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Virginia’s Fall Bird Migration is Almost Here

By Bruce Ingram

Raptor watchers eagerly await the month of September because that’s when many hawks make their way through Virginia. Actually, emphasizes Kent Davis, president of the Roanoke Valley Bird Club, the fall migration has already begun – and perhaps ended – for some avian species.

“Spotted and solitary sandpipers start moving through Virginia in late July and are mostly gone by mid- to-late- August,” Davis says. “Our nesting barn swallows have probably already flown south by mid-to- late August. Chances are that the ones people see later are migrants from up north.”

Nevertheless, nothing causes wildlife watchers to journey to mountain peaks and other vantage points like the migration of hawks.

“Raptor watches are the ones that are most likely to attract the most people,” Davis says.

“In fact, a lot of people who are hawk watchers aren’t very interested in the migration of songbirds. They jokingly look upon migrating warblers and vireos as ‘hawk food.’”

The songbird contingent claims the stage in October.

“If you’re a fan of thrushes, the first couple weeks of October are a magical time,” Davis continues. “The breeding wood thrushes are still here, and the gray-cheeked and Swainson thrushes are coming through for a couple of weeks. A while later, our nesting robins [robins are members of the thrush family] leave our backyards and head south.

“Meanwhile, robins from up north arrive here, and they concentrate mainly in wooded areas. One of the thrushes that is most common here in the winter is the hermit species.”

An image of a Golden crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet.

October is also a time when sparrow species make their way to or through the Old Dominion as well. Among this family, Davis says two of the most common winter residents are the juncos and white-throated sparrows. Fox and white-crowned sparrows also winter in our state in fair numbers.

But from late August through most of September, most wildlife watchers will likely be concentrating on the annual raptor migration. Davis recommends that folks wanting to observe this phenomenon take advantage of the Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail (VBWT). Among the best destinations, he says, are Harvey’s Knob near Roanoke, Rockfish Gap, and Kiptopeke State Park.

Jessica Ruthenberg, Watchable Wildlife Biologist for DWR, adds such Hawk Watch locales as the ones at Snickers Gap, Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve, and Hall Road in Craig County.

So don’t miss out on all the fun of observing birds as large as golden and bald eagles or as diminutive as golden-crowned kinglets. Some birds have already left the Commonwealth, but the best viewing is yet to come.

  • August 22, 2019