Avian Adventures

The Grayson Bald Eagles are Back!

 One of the pair headed back to the nest across the New River.

One of the pair headed back to the nest across the New River.

The Bald Eagles are back! The Grayson county Bald Eagle nest is active again this year! BRDC staff are happy to report that a pair of Bald Eagles have two nestlings along the New River in Grayson county. The nest site was discovered in 2015 and has been active every year since. Its remote location along the river limits the amount of potential human disturbance and with several juvenile eagles seen around the location over the years it seems that it has been a successful location. Bald Eagles have made a wonderful comeback over the past couple of decades with over 1,000 active nests in Virginia alone.  As a large raptor which specializes in eating fish, most of the known nests are adjacent to the Virginia coast and along the Chesapeake Bay. The Grayson county nest is one of only a handful that are known to be active within the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

The United States national emblem since 1782, the bald eagle was listed as endangered in 1967. This iconic bird was finally delisted in 2007, however, the species is still under protection through the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. These acts prohibit the "take, possession, sale, purchase, barter, etc of eagles dead or alive."

The photographs with this blog were taken from a distance with a powerful telephoto lens to avoid disturbing the pair and their chicks.

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 Back on the nest with the two nestlings

Back on the nest with the two nestlings

BRDC Receives VDGIF eStore Grant Award

BRDC Receives VDGIF eStore Grant Award

BRDC is very excited to be a recipient of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries eStore Grant! This grant will provide vital material support for the programs we offer. As you all well know, birding and fly fishing are two subjects that inspired BRDC from the very beginning. This generous grant is going to boost these two programs to another level! 

Birding Adventure in the High Country

Birding Adventure in the High Country

6 kids went on a gravity-defying adventure in the high country participating in BRDC’s inaugural Ornithology Camp. For four days and three nights, the kids camped out and honed their ornithology skills, searching for bird species that inhabit the diverse appalachian ecosystems of southwest Virginia.

Red-tailed Hawk Saved after Collision with Vehicle

Red-tailed Hawk Saved after Collision with Vehicle

On a chilly January day, local birder Cathy Spencer stopped by our office with news of an injured red-tailed hawk just up the highway. We frequently get calls for help from concerned citizens about injured animals. For many years we were able to connect them to local wildlife rehabilitators William and Joyce Roberts. With William's death this past summer, dedicated rehabilitator Darin Handy stepped forward to carry the torch. After consulting Darin, we grabbed a blanket and BRDC storage tub and headed out to find the bird. 

Mahogany Rock Hawk Watch

Mahogany Rock Hawk Watch

On September 23, thirty seventh graders from Grayson County Public Schools attended the Mahogany Rock Hawk Watch to experience the niche dedication of Hawk Counters and the mass migration of Broad-winged Hawks. Jim Keighton from the Blue Ridge Birders has been recording the migration of birds of prey for nearly twenty years! Each fall Jim sets up his swivel chair and interpretive displays along the parkway and begins scanning the sky. Not only does he diligently track the migration but he also takes the time to educate the passerby about the migration occurring overhead. 

Owl Pellet Journal: A Collaboration with Grayson County’s 4-H and Blue Ridge Discovery Center

Owl Pellet Journal:  A Collaboration with Grayson County’s 4-H and Blue Ridge Discovery Center

Our local 4-H has established a tradition of bringing owl pellet dissection to 4th grade science classes for a number of years. Covering the geographic extent of Grayson County ‘s elementary schools required two days, the first beginning in Fries and ending in Fairview, on the 4th of November. In between we hit Baywood. On our second day, November 11th, we started at Independence Elementary and finished up at Grayson Highlands School. For the two days our student total reached 119.

Students explore the life of birds through BRDC's Avian Adventures

Students explore the life of birds through BRDC's Avian Adventures

On Monday afternoon William Roberts (board member of Blue Ridge Discovery Center and Scott Jackson-Ricketts (program director of BRDC) introduced the art of birding to Mark Robinson’s biology enrichment class. After sharing names and a getting-to-know-one-another session, we began by holding up bird flash cards to determine what birds, if any, the students recognized.

Wrapping up 2015 Bird Sleuth program at Grayson County High School

Wrapping up 2015 Bird Sleuth program at Grayson County High School

We had two working classes: Becky Absher’s ecology and Deb Greif’s/Kathy Davis' math analysis. Working with both classes from March through April, Blue Ridge Discovery Center focused on acquainting the students with local birds, their habitats and behavior. Starting in early March, we divided up our instruction time between in-class studies and outdoor walks behind the school. Through Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology curriculum, called Bird Sleuth, we watched a series of videos dedicated to the skills of bird id and natural history. Outside, along Stinky Creek, we set up a few bird feeders to draw in common feeder birds, giving us the opportunity to put our new-found skills to test.

Recent BRDC activities: Farm Days and the Carolina Raptor Center

Recent BRDC activities:  Farm Days and the Carolina Raptor Center

On the 22nd and 23rd of May, busloads of grade-school kids flowed through a variety of activities at the Matthews Living History Farm Museum. They were treated to live music, story-telling, farm animals, historical farm equipment, a real vegetable garden and insect explorations. Blue Ridge Discovery Center provided kids with bug nets, capture boxes and magnifying lenses for closer viewing.

Bird Sleuth, chapter one

Bird Sleuth, chapter one

Bird Sleuth is a program designed by Cornell's Lab of Ornithology (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/Page.aspx?pid=1478).  Blue Ridge Discovery Center decided to offer a first run of this investigative and hands-on citizen science project to two classes at Grayson County High School.

Hawk Watching with Galax High School

Hawk Watching with Galax High School

Mahogany Rock Hawk Watch with Galax HS Biology Students. On September 24th, BRDC hosted this year’s final Avian Adventures program at Mahogany Rock Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Teachers Emily Brown and Sam Starkey brought 12 kids for a day of hawk observations and discussions on migration.BRDC guides William Roberts and Scott Jackson-Ricketts began the program with a focus on a map, compass and questions about migratory patterns and the dynamics of energy saving flight techniques.

Joy Ranch field trip

Joy Ranch field trip

Today, BRDC brought six young people, one mom and one staff member to the Music Center, and/or Fisher's Peak along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a walk in the park.  Through our Avian Adventures Program we aimed to hear and find birds, who are winding down their typical territorial and breeding behavior, yet we managed to find indigo buntings, red-eyed vireo, field sparrows, a broad winged hawk and hooded warbler. 

Birding at Grayson Highlands State Park

Birding at Grayson Highlands State Park

Birding with campers at Grayson Highlands State Park 6/29/13 Julie Slater, intern at GHSP, and Blue Ridge Discovery Center have joined forces for a series of on-site programs this summer and fall. (See previous blogs regarding the currency of this association through BRDC’s Fish Bugs program.) Our choice of study for this program was Sullivan Swamp (defined as an Appalachian shrub bog), with a strong focus on birds.

Camp Dickenson

Camp Dickenson

Through Eric Harrold's tireless outreach, BRDC is now engaged with the Methodist Camp Dickenson here in Grayson County with a series of summer programs focused on birds and ecology.  Avian Adventures made its first foray last Thursday, June 13th, and along with guide Scott Jackson-Ricketts, Eric led a group of 13 kids for a walk around the riverside property.

Classroom preparation

BRDC High School Birding Presentations

On May 23

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, Eric Harrold, with assistance from Scott Jackson-Ricketts, gave a brief introduction to bird identification and field guide use to five high school classes at Galax City High School.

All presentations were organized by Ms. Emily Brown and held in her classroom.

88 young people participated.

Eric had the kids use the Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by showing them slides of certain species for them to find in the guide.

While the kids thumbed through the field guide, he pointed out the basics of field identification, including plumage, silhouette, habitat, behavior and other clues to sorting out one bird from the next.

Contained in the slide show was a live connection to Cornell’s Lab or Ornithology website, allowing the kids to hear bird songs and make further comparisons.

This, especially, caught their attention…listening to the wide variety of bird noises.

This effort was all in preparation for a field trip slated for the next day, in Grayson Highlands State Park, where a select group would try out their new found skills.

(See previous post.)

Scott Jackson-Ricketts