The Virginia Society of Ornithology conducted its annual breeding bird foray in Alleghany County this year, from June 11 to June 19, 2011. 108 species were tallied, at elevations from 1000 to 3400 feet. Evidence of breeding was obtained for 85 of these species. Woodland species (except for those breeding at high elevations in Virginia) were well represented in our counts, reflective of the forested nature of the county. Water birds, nocturnal birds and grassland or shrubland species were less well represented.
Alleghany County is next to the West Virginia border, along the eastern edge of the Alleghany Mountains. it is in a part of the Appalachian mountain chain referred to as "Mountains and Valleys" or "Valley and Ridge Province". The county is comprised of a series of ridges running northeast to southwest, interspersed with valleys containing the major creeks, rivers and roads in the county. The ridges reach as high as 3000 or 4000 feet, whereas the valleys have elevations as low as ~1000 feet. Much of the county, especially at higher elevations, is part of the George Washington National Forest. Thus there are abundant forest service roads and trails available for the survey, as well as some sparsely settled roads on private land.
Most of the forest service land is heavily forested, although there is some logging going on. There are several roadless and wilderness areas containing undisturbed forest. Inventoried Roadless Areas are areas with no existing roads that have been identified as suitable for conservation by the US Forest Service. Oliver Mountain and Dolly Ann Roadless Areas are completely within Alleghany County, and the southern ends of Beard's Mountain and Mill Mountain Roadless Areas are also in the county. Designated Wilderness Areas, created by an act of Congress, are also pristine; the lower half of the Rich Hole Wilderness Area is within the county. These areas were included in the survey.
Hiking and/or driving routes were designed to obtain good coverage of all regions of the county. Almost all of the state roads, and many of the forest roads and trails were surveyed. In addition, we were careful to sample a broad range of elevations.
Twenty groups (31 forayers, see Acknowledgements) carried out 106 eBird-type counts during the Foray. Location (and often GPS coordinates at the start of the count), date, starting time, duration, and distance were recorded for each count. In addition, evidence of breeding activity was sought.
Twenty-one of the counts were "stationary" counts, and the other 91 were "traveling" counts. These counts covered 319 miles: 62 miles hiking, 252 miles driving, and 5 miles boating. 7533 birds were seen during 168 hours of counts (TABLE 1, column 3).
The individual checklists are available on eBird under the username "2011VSOforay" (password provided upon request).
Weather was partly/cloudy on June 15, 16, 18 and 19, and sunny for the rest of the foray; there was no rain in the daytime. Mid-day temperatures were in the mid 70's to low 80's, except for June 12, which was in the high 80's.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Alleghany County has not been surveyed previously by the Virginia Society of Ornithology, so we must look elsewhere for comparisons. Bath and Highland, the neighboring counties to the north, were most recently forayed in 2003 (Spahr, 2003). Although it is somewhat difficult to judge whether the amount of effort is comparable (see legend to TABLE 1), the number of birds seen is in general very similar for a given species (compare columns 1-3 in TABLE 1). The total number of birds was ~7000 for Highland County, ~8000 for Bath County, and 7537 for the present Foray in Alleghany County.
Additional information from "Birds of Bath and Highland Counties in Virginia" (2004) and the "North American Breeding Bird Survey" (Sauer et al., 2011), as well as a comparison with eBird information for surrounding counties (see below), were also used for comparison.
A total of 108 species were observed ( TABLE 1, column 3), and evidence of breeding obtained for 85 of these ( TABLE 2). A number of these species will be discussed individually under "Selected Species Accounts", below. However, a few general observations can be made:
As just mentioned, the number of birds of a given species that we observed was generally similar to the number seen during the 2003 Foray of Bath and Highland Counties (Spahr, 2003). However, this was not the case for species that breed at higher elevations. These were more abundant in Highland County than in Bath (compare columns 1 and 2 in TABLE 1). This is to be expected, as Highland has a higher mean elevation (2832 ft.) than Bath (2210 ft.) (County Highpointers Association, 2011). Alleghany is on average lower still (2030 ft.), and tends to continue the trend, having even fewer (or no) birds of those species (column 3 in TABLE 1). This trend is observed to a greater or lesser degree for the following high elevation breeders in Virginia: Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Least Flycatcher, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Hermit Thrush, a number of warblers (Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Canada), Dark-eyed Junco and Purple Finch.
Fewer species were seen (108) in Alleghany than during the Bath-Highland Foray (136). The missing species included some water-associated birds, grassland birds, successional-scrub birds (Northern Bobwhite and several warblers), a couple of owls, Fish Crow, Loggerhead Shrike, and Pine Siskin, in addition to some of the high-elevation breeders just discussed.
We used eBird data for the 15 counties surrounding Alleghany (FIGURE 1) as another standard of comparison. We chose counties in the "Mountains and Valleys" province (see list in the legend to FIGURE 1), and looked at the frequency of occurrence in mid-June of 2007 - 2011. Our frequencies are generally similar to those of the neighboring counties, with some exceptions (TABLE 1, compare columns 4 and 5). For example, the frequency of worm-eating warblers (43% of checklists) and ovenbirds (52% of checklists) is higher than for the surrounding counties taken together (11% and 16%). These forest birds are doing well in Alleghany.
SELECTED SPECIES ACCOUNTS
Species whose counts, frequencies or locations seemed unremarkable have been omitted from these accounts.
CANADA GEESE were seen at six locations, spread across the county, during the foray. The locations included: Lake Moomaw, Simpson Creek (eastern Alleghany County), Potts Creek (south of Covington, VA), and near the Jackson River (near Iron Gate, VA).
Two forayers reported WOOD DUCKS. Two were found by Barry Kinzie near the Jackson River (near Iron Gate, VA) on June 17, 2011. Three were found by Paul Bedell at the White Oak Dairy, along Potts Creek Road (Highway 18), south of Covington, VA on June 13, 2011.
A MALLARD seen in the Humpback Bridge area on June 13 by Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton may have been a domestic hybrid. Elisa Enders saw another 5 Mallards along Route 42 on June 14, 2011.
Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton saw a RUFFED GROUSE on June 13, 2011 on State Route 613, giving a female alarm call. Tim Hodge saw one on June 14, 2011 on Brushy Lick Loop Trail.
A single SHARP-SHINNED HAWK was seen by Bill and Arlene Williams on June 13, 2011 at Jerry's Run.
COOPER’S HAWKS were reported by Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton in the general vicinity of Route 600 south of Interstate 64 on June 13, 2011, and by Barry Kinzie near Iron Gate, VA on June 17, 2011.
RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS were reported at three locations. Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton found one in the general vicinity of Route 600 south of I-64 on June 13, 2011. Paul Bedell found one at White Oak Dairy, on Potts Creek Road (Highway 18) south of Covington, VA on June 15. Meredith and Lee Bell found two at Dolly Ann Drive, northeast of Covington, on June 16. Interestingly, all reports of RED-SHOULDERED HAWKS came from central Alleghany County.
BROAD-WINGED HAWKS were noted by six groups at seven locations across the county. All locations were within 5 miles of Interstate 64.
Our number of AMERICAN KESTRELS is perhaps a little low. On June 13, 2011, Bill Williams saw one at Moss Run Baptist Church on Route 159 and Barry Kinzie saw one in the extreme southwest of the county. In contrast, 14 were seen in Highland County and 5 in Bath during the 2003 Foray. This pattern of decreasing counts across the counties has been mentioned as typical of high-elevation breeders, but kestrels don't show much elevational bias. Since Highland County has more open country than Bath or Alleghany (Vogelmann et al., 2001), perhaps more kestrels were seen there for that reason.
A FORSTER'S TERN was reported by Tim Hodge at Lake Moomaw on June 13, 2011. There are only a few records of this species so far west in Virginia. On eBird, Barry Kinzie recorded one at Lake Moomaw (presumably the same bird) on May 20, 2011, and David Clark recorded one at an unspecified location in neighboring Bath county on August 18, 2006. There is also a record for Lake Moomaw in Bath County on May 18, 2002 ( Bath-Highland Bird Club, 2004).
Bill and Arlene Williams reported a SPOTTED SANDPIPER at the Low Moor YMCA near the Jackson River, on June 14, 2011 between 8 and 10 AM. Between 10 AM and 2 PM, Barry Kinzie also saw a spotted sandpiper, flying along the Jackson River about a mile below the Gathright Dam (at quite a distance from the first sighting). He again saw this species at about the same location on July 6, 2011. Spotted sandpipers were not seen during the Bath-Highland 2003 Foray, nor in surrounding counties on eBird in mid-June, 2007-2011 (TABLE 1). They are more commonly seen in April-May and then again in July-August in this region, so our bird(s) is probably not nesting.
On June 13, 2011, a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO was heard at an altitude of 2400 feet on Route 658 by Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton. Andrew Clem reported another one on Forest Road 582 on June 14, 2011. Wendy Ealding, Dan Perkuchin and Lee Adams reported a third on June 16, 2011 along Ogle Creek Road within five miles of I-64.
An EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and a BARRED OWL were both heard on June 13, 2011 between 9 and 10PM at the Fortney Branch Boat Ramp by Tim Hodge.
A BARRED OWL was also reported by John Spahr (June 15, 2011 on Dry Run Trail), and by Laura Neale and Elisa Enders (June 13, 2011, along State Route 770).
A goodly number of EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS (19, by 5 groups) were heard. This is more than the 2 heard in Highland and 7 heard in Bath during the 2003 VSO Foray (Spahr, 2003). However, the frequency of Whip-poor-wills on our checklists (6%) is similar to that (4%) for the 15 surrounding counties in mid-June, 2007-11 (Table 1), indicating that our numbers are not unexpectedly high.
Our Whip-poor-wills were heard at dusk or dawn; no surveys were conducted at night.
Tim Hodge observed a recently fledged whip-poor-will on Oliver Mountain Trail on June 14, 2011. This appears to be the only record of confirmed breeding in the area. There is no evidence of confirmed breeding in neighboring Highland and Bath Counties (Bath-Highland Bird Club, 2004).
CHIMNEY SWIFTS were less abundant than reported for Bath-Highland in 2003, when greater than 150 birds were seen in 38 groups. In contrast, we saw 41 birds in nine groups. This corresponded to a frequency (8%) that was somewhat low compared to neighboring counties (22%, Table 1).
A RED-HEADED WOODPECKER was seen by Tim Hodge by Lake Moomaw at Hughes Draft on June 14, 2011.
A possible YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER juvenile was seen by Wes Brown on June 11, 2011 at an elevation of 2300 feet on the eastern slope of Brushy Mountain (FR 345 in northwest Alleghany County). This is an unusual sighting because sapsuckers are expected to breed at a higher elevation (above 3500 feet, Rottenborn and Brinkley, 2007). However, there is a summer observation at 2563 feet (June 22, 2004, at Glen Alton in Giles County; Virginia Birds, 2004). Another anomaly is that the timing is very early; sapsuckers are only beginning to fledge in mid-June. Thus this is a possible but not at all expected observation (Roger Clapp and John Gerwin, personal communications).
WILLOW FLYCATCHERS were found at three locations during the foray. Tim Hodge had singles along Route 600 (between Routes 641 and 666) and near the Lake Moomaw dam, both on June 13, 2011. Barry Kinzie found a single bird near Iron Gate, VA on June 17.
A LEAST FLYCATCHER (a high-elevation breeder, see above) was seen by Tim Hodge in the Oliver Mountain Roadless Area on June 13 and 14, 2011.
A WARBLING VIREO was found on June 13 along Route 269 (near Simpson Creek), about 1 mile east of the intersection with the Cowpasture River (Frank and Mary Enders).
Chickadees have all been listed as CAROLINA/BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, because the hybrid zone between these two species runs through the county, and the birds can only be sorted into separate species or hybrids by DNA analysis (Sattler and Braun, 2000; Sattler et al., 2007). Vocalizations and appearance typical of both species were reported. Interestingly, we found that with one exception, the chickadees seen at elevations greater than 2700 feet (18 out of 19) had black-capped-like vocalizations. These higher elevations included SR 617 near the border with Craig County (Pott's Mountain), SR 602 & 603 near the West Virginia border (Big Ridge), and Fore and Warm Springs Mountains north of Covington. John Spahr reported the exception, a Carolina-like bird at around 3000 feet on Dry Run Trail, June 15, 2011.
Tim Hodge saw a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH at an elevation of 2300-2500 feet on June 14, 2011 on Brushy Lick Loop Trail (Forest Trail 488).
A pair of HERMIT THRUSHES was seen in the vicinity of route 18 south of Boiling Spring by John Fox on June 17, 2011. This bird is a high-elevation breeder in Virginia, and indeed hermit thrushes show the decreasing pattern from Highland and Bath Counties mentioned above. However, this particular thrush was seen at a relatively low elevation (between 1300-1600 feet).
A pair of BLUE-WINGED WARBLERS was seen in an open area surrounded by forest on Ogle Creek Rd. at an elevation of 2000 feet, by Wendy Ealding, Lee Adams and Dan Perkuchin. They were at the expected habitat (shrubland, mixed forest) and elevation (Wilson et al., 2007). Wilson et al. obtained a frequency of occurrence of 1 out of 16 counts (6%) in Alleghany County, but they were selecting count sites that had appropriate habitat. We obtained a lower frequency of 1%, not selecting habitat.
Wilson et al. (2007) observed GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLERS at a frequency of 12% (2 counts out of 16) in appropriate habitat in Alleghany County, but we did not observe any during the Foray. They noted that this species is rapidly declining.
Andrew Clem observed a YELLOW WARBLER on State Road 633 on June 14, 2011. The dearth of yellow warblers during the foray was not expected; Rottenborn and Brinkley (2007) state that it is a common summer resident in the lowlands of the "Mountains and Valleys" region of Virginia. A number of yellow warblers were reported during the 2003 VSO Foray (80 in Highland County and 43 in Bath). However, the Breeding Bird Survey (Sauer et al, 2011) shows a significant decline in this species (-2.2%, between 1999 & 2009, the third largest decline for a neotropical migrant in Virginia). Also, Yellow Warblers were not particularly common in the surrounding counties (a frequency of 6%, Table 1).
A BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, singing, was reported at ~2300 feet on Brushy Lick Loop Trail (Forest Trail 488), on June 14, 2011 by Tim Hodge.
BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER is a high-elevation breeder, mostly above 2500 feet, in Virginia (Rottenborn and Brinkley, 2007). Indeed, a number were found in Highland but not Bath County during the 2003 VSO Foray, a trend seen with high-elevation breeders (see general discussion above). However, in the case of this species, the trend did not continue. We saw 31 Blackburnians, similar to the ~30 seen in Highland in 2003. However, unlike the Highland birds, most were found below 3000 feet. Tim Hodge saw 26 Blackburnians, mostly along Hughes Creek at an elevation of about 1750 feet on June 14, 2011. Bill and Arlene Williams saw four at various elevations in mixed white pine/deciduous forest along the Alleghany Trail on June 13, 2011. One of them was seen at the beginning of the trail, at an elevation of about 2200 feet, carrying nesting material. Another, a juvenile, was seen at a higher elevation about a mile along the trail. John Spahr reported one at about 2500-3000 feet on June 15, 2011.
A YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER was reported by Elisa, Frank and Mary Enders, June 16, 2011, on Route 220 at the Jackson River (near the Devil's Backbone rock formation).
CERULEAN WARBLERS were encountered by four groups at seven different locations. Barry Kinzie found two birds in the area of Routes 602 and 603 on June 13. Tim Hodge found birds at four locations: two birds along Route 600, north of Interstate 64 on June 13; one bird along Route 605, north of Route 666 on June 13; three birds along Brushy Lick Loop on June 14; one bird on Meeden Hollow Trail on June 14. Clyde Kessler found a single bird in the vicinity of Peter's Mountain on June 17. Bill and Arlene Williams found a single bird at Jerry’s Run on June 13.
WORM-EATING WARBLERS were abundant in places. The high count was 24, in a one-mile stretch of Forest Road 345 on the eastern slope of Brushy Mountain (Wes and Susan Brown, June 11, 2011). There was copious evidence of breeding, including a nest with eggs located by Elisa, Frank, and Mary Enders on June 15, 2011 in Rich Hole Wilderness Area and photographed by Andrew Clem (FIGURE 2).
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES were commonly seen. Since this bird has been touted as an indicator of water quality (Newell, 2011), we asked which creeks our waterthrushes were associated with. Survey routes passed next to the following creeks: Lick Log, Ogle, John's Run, Dry Run, Fortney Branch, Hughes, Jackson River, Cast Steel Run, Jerry's Run, Karne's, White Rock, Hayes, Blue Spring Run, Simpson, Pounding Mill Run, Blue Suck or Downy Branch, Smith, Johnson, Big Run, and South Fork of the Ogle. Waterthrushes were seen at all but the last three of these. Almost all of the waterthrushes (39 out of 43) were seen before 10:30 AM; two more were probably seen before 10:30 AM, one was seen between 11 AM and 12:25 PM, and one was seen after 5 PM. In contrast, the three creeks where no waterthrushes were seen were all surveyed mid-day (10:30 AM - 3:30 PM). We conclude that water quality is probably good throughout the county, and time of day likely explains the lack of waterthrushes in a few creeks. Three groups each reported a KENTUCKY WARBLER. Barry Kinzie had a single bird on June 11, near Rich Patch. Sue and Randy Thrasher found a bird nearby, on Route 622, on June 18. Tim Hodge found one south of Lake Moomaw along Oliver Mountain Trail on June 14, 2011. Three individual COMMON YELLOWTHROATS were found during the foray period. Elisa Enders heard one along Route 850, in the eastern portion of the county, at a crossing with Simpson Creek, on June 12. Tim Hodge found a bird along Route 600, north of Interstate 64 on June 13. Bill and Arlene Williams found a bird at the YMCA at Low Moor on June 14. Only one CANADA WARBLER, a high elevation breeder, was reported during the foray. The singing bird was reported by Tim Hodge on June 14, 2011 in the Oliver Mountain Roadless Area. YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS were found at several locations. Barry Kinzie found a chat near Rich Patch on June 11. Bill and Arlene Williams found two birds at the YMCA at Low Moor on June 14. Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton found an individual along Route 658, on the northern section of Peter’s Mountain, on June 14. Single chats were also found on Forest Road 466, in the eastern portion of the county, on June 13, and along Route 18, south of Covington, on June 18. Tim Hodge saw a partial albino CHIPPING SPARROW on the east side of the Fortney Loop Trail in the Lake Moomaw area on June 13, 2011. A single GRASSHOPPER SPARROW was seen, by Rexanne Bruno and Susan Stanton on June 13, 2011. The bird was on route 600 or 614, about 5 miles south of Interstate 64. BLUE GROSBEAKS (an uncommon summer resident, Rottenborn and Brinkley, 2007)were found at six locations by five groups across the county. This is in marked contrast to INDIGO BUNTINGS (an abundant summer resident, ibid), which were found by almost every group and, when found, often had numbers in double digits.
REFERENCES Bath-Highland Bird Club. 2004. Birds of Bath and Highland Counties in Virginia. www.virginiabirds.net/VSO_PDFs/Bath-Highland_Birds_04.pdf County Highpointers Association. 2011. http://cohp.org/records/mean_elevation/mean_elevations.html Newell, F.L. 2011. A Tale of Two Streams. Birding 43(3):32-42. Rottenborn, S.C. and E.S. Brinkley. 2007. Virginia's birdlife; An Annotated Checklist. Fourth Edition. Virginia Society of Ornithology. Spahr, J. 2003. The Bath and Highland County Foray of June 2003. The Raven 74(2):28-52. Sattler, G. D. and M. J. Braun. 2000. Morphometric variation as an indicator of genetic interactions between Black-capped and Carolina chickadees at a contact zone in the Appalachian Mountains. The Auk 117:427-444. Sattler, G.D., P. Sawaya and M.J. Braun. 2007. An Assessment of Song Admixture as a Indicator of Hybridization in Black-capped Chickadees (Poecile atricapillus) and Carolina chickadees (P. carolinensis). The Auk 124(3):926-944. Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W. A. Link. 2011. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2009. Version 3.23.2011 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD Virginia Birds 1(1): 8, 2004. Virginia Society of Ornithology, publisher. Vogelmann, J.E., S.M. Howard, L. Yang, C. R. Larson, B. K. Wylie, and J. N. Van Driel. 2001. Completion of the 1990’s National Land Cover Data Set for the conterminous United States, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 67:650-662. Wilson, M. D., B. D. Watts, M. G. Smith, J. P. Bredlau, and L. W. Seal. 2007. Status Assessment of Golden-winged Warblers and Bewick’s Wrens in Virginia. Center for Conservation Biology Technical Report Series, CCBTR-07-02. College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA. 34 pp.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks to the forayers, many of whom put in a remarkable amount of effort:Lee Adams; Paul Bedell; Meredith and Lee Bell; Wes and Susan Brown; Rexanne Bruno; Andrew Clem; Wendy Ealding; Elisa, Frank and Mary Enders; David Fox; John Fox; Tim Hodge; Bill Hunley; Clyde Kessler; Barry Kinzie; Laura Neale; Jesse Overcash; Sarah Patterson; Dan Perkuchin; Alyce and Tim Quinn; John Spahr; Susan Stanton; Sue and Randy Thrasher; Sam Truslow; Bill and Arlene Williams. Thanks also to John Gerwin and Roger Clapp for consultations about yellow-breasted sapsuckers, and to Gene Sattler for help with the chickadees. Thanks to Marek Smith of The Nature Conservancy for sharing data collected in Alleghany County during the Foray period. And thanks to Ed Haverlack, Liz Higgins and Sharon Mohney of the United States Forest Service for their help.
TABLES AND FIGURES TABLE 1: Columns 1 and 2 are the numbers of birds seen in Highland and Bath Counties, estimated from the 2003 VSO Foray Report (Spahr, 2003). Column 3 lists the number of birds seen during the present Foray. The frequency of occurrence (= the percentage of checklists where the bird was seen at least once) for column 3 is given in column 4. Column 5 contains the frequency of occurrence for the 15 surrounding counties (see FIGURE 1) during the middle two weeks in June 2007-2011(= 375 checklists).
In 2003, there were 49 observers, 104 field lists (the list of one group for one day), and 175 observer days. This Foray had 31 observers, 106 check lists (the equivalent of roughly 31 field lists), and 49 observer days. TABLE 2: Breeding evidence is noted using standard abbreviations (taken from eBird). Note that not all forayers included evidence in the "Possible" category. FIGURE 1: The counties used for comparison in column 5 of TABLE 1 are the following:
Augusta, Bath, Bland, Botetourt, Craig, Giles, Highland, Montgomery, Pulaski, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Smyth, Tazewell, Whythe. FIGURE 2: Worm-eating warbler nest, photographed on June 15, 2011 by Andrew Clem.