Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New River Birding and Nature Festival Day 3

Today was spent on a tour called High Country. This trip hits the highest points in this area of West Virginia looking for different birds than can be found at lower elevations. There were two primary target birds on this trip. The first was Bobolink. The other was Golden-winged Warbler.

The Bobolinks are routinely found at a field where the owner delays mowing to allow the species to successfully raise their young. The leaders of the trip told us stories of dozens of Bobolink’s in the field plus large numbers of Eastern Meadowlarks. It sounded good. We arrived at the the site excited to see the birds. The guides led us up to the top of the hill and we found.......NOTHING!!! Not a bird in sight. The morning was unseasonably cold and the wind was whipping. The exposed top of the hill was very cold. The leaders paced around nervously and looked all over. They played calls on iPods. The result.......still NOTHING!!! We decided to give up the fight and head back to the bus.

We drove down the road a short distance and the bus stopped at an area to see what was around. Two of our leaders got out to listen. Suddenly we heard the shout of “Bobolink”. Very quickly 21 people exited the bus. The birds were in a pasture some distance from the bus but we were able to observe them with binoculars and scopes but they were too far for photos. We also got excellent views of Eastern Meadowlark in the same field. Apparently the birds preferred something out of the wind today. The relief on the face of the leaders was palpable. Suddenly Keith, Connie, and Will got together for a group high five and they all visibly relaxed. The trip was saved.

We also spent quite a bit of time on a county road that runs through a MeadWestvaco holding that is used for timber. There was a variety of mature trees, young growth, and clear cut. We tried repeatedly for the Golden-winged Warbler but had no luck. They just weren’t around to be found.

On the trip we had excellent views of a number of other species. The Red-winged Blackbirds were serenading the females in this small wet depression. Their “song” is matched with a furious bit of shaking and flashing of the red and yellow shoulder epaulets.

The Louisiana Waterthrush was a nice find. It responded to a short blast of song from an iPod.

Here is one more. This Black-throated Blue Warbler was at eye level but always seem to be behind some vegetation. Here are some of the better shots.

Although the numbers were down and the weather was cold, everyone had a great time. Tomorrow I’m off to a place called Muddlety.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

West Virginia’s New River Birding and Nature Festival - Days 1 and 2

I am spending this week in the New River Plateau area of West Virginia. The New River Birding and Nature Festival is based out of Fayetteville, WV. So far the first two days of the festival have been outstanding.

Day 1 was held at the Meadows House at the Opossum Creek Resort. The theme for day 1 was Birding by Butt. However, we didn’t spend a lot of time sitting around. The day is intended for full week participants to have a chance to meet other guests, our hosts, and the guides. The morning started off with a pre-breakfast walk lead by Jim McCormac. Highlights were singing Northern Parulas, Ovenbirds, Hooded Warblers, and Scarlet Tanager. After the walk we returned to the Meadows for a breakfast of smoked-salmon strata, buckwheat pancakes, and fruit compote. I’m not sure which was better, the birds or the food.

After breakfast we headed back outside for more exploration. Bill Hilton was banding birds on the property and managed to catch a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in his ingenious trap.

Here is a photo of Bill with a “sheet” of hummingbird bands that must be cut out and formed. There are 160 bands on the sheet.

For comparison there are the bands that would be used on larger birds like robins and towhees.

Because the bands are so small, a special tool is needed to form the band.

Here is a photo of the formed band in hand.

To hold the hummingbird while working, it is inserted into a tube head first. The tube is made from an index card.

The little hummer is banded.

The hummingbird is measured and weighed and given some food before being released.

Here is a close up the hummer before release.

Day 2 of festival was the first for offsite field trips. I was in the New River Circuit trip where we toured the old road and bridge that used to be the only way across the New River before the famous arch bridge was completed in 1978. It is hard to believe that this narrow and twisty road used to hold two-way traffic. Now it is reduced to one-way in the lowest part. Because fog settles into the valley, we spent a lot time in the fog which limited photo opportunities. Once we got below the fog, it was better.

We were rewarded with more great birds including Worm-eating Warbler which only netted bad photos and a very cooperative Yellow-throated Warbler.

Here is a raw photo of the Yellow-throated Warbler.

And here it is cropped and zoomed.

I’m tired but I'm looking forward to day 3. Tomorrow I’m off on the high country trip. I’ll update as I get time.