Migrations and Musings – Swoope Almanac September 2017


September sunrise in Swoope.

September, Swoope, Virginia:  I live in such a beautiful place – It’s mostly grasslands and forests.  In some places, one cannot see another dwelling in any direction.   On most mornings in September, mist hugs the hollows and heavy dew blankets the ground.  Cool nights and shorther days get things in the natural world moving; migrations of many animal species are in full swing.

Migrations – Raptors, Warblers, Monarchs and Buckeyes

Swallows and Swifts have already flown South and right now we are in the full swing of Raptor migration.  The Rockfish Gap Hawkwatching station in Afton is one of the best places on the East coast to experience this phenological phenomenon.  We can see Afton from Swoope, it’s a gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the East flank of America’s legendary Shenandoah Valley.

The excitement of seeing several hundred Broad-wing Hawks in one view of your binoculars can never be extinguished.  “Oh, my God”! is heard often on the mountain as the Raptors rise up through a thermal in what is known as a “kettle”, then glide Southward without wingbeat into the unknown.  I was there on September 17th when over 7,000 Broad-wing Hawks soared past.

A “kettle” of Broad-wing Hawks at Rockfish Gap. There are over 1,200 in this view. Photo by Diane Lepkowski.

Broad-wing Hawks nest throughout the Eastern United States and as far north as Canada during the summer and migrate South to Central and South America beginning in late August.  The peak of their migration in Virginia is about the third week in September.

Broad-wing Hawk flying over the Rockfish Gap Hawkwatch station.  Photo by Marshall Faintich.


All the warblers are in migration.  It’s a special treat when any warbler stops by to rest and refuel, right in the backyard.  I was lucky to spot a group of about six Palm Warblers in the gardens and yard.  They nest in Canada’s boreal forests during the summer and winter along the Gulf coast and in the Carribean.

Palm Warbler in the yard at Meadowview. Photo by R. Whitescarver

Monarchs Fuel Up in Swoope

We leave as many milkweed plants as we can in the riparian and wildlife areas of the farm for Monarchs.  The adults lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plants and the caterpillars eat only milkweed leaves.

Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves. Photo by R. Whitescarver


Monarch butterflies refuel on Burr Marigold nectar in the riparian areas on the farm.  These adults will be migrating to Mexico soon. Photo by R. Whitescarver

Buckeyes Migrate Too!

Native wingstem is a great pollinator plant.  Buckeye butterflies seek out its nectar before migrating South.

This Buckeye butterfly will migrate South perhaps to Florida. Photo by R. Whitescarver

Musings in Swoope

Jeanne is obsessed with removing invasive weeds on the farm.  She keeps a corn knife beside her seat in the farm jeep and while checking the girls (cows), she will drive to any reamaining thistle and whack it down.  If she spots a cocklebur, she will drive to it, get out, and pull it up by the root.  I’ve seen the jeep full of cocklebur plants many times.

Jeanne pulls up cocklebur plants while the heifers follow her in the meadow. Photo by R. Whitescarver.


Common Cocklebur is an invasive, summer annual that is native to Central America and Eurasia. Photo by R. Whitescarver.


Seed heads of big bluestem, a native warm season grass we planted for the native critters.  Photo by R. Whitescarver.


Jewelweed, a native “touch-me-not” blooms in the riparian areas on the farm. It attracts many pollinators.  Photo by R. Whitescarver


American Green Frog at Meadowview.  Photo by R. Whitescarver.

Jeanne and I are very passionate about a lot of things especially clean water.  We support the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint and fight against corporate “takings” for profit – like the Atlantic Coast Pipeline which will no doubt damage our streams and alter water sources for many.  Click on the buttons below to find out how you can help these causes.

© R. Whitescarver, all photos are copyrighted.


  1. Roger Montague says:

    Bobby and Jeanne – What a great post. It shows a shared commitment to total natural resource conservation. I’m amazed at the hawk migration. Thanks for supporting the pollinators. Great photos.

  2. George F. Patterson says:

    Thanks Bobby and Jeanne for all you do! I’m always thrilled to learn a myriad of new things with every post. Keep up the great works. One farm at a time!

  3. Beatrice von Gontard says:

    Your postings are beautiful and inspiring. Thankyou for sharing!

  4. Anita Kersch says:

    Great photos, I especially love the Hawks!

  5. Outstanding new layout, Bobby, and extraordinary photos. Your coverage of this season is so thorough and informative. All so supportive for us to take action in whatever way we can. Thank you!

  6. Carolyn Dull says:

    Thanks for these photos and musings! I think I had a broad wing hawk in my yard (I couldn’t figure out what it was), and the crows chased it away. Does that sound plausible?

  7. Sandy Greene says:

    Your post is both church and naturalist meeting news for our September meeting today. Much rather warblers than tweets! Thank you for all your well-grounded activism!

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      No, thank you Sandy for all the inspiration and energy you give us all. You are the fuel that keeps our engines going.

  8. David Fuller says:

    Your hawk migration count reminds me of the two guys on a train out west, passing a huge herd of cattle. One guy says “wow, I wonder how many cattle in and that herd?” The other guy says “6,484” and his buddy says “how would you know that? You couldn’t have counted them. Whereas, the other replied, “Nope, I counted their legs and divided by four”. ?

  9. Thanks Bobby! Terrific post! Would love to join you one day for hawk watching!

  10. Amy Johnson says:

    Wonderful post Bobby!

  11. Abbe Kennedy says:

    Beautiful and educational, as always!
    Thanks Bobby!

  12. don faulkner says:

    Thank you, Bobby and Jeanne,

    What an inspiring Photographic Treat beautifully composed! You two are the epitome of what our country desperately needs…hundreds of thousands of likeminded, knowledgeable, caring family farmers and ranchers ‘back ‘on the land’ farming/ranching in healthiest ways for the land and all Life on Earth!

    I, like many aware of your Good Work on so many fronts, in so many ways, am mighty Grateful.

    Best to you Jeanne and You, Don

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Don, you indeed completed your comment here, just took me a while to get to it. Hope you are doing great and thank you so much for taking the time to send such positive vibes our way. We so miss you here in the Commonwealth.

  13. Laura Greenleaf says:

    What an exceptionally uplifting post! This was waiting in my e-mail Inbox after wrapping up an Aldo Leopold-themed program “Land, People, & Community: A Sand County Almanac Revisited”for Capital Region Land Conservancy which included reading Leopold’s Marshland Elegy about the Sandhill Cranes. Our discussion groups touched on encounters with congregations of species, particularly related to life cycle events. So how perfect to follow that with these beautiful images and thoughts. Thank you.

  14. Bobby: I really enjoyed your latest blog and its clever new layout. Your information is nearly as diverse as the Valley you promote. Thank you for being such a champion of all things “natural, wild, and free.”

    Let’s do a program someday together on native ethnobotany: e.g.,jewelweed as a traditional Native American remedy for poison ivy rash – can even be frozen to make a winter-time poulstice. And how about those nectaries for hummingbirds? Wouldn’t such a program be fun?

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