Raptorthon 2021

HMN Penny Warren was one of a five member team, the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watchers, which participated in a day-long annual bird watching event on May 10, 2021.

“The purpose of Raptorthon is simple: get outside and have fun birding while raising funds on behalf of raptor monitoring throughout the Americas!” – Hawk Migration Association of North America

Penny’s fellow team member, Ezra Staengl, describes their day here:

On May 10, the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watchers team (Vic Laubach, Baxter Beamer, Ezra Staengl, Penny Warren, and Rich Wood, pictured above L to R) conducted our 9th annual Raptorthon to raise funds for Hawk Migration Association of North America (HMANA) and our local Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch. The first bird of the day was an Eastern Whip-poor-will singing at 5am as we descended into Highland County, followed by more in the pre-dawn hours.

Just after sunrise, we arrived at the road to Paddy Knob; a gravel road with only the name ‘public road 55’ to identify it. Cold mist stung our skin upon exiting the car while Least Flycatchers sang their short “chi-bek!” song from every direction. A Veery’s melodious descending song echoed off the mountainside. Warblers were everywhere, including Blackburnian, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and American Redstart. Farther up the mountain it was foggier, with less bird song, but Chestnut-sided and Canada Warblers were singing. At the top, we heard two Ruffed Grouse drumming, a sound so low it registered more as a rhythmic popping feeling than an actual sound. We also heard three Mourning Warblers, an important target bird at Paddy Knob.

Later on, we met up with John Spahr in the Blue Grass Valley. John monitors many raptor nest boxes and kindly offered to show us some nesting birds. We walked up a nearby hill whereupon he inserted a camera inside a box as we viewed a female Eastern Screech-Owl with chicks on a small screen. Then we headed up Wimer Mountain Road to Bramble Hill, one of the best places in the state to see breeding Golden-winged Warblers. Here, John showed us an occupied American Kestrel nest box with 5 eggs. He proceeded to capture the female, and then we helped band her on a leg. Seeing a kestrel up close in the hand was an exciting experience for all of us!

We soon heard several Golden-winged Warblers, and located one foraging in a low shrub by the road. Every so often it would sing its loud buzzy song and then promptly go back to foraging. Soon, a second singing Golden-winged Warbler was heard nearby. We then said goodbye to John and continued on our adventure. Another highlight of the day occurred at a small pond off Laurel Fork Road. We pulled over because we noticed a couple Least Sandpipers from the car, but closer inspection revealed there were actually 38, as well as two Spotted Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Lesser Yellowlegs! We also found 3 Greater Yellowlegs earlier at a different pond. Highland County is a land of mountains, and has little to offer shorebirds. These birds were surely migrating, and the overnight storms likely forced them down onto the small farm ponds where we encountered them.

We ended our day around 7:30 pm, by which time most of us were thoroughly exhausted. Overall, we birded in five counties (Highland, Bath, Augusta, Rockingham, and Pocahontas) and two states (VA and WV). We saw or heard 110 bird species, including 8 raptors (Screech-owl, Kestrel, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Broad-winged Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, and Black and Turkey Vultures), 7 shorebirds, 5 swallows, 19 warblers, and 9 sparrows. Most importantly, we had a fun, memorable experience while raising a record number of donations, amounting to over $2,240. Thank you so much to everyone who donated!

– Ezra Staengl, Raptorathon team member, May 2021

Thanks to Penny for arranging for this webpost!

Below is a Golden-winged Warbler in Highland County found during the event. The photograph is by team member Baxter Beamer.

Find more photos of the May 10, 2021, Raptorthon on the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch facebook page HERE.