary Warbler turned up in the parking lot…a rare visitor to this area.

IMG_5782
At the bottom of the parking lot is the entrance to a circular trail around a field with picnic areas. There are trees in the picnic areas and on the perimeter. Finally, there is a large woodland area on the far end of park behind the outdoor amphitheater. When there are few people, this area makes for productive birding.

Pileated Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Nuthatches and Brown Creepers have been observed in the trees in the picnic area. Most of the woodland species can be spotted occasionally in the picnic area. If you venture into the woods, there is a greater chance to see neotropical migrants during spring and fall migration. Also, this is where you will find the Wood Thrushes, Acadian Flycatchers and Eastern Wood Pewees during breeding season.

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eBird Stats for C.M. Crockett Park

2016 – 143 species seen between January 2016 and August 3, 2016
During the last 10 years, eBird shows 168 species have been observed

Personal Observations for Period of July 2015 to August 2016

Mysterious Disappearance of Song Sparrows

Song Sparrows used to be common. I would see them during most visits. For reasons unknown they have almost disappeared. The last Song Sparrow reported to eBird for the park was seen on June 9 by another birder. I have not seen Song Sparrows since March when I spotted one in the parking lot.

Where did the Gray Catbirds Go?

Gray Catbirds showed up in April, however, the last time anyone reported seeing one was my sighting on May 31. No breeding was seen. The previous year they were seen throughout the summer. Their absence was noticeably and I wonder what caused it. Predation? Did they move on to another area?

Most Successful Breeding Birds

Chipping Sparrows, Northern Mockingbirds, and Northern Cardinals. Each species was observed with fledglings throughout the breeding season. Some probably had more than one brood.

Examples of Some Rare Birds Seen Observed Spring 2016

  • Black Tern
  • Palm Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Common Loon

Breeding Failures

  • A group of Purple Martins arrived early in the breeding season, however, the traditional Purple Martin houses (there are two on the farm property at the entrance to the park) were being visited by European Starlings and House Sparrows. The Purple Martins seemed to settle in and did build nests, however, they abandoned these nests with no fledglings seen. The European Starlings and House Sparrows moved right in.
  • A pair of Tree Swallows had an active nest with eggs in an old nest box that was missing its top. There were significant rain storms during this nesting period. This nest failed. Reason unknown. Suspect the major downpours into the nesting box and/or predation with the box being easily accessible from the top.
  • A pair of Northern Cardinals had a nest with young tucked in a tree in the parking lot in a bad spot. This nest failed for unknown reasons but it also was active during the heavy rainstorms. Nest predation could have also left the nest empty

A Domestic Mallard Abandoned in the Park

After Easter, someone apparently dropped off an unwanted juvenile Mallard. Luckily, the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center was able to take it in as it would not have survived on its own. Read the story: Duckling Rescue, Enabling a New Beginning at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

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Bald Eagle Attack on a Great Blue Heron

I did not see how this confrontation began. What I saw was a Great Blue Heron in the lake moving around erratically. At first, I was confused as to what bird I was observing. Then I realized it was a Great Blue Heron. Then suddenly a Bald Eagle swopped down at the heron attacking it. The heron struggled to defend itself with is massive beak. The eagle swopped down a few more times and then appeared to be discouraged by the heron fighting back. However, the eagle landed in a tree and intently watched the heron. The heron swam back to the shore and struggled on to land. It was unable to stand at first and was very wobbly. The eagle started to launch an aerial assault on the heron and eventually landed right next to it on the bank of the lake. They began fighting with their beaks until the eagle again flew up to the tree.

I contacted a conservation officer to see if help could be sent to rescue the injured heron. There was no one able to respond. I also spoke to the staff at the lake who also were not able to respond. I returned the next morning to see if I could find the heron or the eagle. Neither were present. I am guessing that the eagle eventually ate the heron.
Threats to Wildlife at the Park

C.M. Crockett Park is very popular with fishermen. There is a boat launch and you can rent boats seasonally. Fishermen also fish from the banks. Unfortunately, many of these people leave their trash included fishing tackle on the ground here. I am constantly picking up monofilament fishing line.

Other Creatures Found in the Park

The most common animal in the park is the Gray Squirrel. White-tailed deer are rare. I have only seen them inside the park once. Chipmunks are extremely rare. Eastern box turtles can be found occasionally. There are snakes. In 2016, I spotted an adult garter snake and a juvenile copperhead snake. Sometimes, skinks may be seen.

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Garter snake

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Five-lined Skink (juvenile)

Visiting the Park

The best time to visit C.M. Crockett Park is early mornings, especially on weekdays. Also, during winter there are few people. During nice days, you will find the place is often very packed with people having picnics and fishing. It is best to avoid the park at these times as the birds go into hiding and it is often very noisy.

The park is free during off season. Seasonally, there is a charge for non-Fauquier county residents. (On weekdays, during high season, they often do not have anyone collecting fees.)