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Shenandoah: The quiet majesty of fall migration

Posted Monday 8th October 2007 at 01:44 by Terry O'Nolley
Updated Wednesday 28th May 2008 at 00:15 by Terry O'Nolley
I got up this morning at around 8:30. I woke up at around 5:30 and that is when I should have dragged my tired carcass out of bed.

But no matter. I quickly gathered my bins, camera, bottled water and Camel Lights and headed out to my car.

The initial plan today was to go to Hughes Hollow and, hopefully, photograph some peeps and woodpeckers.

This fell apart while driving on the Capitol Beltway and realizing I had just passed the River Road exit.

What to do? I could have just went to the next exit and back-pedalled, but that just didn't "feel" like the thing to do. So I said to myself "Why not just drive an extra 80 miles and go to Shenandoah National Park?". So that is what I did.

I entered the park at the HWY 211 entrance and headed north. I stopped off at a couple of overlooks and then parked near mile-marker 25 - Thornton River Trail. The Thornton River trail leads down from Skyline Drive to the valley below.

As soon as I hit the first switch-back and the traffic was inaudible I knew that the Bird Gods had smiled on me. There was movement everywhere - even at the embarassingly late hour of 11:00.

I walked down the trail for about a kilometer and found the perfect place to settle in and watch (I am the type of birder that likes to find a promising spot and wait for the birds rather than walk a route looking for birds along the way).

I was sitting on a soft, mossy log just off the trail that was under the branches of a short tree and had ferns and weeds grown up on its sides. It was almost as good as sitting in a blind.

Almost immediately I noticed movement.

There was a steady stream of birds (only 1 or 2 at a time) flitting from tree to tree but always headed in a southerly direction.

I must have seen 20-30 thrushes (mostly Swainson's but with some Gray-cheeked/Bicknell's thrown in), 10-15 Scarlet Tanagers and dozens of unidentified warblers (I was able to get pictures of a Swainson's Thrush, a Scarlet Tanager and Blackpoll Warbler).

Sitting there without any other people around just watching the quick movement of migrating songbirds above me and listening to the sweet sounds of Autumn leaves falling was magical.

It made me think of the book [i]Songbird Journeys[/i] by Miyoko Chu. That book makes one realize just how amazing these tiny creatures are.
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