Inappropriately named, nighthawks are not as nocturnal as once thought nor are they related to hawks.
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.
On a recent bike ride along the New River Trail in VA I was more or less in auto-pilot and was paying less attention to my surroundings than I should have. My biking companion Mason suddenly shouted that he had run over a copperhead! I was shocked that I had been so careless to have not noticed the rare snake and also doubted that it was really a copperhead.
This is more of a subjective piece…how could it not be…but before we get ahead of ourselves, the inspiration behind it is the Mount Rogers Naturalist Rally where and when we, as humans focused on the natural history of our Blue Ridge, celebrate our love for our fellow creatures great and small. We come together not as exploiters, but explorers…a somewhat atypical behavior of Homo sapiens.
The golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) is a challenged species on at least two levels. Its preferred habitat of wet, brushy, early successional open areas with available perching trees is disappearing, which has contributed to the decline of this species, placing it in the ‘species of concern’ category by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Most of us recognize the high shrills of our spring peeper as a significant harbinger of spring. These are our first frog breeders, sometimes beginning as early as late February, but most commonly mid-March. For this important event in the ongoing life of peepers, the tiny frogs migrate to vernal pools, and pond and stream edges in meadows and woodlands, where the competition for mates commences.
Avian spring migrants come in two categories: Northbound birds and elevation transients or lateral migrators. The second group mostly consists of our high elevation breeders, such as dark-eyed juncos, that drop off the mountain tops for a few winter months in search of easier food, water and in some cases, shelter. Most of us, however, think of the distance travelers, when we talk about spring migration.
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.
In recent news you may have seen that the largest aquatic insect in the world was recently discovered in China: Scientific American. At first glance this is a rather frightening foreign creature, but did you know that it's equally intimidating cousin lives right here in the Blue Ridge Mountains?