Feathered Wonders! Birding in West Virginia’s State Parks

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SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird!  It’s a plane! It’s … well it really is a bird and the question is, “What kind is it?”  West Virginia state parks host and organize various birding activities and events. Full-time naturalists and programmers are on-site at seven state park lodges and offer year-round events and workshops, many focusing on interpretative aspects such as geology, animals and tracking, and bird watching.

New to the calendar of events and activities this year is “Feathered Wonders! Bird and Banding Weekend” at Tygart Lake State Park May 6-8.

“Our saw whet owl programming at Valley Falls in late October and early November opened a door to additional programming on migratory birds in West Virginia, particularly in the Tygart Valley,” said Sissie Summers, programming administrator with West Virginia’s state parks. “Birding trails and forays continue to be sought by outdoor enthusiasts. Learning the different species that nest, winter or pass through West Virginia during migration is fascinating.”

Birding Weekends and Activities at West Virginia’s State Parks

March 12, 2011 – Pipestem Resort State Park
Eagle Count and Survey

Join volunteers and assist in sighting and recording eagles observed in the Bluestone/New River area for four hours, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., on March 12.  Pipestem Naturalist Jim Phillips and volunteers conduct two annual eagle surveys, one in January and a second survey in March.

Phillips recently was featured on West Virginia Wildlife, a television program produced for the Wildlife Section of the Division of Natural Resources. He reported that bald eagles are being observed more and more throughout West Virginia and in particular the Bluestone area.  Phillips said 17 eagles observed on one day in February was his all-time record sighting.  Bird surveys previously conducted by Phillips and volunteers are posted on Pipestem State Park’s website at www.pipestemresort.com/Surveys.html.  To be part of the March 12 survey, contact Mindy Waldron with the Bibbee Nature Club, 304-573-7423, prior to March 10 for a designated survey observation point.

April 16, 23, 30, 2011 – Prickett’s Fort State Park
Annual Spring Bird Walks

Morning bird walks are offered on three Saturdays in April at Prickett’s Fort State Park.  “The leaders meet attendees at the at Prickett’s Fort Visitor’s Center at 8 a.m. for departure,” according to Sue Olcott, a biologist with the Wildlife Resources Section of the Division of Naturals Resources. Either Olcott or retired DNR biologist Jim Evans or both will lead the walks. “The length of time to complete the walk depends on the morning bird activity, and weather is always a factor – but typically the walk lasts about two hours,” Olcott said. The bird walk at Prickett’s Fort and any of the park birding activities is casual and there is no charge.

The route is easy, but the surface can be uneven, so participants should wear sturdy walking shoes. Attendees should bring binoculars and a bird guide if they have them, “but we always have a few pairs of binoculars for loan,” said Olcott.

In addition to the bird walks on each of these dates, bird banding is conducted at the fort area.  Spring migrants observed in past years include: Blue-winged Warblers, Orchard Orioles, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Local bird residents that may be seen on the morning walks are Warbling Vireo, Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird.  “Hike leaders reported a Swainson’s Warbler was heard and sighted in the area throughout the summer of 2010,” according to Summers.

For more information regarding the April bird walks at Prickett’s Fort State Park, call Sue Olcott at 304-825-6787

May 6-8, 2011 – Tygart Lake State Park
Feathered Wonders! Bird and Banding Weekend

Experience birds up close while observing birds being banded. “Early May is perhaps the best time of year to  see various breeding and migrating birds of West Virginia,” according to Joey Herron, guest interpreter at the debut of this birding and bird banding weekend at Tygart Lake State Park.

“The weekend goal is to introduce visitors, area residents and park guests to bird watching. Folks can arrive for any part of the scheduled activities that includes banding of migratory birds. There is no charge to participate.” A “birder rate” is available for individuals interested in spending a night at Tygart Lodge or for the weekend for birding activities or simply enjoying spring outdoors, according to Stephanie Bailey, activities coordinator at Tygart Lake.  The topography for the Tygart banding station allows greater   accessibility for attendees.

“Feathered Wonders!” is open to the public at no charge.  “Pick and choose your activities of interest or spend the night or weekend at the special ‘birder rate’ and enjoy all the programs,” said Summers. “The banding and information you learn about birds is worth the trip.”

More 2011 Birding Events at West Virginia’s State Parks

May 7 – Pipestem Resort State Park
40th annual Spring Bird count

May 28-20 – Cacapon Resort State Park
Birds and Blooms Weekend

June 3-5 – Canaan Valley State Park
Canaan Valley Birding Festival

June 18 – Tygart Lake State Park
Guided bird walk with Terry Bronson of Morgantown, W.Va
The Three Rivers Avian Center with raptor program and live birds

July 9 – Tygart Lake State Park
Guided Bird Walk – 8 a.m. – with Terry Bronson

August 13 – Tygart Lake State Park
Guided Bird Walk – 8 a.m. – with Terry Bronson

September 23-25 – Cacapon Resort State Park
4th Berkeley Springs Fall Birding

December 17 – Pipestem Resort State Park
40th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count

State Parks Naturalists

On-site naturalists at some state parks organize and conduct a variety of interpretative activities for park guests, area residents and visitors. Naturalists and park superintendents who are avid birders include: naturalists Megan Flinn, Hawks Nest State Park; Paulita Cousin, Blackwater Falls State Park; Jim Phillips, Pipestem State Park; Kelly Smith, Cacapon State Park; Assistant Supt. Sean Pettrey, Babcock State Park;  and Superintendents, Andy Bennett, Watters Smith State Park; and Jesse Anderson, Moncove Lake State Park.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources maintains a Web page that includes fact sheets on many bird species, where to watch birds and more at www.wvdnr.gov/wildlife/birdwv.shtm.  West Virginia State Parks’ “Explore Outdoors” Web page offers additional birding information, www.wvstateparks.com/Explore.htm.