George Washington National Forest

Elizabeth Furnace recreation area, located in George Washington National Forest just north of Fort Valley, Virginia is the comfy and very awesome campground we stayed in this weekend… It was a 5 hour drive, but well worth it! The campground was packed but we ended up finding a spot that was mostly private. All of the campsites are pretty private and well spaced and come with a tent pad, a fire ring, and a picnic table. Brian and I arrived at the campsite a little late in the afternoon .. we set up our tent, took a short walk to make sure we got the best campsite..then did a little relaxing in the tent. We hung out for a little while  discussing what we would do the next day and eventually went to sleep. The next morning I woke up early as usual! and as I lay there, I could hear two chickadees calling to each other outside of our tent window. I Got  up.. quickly got dressed and went outside to check out the little bird couple. I sat outside at the picnic table for a little  and noticed the female kept flying towards our lamp-post….because I’m too short, I couldn’t see down inside of  the lamp-post so I put my camera down in the hole and tried to get an idea of what she was so worried about…Well, apparently she had a nest down in there! The little chickadees eventually understood that we meant no harm to them and started going down in the lamp post to tend to their eggs. It was such a cute couple to watch!

Ma & Pa Chickadee

Mama Chickadee at the campsite lamp-post where her eggs are hidden

Papa Chickadee standing guard while his mate tends to their eggs

very cleverly hidden chickadee eggs

We were so lucky to have several other chickadees visiting our campsite as well! I love these tiny little birds. Did you know, Carolina chickadees are able to lower their body temperatures to get into a state of hypothermia. They do this to keep energy during extremely cold winter. Chickadees find a place they can hide in and lower their body temperature and can stay in a state of hypothermia for up to fifteen hours!

We took a nature walk around the campground on our way down to the Shenandoah river. WOW! It was a hot day! We really couldn’t wait to get near the water where it was much cooler…. Along the way we spotted a couple different types of  Pretty wild flowers and  a few birds… The Baltimore Orioles were singing high in the tree tops and were very pretty! I also saw lots of little Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Eastern Phoebes.

Eastern Phoebe

Gray Catbird

Once we arrived to the very comfortable river edge, we cooled off and put our feet in. Brian brought his chair to relax in while I ran around looking for things to take pictures of : ) The water was flowing over the rocks and down into a big pool…oh my was it clear! We could see the fish swimming! The water is nothing like this in the area I’m from. It was very breathtaking…

fish swimming in the clear Shenandoah water. I counted 7, how about you?

Canada Darner (I believe) munchin on a leaf

We headed back to the campsite to unwind for the day. Brian cooked me an yummy dinner and built us an awesome fire. We had a beautiful day, and it was nice to relax with the stars above us and a nice warm cozy fire to sit by.

Cozy Campfire - of course we made s'mores!

The next morning we both woke up early. Brian and I wanted to drive the entire Skyline Drive, A beautiful 35 mph 105 mile windy but smooth drive along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.There are 75 breath-taking overlooks!  We made breakfast before we set out on our journey, and got visited by a few tiny critters.

Eastern Tent Moth checkin whats for breakfast

Tiny Brown Jumper Spider

We quickly packed up and headed to Shenandoah National Park to drive down the scenic Sky Line. This drive has to be the most peaceful drive I’ve ever been on… The sights, the smells, the wildlife, It really just doesn’t get any better! We stopped at literally every other lookout and checked out “SkyLand“, a really neat resort area and its elevation is 3680 which is the highest point on Sky Line Drive! Driving down skyline we usually see tons of deer, but this time we only saw one…she was older and didn’t seem to mind the cars riding by. About half way down the skyline we came across a bear in a tree over the road! It was just sniffin’ around in a tree and looked a little confused. Brian and I agreed it looked younger, and didn’t want to wait around for mom to come around.

Black Bear sniffin around in a tree

When we finally arrived home, 11 hours later… We went to Chicks Beach on the Chesapeake Bay and watched a stunning sunset. It was a perfect ending to a fun-filled day from the mountains to the bay!

Sunset - Chicks Beach on Chesapeake Bay

Camping at Chippokes Plantation State Park

Chippokes Plantation is one of the nicest campgrounds I’ve ever been to. The campsites aren’t on top of each other and the bathroom is conveniently located. There’s so much to do! (be sure to read my earlier post) Brian and I had a great time checking out The Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum and we got to meet a cute little pot-bellied pig  with so much personality! His name was Taz and he was the sweetest little guy! We spent two nights at the campground and met wonderful camp hosts, Doug and Cathy, very nice folks and very helpful! I will definitely visit this campground again.

Eastern Bluebird after an early morning shower

Our first night went kind of fast, we didn’t get out of the house till late but we managed to get to the park before it got dark. We set our tent up and built a campfire. It was a beautiful night the stars were out and we were relaxing around the fire with s’mores yum! The next morning I work up early – this was our first camping trip of 2010, so of course I was overly excited! It rained a little in the morning, but the sun shined through and pushed out the clouds. I didn’t want to wake Brian up so I took a quick walk through the campground to check out the birds.

Chipping Sparrow foraging in a campsite

Bald Eagle soaring high over the campground

On the way back to the campsite I got to see a few smaller butterflies. I was very fortunate for them to land and let me take their picture.

Horace's Duskywing Skipper Butterfly basking in the sun

Eastern Tailed-blue having a short rest on a clover leaf

A very curious Silver-spotted Skipper

I walked back to the campsite after watching the little butterflies flutter around. We made a bowl of cereal and discussed what we were going to do first. We walked to the beach and the visitor center. Lots of Zebra Swallowtails fluttered by on our way down the shady road. when we got to the visitor center we looked through the binoculars and checked out the James River. I spotted a Blue Heron who was on the hunt.

Blue Heron hunting

After leaving the beach & visitor center we went and looked at all the farm and forestry exhibits, we headed over to the plantation house. I don’t think i could ever get tired of walking through the garden – It’s such a beautiful place!

Five-lined Skink basking in the sun on the plantation house

Close your eyes, make a wish...& BLOW!

On our way to the car, I stopped to look at the beautiful bluebells again…to my surprise there was a tiny white crab spider! I think they are the most interesting looking spiders.

White Crab Spider guarding a set of Bluebells

I really didn’t want to leave Chippokes… but on our last day we decided to get up early, get on the ferry ride it over to Jamestown and ride the entire colonial parkway to Yorktown. Once we got on the ferry we were literally 10 ft from an osprey in the middle of constructing a nest, and once we got to the other side of the James river I could see inside an Osprey’s nest from the top deck of the ferry. It was so awesome!

Osprey building a new nest

Osprey Mom from the top deck of the ferry

Yorktown Battlefield National Park has a lot to see as well, but we only drove through this time. I got to see a Mute Swan very briefly. They are so graceful to watch glide through the water.

Beautiful Mute Swan

Brian’s Mom Sibyl and Her Husband Norris Live in Yorktown. It would have been silly for us not to have stopped by and at least say hello for a bit while we were in the area. We chatted, caught up on what everyone was doing and Sibyl told me they had Canada geese babies at their little pond in front of their neighborhood. It was so sweet to see them!

Momma Canada Goose and Goslings

Chippokes Plantation State Park

A beautiful sunny spring day! It got to be 80 degrees, and we took a ride to check out Hogg Island State Wildlife Refuge. The trip to Hogg Island was about an hour from our house. Once we got to the Refuge we soon found out that Dominion power had a plant right in front of the refuge and apparently you can get back there. Chippokes Plantation State Park was right down the street and Brian had never been to the park before. Chippokes is absolutely beautiful and not to mention one of the oldest working farms in the United States. The State Park currently has bike trails, hiking trails, horse trails, a picnic area, beach on the James River, camping, and colonial style cabins. The plantation has several historical exhibits and also The Chippokes Farm and Forestry Museum. We wanted to see everything today, but there was so much to see! We decided we would come camping sometime this month to see everything…. I can’t wait! Spring has just started and all of the trees and flowers were blooming!

Osprey nesting at Chippokes Plantation State Park

We started with a walk on the beach. Its not your typical ocean sand, but the beach does have sand and lots of shells! We picked up a few scallop shells, WOW! they were huge! The beach has trees and plenty of shade to sit and relax on those hot days….

After walking on the beach we headed towards the plantation house to walk though the garden. Oh how wonderful it was to see  all of the wildflowers blooming!

Also in the Plantation’s Garden there were tons of butterflies! BUT because I’m sill learning my camera, I missed out on alot of opportunities… not being prepared – o well! Some of the butterflies we saw today include a Pearl Crescent on the beach, tons of Cabbage Whites, Clouded Sulphurs, Blues and lots of different Swallowtails.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail

Honey Bee

Honey Bee

Valentines Day in Hatteras, NC

For Valentines Day we spent the weekend in the outer banks.  We did a little four wheeling on the beach in my brand new 1994 Jeep Wrangler YJ!! Brian and I stayed in cute cabanas on the beach. They were all one room cabins on stilts and were privately owned so each one had its own personality! When we got to Hatteras National Seashore, we checked out the light house and the snow started coming down! Quite a sight!

Cape Hatteras Light and heavy snow coming down

When we got to the tip of Hatteras, where all the fisherman usually are…..we sat and watched hundreds of thousands of Great Comorants fly in from the south in the snow. We were so amazed! We drove around a little on the beach, but it was cloudy and snowing so we decided to head to the Cabana for the night. We had homemade meatballs and rice. yum! The snow finally stopped and the moon came out. It was beautiful!

The next day, we went back to the seashore and drove on the beach a little more.  I was kind of hoping to see purple sandpipers. But instead I saw a Black-bellied Plover! I probably have seen these guys before, just didn’t know what they were. This little one was hanging out near lots of seagulls and sanderlings all by itself.

Lone Black-bellied Plover

I was also pleased to see the Forster’s Tern return. They have such tiny legs!

Forster's Terns Preening

A couple of months ago, we found a short trail that went behind the dunes. We usually see a small family of deer back here. They had two little ones with them this time. I coudln’t get a shot with all of their heads up! This little one ran right out in front of the jeep! I read that Hatteras has tiny deer like Florida has, but I’m not sure if this is just a white-tailed deer. Cute little deer – isn’t it?

Tiny Deer

I think it is so fun to watch the little sanderlings searching for anything they can hide behind to protect them from the wind… just to catch a light snooze.

Sanderlings hiding from the wind

We Left Hatteras to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. My FAVORITE place!! I could never get tired of this refuge. Always tons and tons of birds…. AND GUESS WHAT?!? I FINALLY GOT TO SEE SNOW GEESE! Oh I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was! Brian and I were driving to the parking lot of pea Island and I about had a heart attack. They were literally 50 ft away. I made him pull over on the side of the road so I could capture the moment but most of them flew away when we stopped.

My winter goal - to Photograph Snow Geese!

After snapping a couple shots, hoping at least one was in focus, We headed up Route 12 to Pea Island’s parking lot…

OH MY GOD BRIAN PULL OVER!!!!

A bittern was on the side of the road… Literally on the side of the road.  I couldn’t believe it! I made him turn around and creep up slowly  so I could snap a shot of this elusive bird. A lifer for me…. I’ve heard their distinctive mating call at my camper, but have never seen one. I managed to snap a few shots before he did a really cool move into the reeds. We took off, only to see another only 15 ft away!

American Bittern - A Lifer Bird

When I got home  and reviewed my pictures, I had in fact seen 5 that day! WOW! Bitterns will freeze, stretch their necks up with bill to the sky and sway side to side to imitate reeds! neat huh? Another lifer bird for me was the White Pelican. I’m sure people see them all the time, but I have never seen one of these birds before. They were so HUGE!

White Pelican in Flight - Breeding Male (Lifer)

Once we made it to Pea Island’s parking lot. We set out to walk the trail. There were tons of birds! Tundra Swans, Shovelers, Pintails, Weigons, Coots, Mallards, Buffleheads, Hooded Mergansers, Egrets, Blue herons, and lots of Brown Pelicans. I think they dive for fish very oddly…. I watched one fall to the surface of the water and PLOP! I thought he was dead! But he had an awesome catch apparently!

Pelican Gobbling down his catch

I Enjoyed watching the Buffleheads forage. There were so many at the refuge. I think pictured here is a juvenile and a female. Maybe mom is teaching the little one to dive for food? Anyways, it has a pretty nice size frog!

Buffleheads - One with a Frog Dinner!

Pretty Female Bufflehead

It was sort of a windy day, so we didn’t walk the whole trail. On our way back we saw tons of white ibis. I have never seen a juvenile. They sure are different looking.

Juvenile White Ibis with two Adults

I had a really great birding weekend!  I’ve only seen ring-necked ducks at Pea Island one other time, but they were too far away to photograph. I had a couple swim close to me while walking the trail. I’m happy I could get them together in a picture! :)

Sweet Ring-necked duck couple

Brian treated me to a very nice weekend for Valentines Day. What more could a girl want – Birding, Beach Cabin and Four-wheeling in her new JEEP!? Hell yah!

Brian in my 1994 Classic YJ Jeep Wrangler

Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge

Alligator River NWR is absolutely beautiful. They have paddling trails, wildlife drive trails, and nature trails, where you might be fortunate enough to see black bears, alligators, or even red wolves! We’ve been here before…We just wanted to come down again to explore all of the driving trails on 154,000 acres! We did a little “four wheeling” on some of the more muddy and over grown trails. It was a beautiful sunny day!

Brian's muddy TJ from wildlife trails

We were really hoping to see alligators, but it was cold. My dad had visited Alligator River a couple weeks earlier and he told me he saw one… so I know they are here, but I’m sure we won’t see any till this summer. I also wanted t0 see SNOW GEESE! Brian and I over heard a man talking about seeing them here when we were at Pea Island NWR. Unfortunately we didn’t see any.  We saw lots of Tundra Swans, Northern Pintails, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Most of them where too far away to photograph.

Lone Tundra Swan

Tundra Swan Family :)

The winter has been really cold this year! Today, it was a little warm and in the upper 50’s. All of the Tree Swallows were going nuts over all the little gnats hovering in the sunshine. I managed to capture a couple of neat shots.

Tree Swallow hovering over water

Tree Swallow swooping in for a gnat snack

While driving on the wildlife trails.  We saw lots and lots of red-tailed hawks. One flew directly over top of the jeep.

Red Tailed Hawk scanning for food

And while I was taking pictures of the Red-tailed, a tree swallow landed right in front of our jeep, and wouldn’t move!

Stubborn Tree Swallow

We enjoyed our sunny day at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. I can’t wait to visit in the spring and summer and maybe I’ll get to see some gators or even a Red Wolf! till then…

Kestrel

Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge & Nine Inches of Snow

Hampton Roads saw about 9-10 inches of snow. We hardly EVER get that much snow.. If it even snows at all…Anyways Brian and I went four-wheeling of course!! We didn’t want to drive to far in the snow, so we went to Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge again. It’s such a beautiful area, I love the trails! The snow was an extra bonus…helping in spotting those smaller birds, we usually overlook.

Best part of snow! Dark-eyed Juncos!

When we woke up…we were so excited to see so much snow on the ground! We just couldn’t wait to take the jeep out to play in the snow! We drove to my dads house and watched the birds at his neighbors feeder. There were SO many! We saw Tuft Titmouse, House Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, Juncos, Chickadees. At that moment, I got my father into birds. He was so excited, talking about what kind of feeder he should get, and asking about bird books and so on… Oh it was awesome! Hope he really gets into it! It’s just an awesome hobby not to mention CHEEP! lol After we left my dads, we drove around Virginia Beach and had Lunch at The Jewish Mother.

Robin Foraging Berries from a Red Cedar Tree
A very cold White-throated Sparrow

After Driving around checking out the pretty white snow in Virginia Beach, We headed to our original destination.

Snowy Sand Dune – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Egret foraging in a ditch – Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Gray Catbird

I’ve never seen a Brown Thrasher, It was pretty interesting watching  it forage with its beak in the mud! Do you see the mud on it’s beak?

Brown Thrasher with Muddy Beak from foraging

Brown thrasher having a sip of melted snow

Chick-a-dee-dee-dee singing its little heart out

The snow was fun, and we ended up at a snow party with four wheelers and friends! We had a wonderful weekend!

Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge & Hatteras Seashore, NC

We love going down to Hatteras. It’s only about a two hour drive.  A beautiful place to visit – even in the off-season! We have such a blast seeing all the birds and four-wheelin’ on the beach!  The weather was a bit cloudy and very windy with a few stray showers… Pretty much normal for this time of year. The sun did peek out a few times, which was so nice! We visited Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and Hatteras National Seashore on Saturday and Sunday and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on our way home Sunday. We decided to take a different route in hopes of seeing a bear or an alligator! We didn’t see either this time. DARN IT!

Very Angry Atlantic Ocean

Saturday was a windy overcast day. We stopped at Pea Island to check the birds. We knew we weren’t going to stay long the first day because it was just way too windy, too cold and too cloudy! I managed to snag a few pictures of birds I’ve never photographed before!

Green-winged Teals

Northern Pintail

I also saw a White Ibis! I was so excited! I had never seen one before!

White Ibis coming in for landing

AND American Avocets!

Our first day  on the National Seashore we wanted to go on the Ocracoke Ferry. We were five minutes late catching the four o’clock ferry. The voyage is about an hour and it would have been dark by the time we got back….we really needed to get a hotel. The ferry is right across the street from the Southern most beach access on the National Seashore so we went four-wheeling.

Sea of Seagulls

Once we got to the “tip” of Hatteras Island, there was about 50,000 seagulls…All different kinds! It was a sight! We also spotted three White tails playing in the dunes

White Tailed Deer Checking The Area

Dunlin and tattered sand bag

As always there were several fisherman on the “tip” It’s so neat to watch them tackle the huge waves and have a good ol’ time casting out, praying for that record breaker catch! But this day there was a beggar… going from truck to truck to see what he could get thrown to him.

Beach Beggar

Handsome Brown Pelican ready for take off!

We got out of the jeep for a bit and looked for sand dollars, Whelk shells, and Moon snails. While walking, we spotted a oystercatcher. I just love their bright beaks and they are really interesting to watch in action! I also snapped a quick shot of the Hatteras light.

American Oystercatcher
Hatteras Lighthouse

We stayed in an amazing hotel Called “Breakwater Inn” I’m not into hotels that have too much. But this hotel was just right. We had an amazing view of the sound and the sunset…. Also a restaurant, a grocery store less than 30 seconds up the road and it was very clean!! Great Prices and Great off-season rates!

The next morning when we woke up we decided to do some more four-wheeling on the beach and slowly make our way to back to Pea Island so I could catch the birds while the sun was out. Another storm was on the way…Once we made it to Pea Island, there must have been 30,000 or more Tundra Swans. They were literally everywhere!!

Tundra Swans Preening

I saw more Ibis. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to see these little guys… I didn’t realize they were up this way!

L to R: Blue Heron, Great Egret, & Two Ibis (one’s on a nest!)

We saw Tons of coots, Northern Shovelers, and Black Ducks. It was fun watching the coots play! While walking the trail we caught some Ruddy Ducks catching a light snooze ;)

Ruddy Ducks Sleeping

I have never seen a Tricolored Heron. Nor did I ever expect I would see one. Anyways, I happened to be looking for Black Stilts and I spotted this guy! Score!

Tricolored Heron

We took a different route home, and headed towards Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a really neat place for birders as well. Except this is a drive through refuge, rather than trail only. We saw tons of Tundra Swans, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and lots of tree swallows. I love this place, and can’t wait till the season starts so I can explore it deeper. We only skimmed the park a little, because we were on our way home and didn’t want to get home too late. We had an amazing Weekend as always! Support your local National Wildlife Refuges and National/State Parks by visiting OFTEN!! They need you!

Greater Yellowlegs