Working Together to Keep Golden-Winged Warblers in Smyth County

 A Golden-winged Warbler on its breeding territory in Smyth County along the Appalachian Trail.

A Golden-winged Warbler on its breeding territory in Smyth County along the Appalachian Trail.

 Conner McBane, Natural Resource Specialist with Appalachian Trail Conservancy, after several hours of brushing.

Conner McBane, Natural Resource Specialist with Appalachian Trail Conservancy, after several hours of brushing.

During the last week in September, Blue Ridge Discovery Center teamed up with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, AmeriCorps NCCC, the Quarter Way Inn and the US Forest Service to maintain and enhance golden-winged warbler habitat along the Appalachian Trail in northern Smyth County. The ecologically valuable tract of old field and shrubby habitat is one of the few areas with known breeding golden-winged warblers in the county. These habitat specialists require just the right mix of vegetative structure for a successful breeding season. The old field habitat that is currently found throughout the tract is in various stages of succession. If allowed to progress through succession, much of the area will revert back to forest and the diversity of wildlife that is found within the tract will decline. Habitat loss though natural and unnatural means is thought to be one of the leading causes of the drastic decline in golden-winged warbler populations across their range, so maintaining known breeding habitat is critical for the species. While the warblers are headed to Central and South America for the winter, this yearly maintenance of strategic brush hogging and non-native invasive plant control can safely be completed to maintain the correct ratio of structure across the tract. Not all of the work was done with machinery, AmeriCorps NCCC crew members and a few folks form Celanese Corporation provided much of the enthusiasm and energy to tackle the invasive plants across patches of the tract. All of the hard work that was accomplished this fall will assure that the golden-winged warblers will find the habitat that they need when they return to this small corner of Smyth County next spring.

 AmeriCorps NCCC member removing non-native multiflora rose from the habitat.

AmeriCorps NCCC member removing non-native multiflora rose from the habitat.

3rd Annual Summer Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

Rain, rain, rain. The 3rd annual Summer Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally was wet, but like always we had a great time enjoying the rich natural history of the area. With a nice mix of veteran and new participants, this rally pulled together a wonderful group of people who even while soaked with rain remained enthusiastic and positive.

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After participants registered and chose their field trips, Friday night of the event kicked off with a Farm-to-Table dinner at the Konnarock Community Center. By partnering with Harvest Table Produce Farm, locally sourced ingredients were the foundation for the meal. After dinner, Tom McAvoy, senior laboratory specialist in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, discussed several native and non-native insects and their relationships with North American ecosystems. Tom’s talk drew from his decades of non-native invasive pest research at Virginia Tech and the research of some of his entomology colleagues. With over 30 published papers, Tom’s work has helped shape the management of agriculture and forest pests, and he is held in high regard by the hemlock woolly adelgid research community.

The optional Saturday morning breakfast included coffee donated by Dark Hollow Micro Roasters and locally raised eggs provided by Savannah Brown. Field trips on Saturday included ecological tours of Whitetop Mountain, fly fishing, a non-native invasive plant workshop, a local cave tour, fungi foray and butterfly hike. With the rain continuing through the afternoon, our snorkeling and stream ecology groups were diverted from the bulging streams and treated to a tour of the Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center at VDGIF’s Buller Hatchery.

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This year we started a raffle prize fund raiser for our Summer Camp Scholarship Program. We had an amazing array of donated items from area artisans. We’d like to thank Peach Bottom Pottery, Mtn. Momma Spoons, and Joe Flowers for their contributions. Several local businesses also contributed items, including Green Cove Collective, Mojo’s Café, and Adventure Damascus.

As always, Blue Ridge Discovery Center could not have held this event without the help of many partners and volunteers who worked to make the event a success! With all of the support and the participation from the public, this 3rd annual Summer Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally was a testament to the strong community surrounding the ecological treasure at the core of this event.

Life history strategies on display!

This most recent BRDC visitor, a pipevine swallowtail caterpillar, gets its name from its obligate host plant, pipevine. The pipevine (or Dutchman’s pipe) is so named for its unusual lobed flowers that resemble Dutch smoking pipes. While the flowers’ shape makes them an unsuitable food source for adult pipevine swallowtail butterflies, the rest of the plant is essential for this butterfly’s life cycle.  

These reddish-black, orange-spotted larvae feed exclusively on plants within the genus Aristolochia, which contain aristolochia acid, a toxin that the larvae ingest, making them distasteful and poisonous to potential predators. This toxin remains in the caterpillar’s body throughout metamorphosis and adulthood as a defense mechanism. Even the eggs retain this toxin when they are oviposited on the leaves and stems of the pipevine plant, ready to hatch out the next, hungry generation.

Here at BRDC we can currently see three different instars of the pipevine swallowtail caterpillar around the property! 

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44th Spring Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally

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We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 44th annual Mount Rogers Spring Naturalist Rally. It seems that more often than not this second weekend in May is nice and rainy, but with just a brief shower Friday evening during registration, the rest of this year’s weekend was warm with partly cloudy to sunny skies.  Friday night’s locally sourced dinner included Lasagna, garlic bread and a nice mix of spring greens and attracted a record crowd which made for a successful fundraiser for the Konnarock community center.

Long time Rally supporter, Allen Boynton, was the keynote speaker and shared his vast array of experiences through the trajectory of his wildlife biology careers with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. The weekend included several new opportunities including a habitat enhancement project for an important gray’s lily population and the kick off of a long term monitoring project of the red spruce / northern hardwood ecotone on Whitetop Mountain.

As with all of the previous, the 44rd annual Spring Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally would not have been possible without the support of the wonderful guides and other volunteers.  Their hard work and dedication to sharing their knowledge combined with the incredible natural resources of the Mount Rogers area continued the tradition of exploring and celebrating our portion of the Blue Ridge.