Friday, May 29, 2009

New River Day 3: Sugar Creek

West Virginia is a place of history, myths and legends. The past rolls off the hills like the West Virginia fog. The fog and rain rolled in overnight and greets us early on Wednesday morning. As we pile into the bus and head up the narrow mountain road to Sugar Creek Ridge I can hear the strains of John Denver singing in my brain…

"Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…

…life is old there, older than the trees, younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze,

Country roads, take me home…"

Well, today they are taking me through mist and clouds up to a place where the warblers dwell.

Birding in West Virginia is all about the warblers for me. Though I have loved birds all my life and watched them from my yard, it wasn’t until 10 years ago that I started going out for a walk just to see birds. Until then, I only counted birds that came to my feeders, or the large shore birds I saw at the ocean. If the birds didn’t come to me, I figured I would never see them. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count changed all of that for me and now here I am on in the hills of West Virginia chasing warblers.

Our guides today are Geoff Heeter and Wil Hershberger. Geoff is the owner of Opossum Creek Retreat where most of us are staying for the New River Birding Festival. Wil is a quiet man with ears like a bat in his ability to hear sounds. As we pile out of the bus in the mist on the narrow mountain road Wil starts to call like a barred owl to flush the birds. Apparently if the little birds think a barred owl is around they will hurry in and try to mob it and chase it away. Having just recently heard a barred owl at Nina’s house in Ohio, I was amazed at how authentic he sounded. And soon the warblers came in.

We saw a hooded warbler, a black-throated green, cerulean warbler and a yellow-throated warbler. Wil called in an American Redstart as well, but my favorite and the only one I got a halfway decent picture of is the Worm-eating warbler. While its name is not so attractive, I think it is a marvelous bird with its striped ochre head. Sometimes I really like the subtle colors of the woodland birds over the flashy colors of the others. This little warbler sat up on a branch and sang its song in the constant drizzle for us. You can see the drops of water hanging on the branches here.

The Sugar Creek Ridge Road is narrow and winding. Cut into the side of the mountain, it rises steeply on one side and drops precipitously on the other. While there are woods all around us, there is nowhere to sneak off safely and relieve your bladder, especially if you are a woman. And, as usual, we have men driving the bus and leading the trip. Men with bladders of steel and no mercy! Being able to use the restroom is one of the biggest challenges on these birding treks. I finally find a small dirt track that veers off in a somewhat level direction after another woman points it out to me. Fortunately, everyone else is enthralled with looking at the birds and the mist is as thick as ever.

We walk the dirt road for awhile but the rain starts to pick up and it soon drives us off the mountain. Geoff Heeter decides we should take a break in Anstead at the Blue Smoke Café. We are greeted by a gracious hostess and served delicious hot coffee. Here in this small town we also find flush toilets! Yay!

After our stop we travel down Rt. 60 to Hawk’s Nest State Park. Fog continues to roll off the mountainside lending an air of mystery to the day.

KatDoc lost deep in thought sitting under the pavilion where we eat our lunch.

Then, it’s down the hill and across the road for more bird watching. You can see how wet it is from Nina’s coat.

We form our own little Birder’s Parade as we cross RT. 60 to the Hawk’s Nest Overlook.

Birders bird watching…what do we see?
(A complete checklist is posted below.)

I wrote about this disaster in an earlier post. Here is the sign marking the location of the disaster.

And below us on the riverbank as if in homage to the dead workers a flock of Black Vultures lurks. (Click on photo to enlarge. You can see the black vultures on the rocks.)

"...dark and dusty, painted on the sky,
misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye... "

Hawk's Nest tunnel with water flowing through it. Watch a short historical video about the disaster here.

View from the Hawk's Nest overlook. We watched four cormorants fly by below us from this vantage point.

Yellow-throated warbler seen on the path from the overlook.

This beautiful stone building is actually the restroom at Hawk's Nest State park. It's the prettiest restroom we used on our trip.

Aall around the mountains are in bloom. I love the pink flowers of the Redbud trees...

...and the lovely white cross-shaped blossoms of dogwood. Yes, "take me home, country roads..."

...back to Burnwood where the day began. We eat breakfast here everyday now, gathered in the predawn darkness beneath this pavilion where hot coffee, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and fried potatoes greet us every morning. Today's rain has driven us home early and so we decide to see what birds we can see here at Burnwood before heading back to the Farmhouse for the afternoon.
Wil Hershberger and Geoff Heeter @ Burnwood 4-29-09
Wil Hershbeger will be our speaker tonight when we gather at Smokey's on the Gorge for dinner. His presentation on bird calls will be one of the highlights of the week for me.

Nina and KatDoc scoping out the birds in the surrounding woods. Today was a day full of mist, rain, adventure and birds. Yes, we were wet, but we all had a great time and I would do it all again if given the chance.

Bird Seen Today:

Sugar Creek Ridge
  1. Red-tailed hawk
  2. Pileated woodpecker
  3. White-breasted nuthatch
  4. Carolina chickadee
  5. Tufted titmouse
  6. Yellow-throated vireo*
  7. Red-eyed vireo
  8. Blue-headed vireo
  9. Black and white warbler
  10. Hooded Warbler
  11. Black-throated green warbler
  12. Worm-easting warbler*
  13. Cerulean warbler*
  14. Yellow-throated Warbler*
  15. American Redstart
  16. Indigo bunting


  1. Chimney Swift
  2. Starling
  3. American Robin
  4. Common Grackle

Hawks Nest State Park

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Double-crested cormorant
  3. Black vulture
  4. turkey Vulture
  5. American crow
  6. Pileated woodpecker
  7. Eastern Phebe
  8. Robin
  9. Tufted titmouse
  10. Carolina chickadee
  11. Red-eyed vireo
  12. Ovenbird
  13. Blackbrunian warbler
  14. Yellow-throated warbler
  15. Northern cardinal
  16. Brown-headed cowbird

Burnwood Picnic Area, Fayetteville, WV
  1. Turkey Vulture
  2. Crow
  3. Carolina chickadee
  4. Tufted Titmouse
  5. Robin
  6. Woodthrush
  7. Indigo bunting
  8. Eastern Towhee
  9. Chipping sparrow
  10. Northern Cardinal

*Life Birds

I submitted all of these bird counts to eBird and to my amazement, I am now one of the top 100 eBirders in Fayetteville, WV. How can this be? Well, the truth is, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology needs more eBirders. Just recently they started a blog of their own called Chip Notes-eBird Buzz. If you don't think you can actually make a difference, here is their first post explaining why they need more ebirders and yes, you can do it! (Click on the link to go to the original post.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Do you eBird?
Based on recent research we've learned that roughly 70,000 people use eBird more than 50 times a year to gather information on birds. Most surprising to us was the fact that just 10,000 people entered data into eBird at least once, and even more remarkable is that just 2500 people entered more than 50 eBird checklists last year. What this tells us is that there is a large community of people out there using eBird as an information source, but a relative few actually contribute data. We want to better understand what drives our users, and ultimately participation in eBird. Why people submit data, why they don't, what's good and bad about eBird? Helping us answer these questions will make eBird a better tool for birders, and ultimately put more data into the hands of scientists and conservationists. With that, we ask you, the eBird community how we can be better...
Posted by Brian Sullivan at 5:40 PM


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

All wonderful photos but I especially love the one of Kathi.

Gaelyn said...

What's a little rain? The fog is rather nice in its subtle blanket of the land. Plus it makes a great backdrop for photos, which are all good. I always like to know where the bathrooms are and love the stone one.

Arija said...

Kathie, what a superb post. Your fog photos are enough to blow me away and then you write prose like poetry... I must come back and drink it all in tomorrow, it's after midnight now.

Deborah Godin said...

I could wander down a misty road like that so easily, stop for a spell and watch and listen, and breathe...

Mary said...


This is probably the best New River post I've seen. Beautiful writing and photography - tells a great story. I was not with you in on this trip - lucky YOU! LOL!

That's a great shot of Kathi.


Mary C said...

Kathie, your photos and story are amazing (as usual). I'm so impressed by the photos knowing that you and everyone else mentioned how much rain and fog you experienced. Thanks so much for sharing your insights of Day 3.

Jane Hards Photography said...

I am worn out just reading this. Only ever seen a reed warbler, so envious of your varied ones. Four cormorants! I'm lucky to see just one at a time. Fabulous post, so comprehensive.

NCmountainwoman said...

Beautiful post. The mountains are so lovely in the mist and fog. I'll be coming back to see these photographs again.

Vickie said...

Terrific trip report. Its fun to see so many of you doing what we love and seeing the experience through many eyes. Thanks for the ebird info.

Naturegirl said...

What an exciting day birding in that
amazing location although surrounded by fog and rain!The mountains you photographed are so mystical!What an outing you experienced with like minded folks!A place for sure that one write poetry and songs about!

sandy said...

Nice photos but that one of KatDoc lost in thought is a really cool photo.

kesslerdee said...

Wonderful! Sounds like a fabulous time!

Celeste said...

Another fantastic day of birding and your photos Kathie, as always, are excellent. I just wish the weather had been a little kinder to you. Thanks for sharing.