Some years ago Rob Capon encouraged me and others to do an Albemarle County big day (an activity to see as many bird species as possible in a 24-hour period in a given area, such as a county or state) so we first did one around 2008, and since then have carried on the tradition. This year Rob, who usually drives, was not able to make it so I offered my Toyota Rav-4, so long as I didn’t have to do all the driving, which is quite a lot. We selected April 27th as the day for it and at 4:40 am John Rowlett, Gretchen Gehrett, Dan Bieker, Chris Murray and I met at Barracks Road Shopping Area. Under overcast skies our first bird, a Song Sparrow, sang lustily from beyond the Ruby Tuesday.
Next on the agenda was a stop at Martha Jefferson hospital for the “stakeout” Mute Swan. Then it was south on Milton and Buck Island Roads to the settlement of Woodridge, southeast part of the county. At a stop just to the west along Secretary’s Road, we heard both Chuck-wills-widow and Whip-poor-will. Then it was on to Blenheim Road where the Screech Owl just south of the Hardware River sang as he or she has so reliably done over the years. The road just north of the river is a splendid place to meet the dawn, with Wild Turkeys gobbling in the distance and Orchard Orioles singing up close. At this point, Dan replaced me as driver.
A stop further south near Plain Dealing Farm yielded Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Savannah Sparrow. At a farm pond, John picked out an inconspicuous female Red-breasted Merganser. Next stop was Warren Ferry for Warbling Vireo, Prothonotary and Yellow-throated Warblers. Purple Martins were perched on their box along James River Road. Lone Oak farm had a Northern Harrier and its usual batch of White-crowned Sparrows. The south end of Chestnut Grove Road produced a Chat and Pine Warbler. Next stop was Howardsville where he had our top bird of the day, a Merlin, never before seen so far as I know on an Albemarle big day. I don’t know if it was Chris or John who found it. We also were fortunate to spot a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at a feeder at Howardsville’s only house.
Next stop was a power line pull off along Sharon Road, where John picked out the song of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The ascent of Heard’s Mountain added a number of warblers plus a Blue-headed Vireo to our list. After Heard’s, I had to pull out but the others continued, adding Black-and-white Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk and a few others. We ended with 117 species, which shows how rich the county can be in birdlife at this time of year. It was great to have Dan drive, have Gretchen keeping us up-to-date on the tally, have the great eye and ear of Chris just days before his departure for a new job in Saipan and John, who came up with an fitting label for our party, the Raving Five in the Rav-Four. Maybe Toyota would like us to do an ad for them.