Raptors and Kids Circle Burkes Garden

It's not often that the weather at Burkes garden cooperates in February. It can be downright nasty! Saturday was a little windy but fairly comfortable so the students of Galax Middle School experienced a real treat.

Five eager and energetic students climbed into the van and began the trip to Burkes Garden, Virginia. It is referred to by many as "God's Thumbprint".  Based on its aerial and topographic view, Burkes Garden is an oval bowl completely surrounded by Garden Mountain. It was formed by the collapse of limestone caverns below and is now a very fertile valley; the highest in Virginia at over 3000 ft! But this is not all that makes this place special. It just happens to be a hot spot for raptors on their migratory path South for the winter.

The kids are very excited to be on an adventure to such a special and unique spot. At one of our rest stops, our birding guide for the day, Amy Renfranz, from Grandfather Mountain helped them understand and use their field guides by asking questions and having them find that particular species. It was a great exercise and gave the students confidence. Back in the van and up the curvy road we went!

Our first stop was around a large pond at the entrance of the community. It was a great place to get out and learn how to use the binoculars. There were geese on the pond, so it made for easy viewing. The students were naturals and all could find the birds in their binoculars. We were about to head back to the van when one spotted three birds soaring up high. There was a question..."Hey, what is that?" All the binoculars went up to witness three different raptors. Two were fairly obvious, but the third was a really special raptor. One was a Bald Eagle, the second was a Red-tailed Hawk and the third, identified as it swooped down really close, was a Rough-legged Hawk! At their first stop and within a half hour, we had seen spectacular birds! We were all so excited for what the rest of the day would reveal.

Observing a Bald Eagle on the nest

Observing a Bald Eagle on the nest

Continuing on through the valley, we turned off the main road onto a side road following fellow birders. All of a sudden the cars pulled over and out we all jumped again. The buzz and excitement were palpable as the bird soaring up above was a Golden Eagle! 

We spent the entire day, riding and stopping and jumping out of the van in search of new and exciting species of birds. Allie was the scribe for the trip keeping a vigilant record of all species found. They found 22 different species of birds and became confident birders. More importantly, they had a great time! 

Many thanks to Cindy Joines-Huff for getting that van, Coach Barkley for handling that vehicle so well and tolerating all the "wait!...stop!....back-up!...pull over!" all day, and especially, Amy Renfranz! You were such a pleasure to have along both educating and entertaining us all day.