Stillwell Park provides new birdwatching opportunity
The Pocahontas County Nature Club is excited to host a bird-watching walk during the Autumn Harvest Festival. The walk, which will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 29, will be led by West Virginia Division of Natural Resources ornithologist Rich Bailey, and acknowledges the opening of the club's new trail at Stillwell Park.
According to Parks and Recreation director Lauren Bennett, the trail is maintained mostly by Kevin Hickman, of Parks and Rec.
Bullard said the mile-long trail will provide birders a tremendous opportunity to see a wide variety of species because of the combination of different habitats on the river, in the stretch of woods along it, and in nearby open fields.
“The trail starts at the gazebo and travels upriver along the Greenbrier,” said Bullard. “Then it cuts right at the sewage pond and wraps back around. You can see up to 80 birds in this park certain times of the year, if not more. That's what makes this so neat, and a mile is do-able for most people.”
Bullard said the county's terrain and geological features provide a unique ecosystem for birds.
“I think Pocahontas County is one of the best places on the east coast for birds. You have your tremendous elevation differences, and because of the glaciers, although they didn't cover this area, the run-off left some of these areas sub-alpine. To find the same birds, you might have to go a thousand miles north. The biodiversity is incredible in Pocahontas County, and it's been protected to a great extent. This is really a special place,” remarked Bullard.
Bullard said there are species native to this area that attract a phenomenal amount of bird watching enthusiasts.
“There are about ten or fifteen species of warblers here — the bird that a lot of people want to see — and you can see them in migration coming through. That's very difficult to see anywhere else,” he said.
According to Bullard, the Pocahontas County Nature Club started in 2007, and it's scope goes far beyond just birdwatching.
“The mission was four things — encourage the observation of natural phenomenon around the county, develop an awareness and greater appreciation for it, unite others who have an interest in it and get them together on a regular basis, and then we're involved in research,” said Bullard.
Bullard said the nature club gets together for different programs once or twice a month every summer, and they cover a variety of topics.
“We try to cover as many different aspects of nature as we can. It's a lot of fun getting together. We've had talks on everything from snakes, to geology, to stream analysis,” said Bullard.
Since the club's founding, it has affiliated with other organizations and participated in research programs with universities around the country.
“We were able to affiliate with the Brooks Bird Club, which is a well-known nature club, and the Christmas Count we do is part of a research project that feeds information to Cornell [University],” said Bullard.
Bullard said the nature club also participates in a state bird breeding atlas survey.
According to the West Virginia bird breeding atlas website, “a Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) is a project designed to document the status and distribution of all breeding species of birds that occur within a given area. Generally BBAs are conducted by volunteer surveyors who document the breeding status of all species encountered.”
According to Bullard, the nature club is responsible for an atlas block.
“You try and see how many birds are nesting,” explained Bullard. “You study the block beginning at dawn, then you do it in the middle of the day, then you do it in the evening. You're trying to determine if the birds are nesting there. Are they carrying food? Are they carrying nesting material? Are they singing in opposition? There's lots of ways to tell. We try to get as many observers as possible, then compile the results and send 'em off to Rich Bailey, who is going to be leading the walk.”
Bullard said folks can find a wealth of information about birdwatching and different bird trails on the Convention and Visitors Bureau website.
“This is just one of ten trails that the CVB put together,” explained Bullard. “Some of the local birders worked with Gail [Hyer], and we picked the ten best birding trails in the county. Each one is written up on the website. You can download the bird list for each trail, and you can see what you might expect to find during different seasons on the trail, because they vary depending on the habitat or the elevation.”
Bullard said the bird trail project got started with help from a variety of local agencies — the Forest Service, DNR, the town of Marlinton, and a birder named Randy Bodkins.
“There's been a lot of different groups that were involved in the creation of this,” said Bullard. “But this gentleman [Bodkins] birded here off and on for years. He sent us the bird list, described the different habitats and suggested a birding trail. So we owe it to him for giving us the nudge to get started.”
Bullard said they plan to put signs up along the river to attract people who are canoeing to pull off and take a hike on the new trail. Bullard said bird watching isn't an expensive hobby to get into, and anyone with a backyard has a good head start.
“Really all you need are a bird book for identification, and a pair of binoculars,” he said. “Get outside and enjoy nature. Just get out there and appreciate what's around you!”
The Pocahontas County Nature Club Bird Walk is free, and starts at the gazebo at Stillwell Park at 8 a.m. on Saturday, September 29.