Jim Keighton of Blue Ridge Birders hosted BRDC and 19 Grayson Highlands seventh graders for a day of counting migrating hawks.
We have enjoyed exploring the mountains around Boone for its considerable natural wonders. In August the birds have mostly finished breeding and reduced their vocalizations, so we enjoy watching insects and anything else in the natural world that draws our attention.
I was surprised to find that in August the most common large butterfly near Boone is the pipevine swallowtail.
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.
Blue Ridge Discovery Center and the Blue Ridge Birders are excited to announce a partnership to make the Blue Ridge Bird Club a program of BRDC! This partnership brings a renewed focus on avian life to BRDC and ensures that the many activities of the Bird Club will continue into the future. Beyond programming, Blue Ridge Birders provided nearly $5,000 from the James Coman Fund to support regional youth education focused on birds.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas "Side Hunt". They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations.
Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a "Christmas Bird Census" that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.
During the first week of November, Grayson County 4-H and BRDC teamed up to bring all of the 4th graders across Grayson County our famous owl pellet program.
It always begins with ew, yuck and gross, because the idea of dissecting something that was once inside a living bird, summons visions of poop or puke. We explain that an owl pellet is similar to a fur ball your house cat occasionally coughs up.
Aiming for peak broad-winged hawk migration, the explorers club hit the road to visit Grandfather Mountain Hawk Watch. We arrived not a minute too early! As we were setting up shop on Linville Peak (across the swinging bridge), kettles began to form to the southeast. It was if the hawks were appearing out of thin air, rising from the forest canopy below. We had incredible views looking nearly directly down on the birds. They were taking advantage of the thermals forming on the southeast facing slope of the mountain and soaring right in front of us. They circled up and up in kettles of thirty or more birds until they reached cruising altitude and one by one they would peel off continue their journey south toward Central and South America.
Blue Ridge Discovery Center, in gratitude and honor of our recently departed and most principled birder and outdoor enthusiast, would like to advance his contagious interest in birds, flight, majesty of raptors, seasonal surprises of migration, and his boundless curiosity.
We believe that the best way to share his love of birds is to create an Ornithology Camp supported by a scholarship fund in his name.
Spring is a wonderful time of year, with leaves and blooms emerging, birds singing, and amphibian reproduction in full swing. But breeding occurs over a prolonged period since different species have distinct tolerances and adaptations for seasonal progression in temperature and related habitat changes.
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.
Every year around Labor Day weekend Common Nighthawks migrate through our region in mass. In the evenings keep your eyes peeled to the sky for a bird that at first glance might look like a large bat. They are often seen snapping up aerial insects that rise at dusk. Pay very close attention and you can hear their wide gaping mouths snap shut on the unsuspecting prey! If you can train a pair of binoculars on them you'll notice a distinct white bar on their pointed wings. They have an erratic fight pattern that links insect to insect across the sky and you'll often see a "river" of nighthawks that can number in the hundreds, streaming in a general direction (typically south). Their ultimate winter destination? South America!
So due yourself a favor and witness one of the great bird migrations of the world by spending a few minutes each evening looking up at the sky over the next two weeks.
These annual counts provide a great excuse to get out with friends and freeze. This year was gentler, with much warmer temps and less wind than usual. But the warmer weather seemed to negatively affect the bird numbers and species diversity. I am guessing, but some of my theories are: less need for the birds to form foraging flocks and less elevational migratory movement, both behaviors due to a wider abundance of food and water sources. Regardless, I had a great time on two counts…the New River and the Mount Rogers.