I recently attended the first ever Blue Ridge Young Birder Club field trip to Pocosin Cabin in Shenandoah National Park. I had heard great things about Pocosin, and I was very excited to finally be getting up to Greene County to visit it. The trip was well attended, with 11 young birder participants.
As we drove up the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, numerous species of asters bloomed by the roadside, creating beautiful drifts of blue and white flowers. When we got out of the car at the Pocosin Cabin Fire Road, the air felt cool and crisp, a refreshing change from the repressive heat of summer. Around us, the black gums and tulip populars were already starting to change color to deep reds and yellows, while many of the other tree species remained green. We encountered our first mixed species flock just after we passed the clearing containing Pocosin Cabin. Birds flew everywhere I looked. Swainson’s and wood thrushes were common, but try as we might, we could not find the more uncommon gray-cheeked thrush. Blue-headed vireos flew and sang from seemingly every branch. Later season warblers foraged the canopy around us, with Tennessee, blackpoll, and bay-breasted warblers being the most common species. We also saw blackburnian and black-throated-green warblers, and a northern parula. In a jewelweed-covered ditch next to the trail, a gorgeous brilliant blue, black, and white male black-throated blue warbler hopped and flitted. Good bird activity continued down the trail, and just as we were talking about how great a Philadelphia vireo would be, Max called from up ahead that he had one. We all rushed to him, but by the time we got there, the bird had disappeared. Panicked, we started thoroughly searching the abundant blue-headed vireos for the vanished Philadelphia. Finally the bird was re-found, and everybody had fabulous views as it foraged in a shrub directly above our heads.
We walked back up the fire road at a more leisurely pace, stopping periodically to look for salamanders under rocks and in the little creeks that crossed the path. Aside from many common red-backed salamanders, Carson and Robert were able to turn up a southern-two lined salamander, and some monstrously sized northern dusky salamanders.