A sudden storm with high winds destroyed trees at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, Virginia on Thursday, May 23. (Eric Moore/Courtesy)

Gayla and I have been in Virginia this past week visiting our son, Jeremy, and his family. We’ve enjoyed being “GG” and “Grampy” to two of our beautiful granddaughters.

While in Virginia, I spent a lot of time birding at the following locations — Runnymede Park in Herndon, Fairfax Lake in Reston, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, and Great Falls Park in Great Falls. We also enjoyed a Memorial Day weekend road trip to Chesapeake Bay!

While at the beach I added an interesting variety of birds to my Virginia list, ranging from brown pelican to brown thrasher, and a lot of unique birds in between such as purple martin, least tern and semipalmated plover.

Early one morning, I visited First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach and really enjoyed the trails and habitat. I’ve never birded in an area with bald cypress and Spanish moss — what a beautiful environment! It was here that I saw a stunning prothonotary warbler. This was only the second time in my life to see this species in North America. Interestingly, the first time I saw one was in the small pond in Watson Woods, right here in Prescott!

Last Thursday I had a life-threatening experience while birding at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. I parked quite a distance from the Visitors Center and took a series of trails that led me to the building. There, I received directions on where to go to look for some specific target birds I was hoping to see.

It was mid-afternoon and it was a lovely day, when it suddenly started getting dark. Very dark. It was amazing how quickly it went from partly cloudy to very dark. In the distance I could hear thunder, and it was obvious a storm was approaching. By now I was far from the Visitors Center, but I quickened my pace and started heading back.

Tornado warnings had been posted for later in the day, but I didn’t think too much about it. Well, it wasn’t long after it grew dark that the storm hit with an intensity that would rival any monsoon storm in Arizona. I could hear the storm approaching as high winds ripped through the trees, and almost simultaneously the rain began to fall.

I started running — my goal was to get to the safety of the Visitors Center to escape the fury of the storm. The high winds started blowing down huge trees — in front of me, behind me and to the side of me. There was no clear path to safety, so I just ran, knowing that I could have been running right into danger. Trees were crashing down all around me, the rain was pelting me, and violent lightning was striking all around me. I felt like I was running for my life, with no clear options for safety.

In my mad dash, I spotted an open-sided kiosk by the trail that would afford a small amount of protection, so I chose to stop there. I stood on a bench to get as high as I could, and pressed my head up against the rafters. I held on as trees continued to come crashing down, with lightning striking all around me.

It was a harrowing experience, and I am grateful for my safety. I felt the blessings of the Lord in keeping me safe in a time of potentially serious danger. After the storm passed, I made my way back to the car, and was humbled to see the power of nature with downed trees all around. Reflecting on my experience, I don’t think it was a tornado. Rather, it was a violent thunderstorm; perhaps a micro-burst with heavy winds.

Until next week, Happy (and safe) Birding!

Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn, with two locations in northern Arizona – Prescott and Flagstaff. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at eric@jaysbirdbarn.com.