Friday, February 22, 2013

New River Birding & Nature Festival, here we come!

The famous New River bridge at Fayetteville, West Virginia, as seen from Long Point. The deck of that bridge is about 877 feet above the roiling waters of the ancient New River, which is actually one of the world's oldest streams. The scenery in this part of the world is nearly unrivaled, anywhere, and the biodiversity is nothing short of astonishing.

Enter the New River Birding & Nature Festival - the best way for birders and others interested in nature to immerse themselves in the flora and fauna of southern West Virginia. This year, the festival ranges from April 29 - May 4 and YOU should be there!

This pleased group is in the midst of watching a male Golden-winged Warbler make its rounds, singing all the while. Topnotch and often hard to find birds such as the Golden-winged are a festival staple. Helping everyone to find the specialties is an all-star cast of guides, many of whom pull double duty as evening speakers. GO HERE for a roster of the guides.

The word "Nature" is in the event's name for a reason. The mountains of West Virginia teem with all sorts of nonbird animals, everything from Box Turtles to Worm Snakes to Red Efts to Black Bears. We pause to look at them all.

A real field of dreams, the fabled Bobolink field, high on a grassy knoll well up on a remote mountain. Although most of us have probably seen Robert O' Lincoln, it's incomparable to clap eyes on the black, golden, and white males skylarking all over this magical meadow, gurgling their bouyant R-2 D-2 melodies to the assuming females.

Certainly not my best effort in the realm of bird photography, but this shot tells a story. It is a bird that not many people get to lay eyes on - a female Cerulean Warbler. You'll generally see far more of the sky-blue males. The mountain where I made this image is full of Ceruleans - probably the greatest density that I've seen anywhere. What was particularly cool about this particular bird is that she was actively harvesting the exfoliating bark from those grapevines for her nest. That's another cool dimension of the New River Birding & Nature Festival - we know tons of hotspots where rare experiences such as this are possible, if not probable. Seeing a glimpse of a Cerulean Warbler high in a treetop is Birding; observing a female gathering nest material at close range is Bird Watching!

I am tasked with leading groups to Cranberry Glades, way up in the Monongahela National Forest, and what an onerous job that is - NOT! Even though the boardwalk that winds through the gnarled Red Spruce is only 1/2 mile in length, it can take a few hours to traverse its path. The birds are insane - it's like being teleported to Canada. Winter Wrens, Canada Warblers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Waterthrushes and many other boreal species breed here. There is a local nesting population of Red Crossbill, and they often frequent the nearby visitor's center. The plant life is incredible and includes numerous interesting and rare species.

Almost stunning beyond words, a bouquet of brilliant orange Flame Azalea flowers enlivens an early spring West Virginia woodland. The botanical diversity is extreme, and I've found that even people who have not paid plants much mind find themselves getting caught up in the charms of vegetable matter such as this azalea. Bring a camera - photo ops abound.

Another happy group, this time because a cooperative male Mourning Warbler sang its heart out for them as it worked the margins of its turf.

We see a lot of repeat customers at the New River Birding & Nature Festival, and small wonder. I think this'll be my seventh consecutive year leading trips, and it is without doubt a highlight of the season for me. I think you'll like this part of West Virginia, too. For the complete festival lowdown, including registration inormation, CLICK HERE.


Lisle Merriman said...

Thanks, Jim -- this festival looks absolutely spectacular. . . . I think that Fayetteville is one of many places trying to stop mountaintop-removal mining, and so I wonder what's being done in WV to protect that ancient stream. If this is too dicey a subject for the blog, forgive the question. It's just overwhelming to consider that this natural wonder could be reduced to a valley fill.

Sharkbytes said...

Looks like a great time!

Jim McCormac said...

Well, you should come on down, Sharkbytes!

Hi Lisle. Fortunately much of the New River corridor is now protected by a National Park. Mountaintop mining is one of the most environmentally destructive and foolhardy environmental crimes perpetrated by mankind. I shake my head in astonishment that people will even consider such stupidity. Anyway, MM has crept fairly near the New River, but hopefully the presence of the park, and the river's popularity with outdoor recreationists, will keep it out. This is one reason why it is great to have events such as the New River Birding & Nature Festival, because the more people that get exposed to this amazing eden of natural resources, the more people that will want to see it protected.

Lisle Merriman said...

Thanks, Jim. I agree; it and fracking are some of the top crimes against the planet. I have to stop myself from shrieking when I hear otherwise-rational ppl arguing that "they're good for us b/c they reduce our dependence on foreign oil." Well, no one's going to need any oil once we wipe out Gaia. OK, I'll stop now! Thanks again.

Golden-winged Warbler serendipity

  A stunning male Golden-winged Warbler perches in a horseshoe-shaped twig - the best perch in an otherwise cluttered scene. Last Tuesday, I...