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State of West Virginia

Cardinal Northern
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis ©Cal Vornberger Website

Birding West Virginia

At some juncture before the United States reached it's current geo-political size, it was said of West Virginia, Its the most northern of the southern states, the most southern of the northern states, the most eastern of the western states and the most western of the eastern states. Even although it's a safe bet that someone from West Virginia coined the phrase, that adage held true at the time and still describes with some accuracy, it's geo-political boundaries. It's northern most point extends farther north than Pittsburg, Pa., Huntington in the west extends farther west than Cleavland, Oh., Bluefield is farther south than Richmond, Virginia. and it's eastern most town, Harper's Ferry, lies at the same approximate longitude as Hagerstown, Md.

Even though West Virginia lies soley within the Appalachian Mountain System, it can be divided into three distinct physiographic regions, the Ridge and Valley Province in the eastern panhandle, the Allegheny Mountains and the Unglaciated Allegheny Plateau. The eastern panhandle can be further divided into the Potomac and Shenandoah River valleys and the Blue Ridge Mountain Section. Principal rivers in the Allegheny region are the Ohio along the western border and northern panhandle, the New, Kanawha, and Gauley in the south and the Monongahela, Cheat and Tygart in the north-central region.

The majority of the state is covered by deciduous forest, but conifer, mixed conifer/deciduous and boreal habitats are also to be found in the Allegheny Mountains. The eastern panhandle and southwestern area of the state contain extensive enough tracts of pine that Pine Warblers nest regularly. Very little marsh habitat exists in the state, but enough is present in the Eastern panhandle and along the Ohio River that Pied-billed Grebes, Least and American Bitterns, Virginia Rails, Soras, Comon Moorhens and Marsh Wrens nest.

The geographic scope of the state coupled with habitat diversity provides the basis for West Virginia's distinction of having more breeding species of new-world warblers than any other state. Currently, 29 species of eastern warblers, including two of the most sought after ones, Swainson's and Mourning, breed in West Virginia. Breeding Least Bittern's, Loggerhead Shrikes, Dickcissels and disjunct populations of breeding Northern Goshawks, Olive-sided Flycatchers and Nashville Warblers, give West Virginia a unique ornithological flair. The diversity of breeding species in the state has been increased with the re-introduction programs of Bald Eagles, Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons.

Birding Locations

The vast majority of rarities that appear in West Virginia, seem to turn up at Greenbottom Wildlife Management Area and at Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam. Both of these areas are found along state route 2 which parallels the Ohio River just west of Huntington in the southwestern corner of the state. In addition to this being the most rairity-rich area in the state, Least Bitterns, Common Moorhens, Virginia and Sora Rails, Summer Tanagers and Blue Grosbeaks nest here.

To find Swainson's Warblers in West Virginia a trip to the rhododendron thickets of the southern part of the state is a must. For specific locations try Babock State Park off of state route 41 north of Beckley and Coonskin Park in Charleston. In addition to searching for Swainson's Warblers here, a visit to New River National Gorge can be visually rewarding. Most of the breeding species found in deciduous habitats, are also present in this area of the state.

Some more top sites are set out below.

Additional information and details regarding birding locations can be found in the Birding Guide to West Virginia which is published by the Brooks Bird Club.

Top Sites

Altona Marsh & Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area

Information

Satellite View

Altona Marsh at Charles Town and Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area near Martinsburg in the eastern panhandle can provide rewarding birding experiences. Among others, Virginia Rails and Marsh Wrens nest at Altona Marsh. Sleepy Creek is productive during spring migration and breeding season when Whip-poor-wills and Pine Warblers are nesting. The eastern panhandle is the only area of the state where both Fish Crows and Loggerhead Shrikes can be found.

Blackwater Falls State Park

Website

Satellite View

Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls state parks in Tucker County offer a wide variety of birding habitats and stunning scenery. Canaan Valley contains almost every type of habitat found in the state. It is suspected that Common Snipe and American Bitterns breed here. Once a documented nester, Sedge Wren may still breed in remote locations in the valley. In recent years, Black Vultures have established permanent residency in Black Water Falls State Park and Rough-legged Hawks are common winter residents in Canaan Valley. Also of interest in nearby Dolly Sods Wilderness Area is the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory. Every year from mid-August to mid-September, The Brooks Bird Club conducts a passerine banding operation. The station is situated along the eastern edge of the Allegheny Front which offers some of the most spectacular views in the state.

Cathedral State Park

Website

Satellite View

Cathedral State Park located just off of US Route 50 in Preston County, contains one of the few remaining stands of mixed, old-growth timber in West Virginia. Several trails through the park provide ample birding opportunities amidst sublime surroundings. Some of the birds found nesting in the park are Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Louisiana Waterthrush and Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green and Canada Warblers.

Cranesville Swamp

Webpage

Satellite View

Also in Preston County is botanic-rich Cranesville Swamp. Just a few of the interesting plant species that can be found along the boardwalk are large cranberry, sundew and eastern larch. Saw-whet Owls are year-round residents and among others, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Alder Flycatcher, Hermit Thrush, Northern Waterthrush and Golden-winged Warblers breed here. Nashville Warblers have been found breeding here in the past and may still be present as nesters.

Gaudineer Knob Recreation Area & Barton Knob

Information

Satellite View

Located in Randolph and Pocahontas Counties, Gaudineer Knob Recreation Area and nearby Barton Knob provide some of the richest birding in the state. Northern Goshawk, Saw-whet Owl, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Red Crossbill are possibilities here during breeding season. Winter Wrens are abundant and with the exceptions of Gray-cheeked and Bicknell's, all of the eastern thrush species breed in this area. Other species you're likely to encounter are Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, the mountain type of Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco and Yellow-rumped Warbler. If that's not enough, Gaudineer Knob is one of the best locations in the state for find Mourning, Blackburnian and Canada Warblers.

Contributor

Gary L Felton

West Virginia Birds Records Committee member

GL1JE1@AOL.COM

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 364

As at January 2015

Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web

Useful Reading

The West Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas

(Pitt Series in Nature and Natural History) Albert R. Buckelew Jr., George A. Hall Hardcover - 232 pages (June 1994) University of Pittsburgh Press

ISBN: 0822938502

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Useful Information

State Bird

Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis

West Virginia Division of Natural Resources

http://www.wvdnr.gov/

West Virginia Visitor Guide

http://www.westvirginia.com/

Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Birding Pal

Information

Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

CloudBirders

Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2014b[06 June] - John Rowlett, Bret Whitney & Tom Reed - Virginia's Warblers

Report

...It is remarkable that, of the 26 species of warblers we found, no fewer than 10 genera are represented, even though these species are such closely related members of their group that hybrids are not uncommon, even intergeneric hybrids. Most of the temperate-breeding warblers we saw are sexually dimorphic, whereas the Neotropical-breeding warblers look more or less alike. In the triplist that follows I've noted a few particular aspects of the biology of each species, some of which we remarked on during the tour...

2015 [May] - John Rowlett, Tom Johnson, and Jan Pierson - Virginia's Warblers

Report

...Here, along the banks of the James at Warren Ferry and the Hardware River WMA, such lowland, southern species as Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Orchard Oriole, and Blue Grosbeak graced us with appearances. The birding didn't stop for dinner, either - a Louisiana Waterthrush arrived in a small stream next to our restaurant and sang from mere feet away as we dined.

Places to Stay

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

Canaan Valley Resort

Accommodation

Situated in one of the most scenic and tranquil settings in the Mid-Atlantic, with unlimited recreation and family-focused activities, Canaan Valley Resort is a four-season destination providing the perfect escape from the pressures of daily life. Fifteen miles long by three miles wide, Canaan Valley is the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains, with a base elevation of 3,100 feet. Canaan Valley Resort is nestled on a plateau overlooking the valley, offering sweeping views of the surrounding peaks…

Organisations

Audubon Society in West Virginia

Website

Usual list of local chapters.

Brooks Bird Club

Website

The Brooks Bird Club is an independent, educational, non-profit organization which promotes the study and enjoyment of birds and other elements of the natural world. Its purpose is to inform members and the public of environmental issues, to encourage intelligent use of our natural resources and preservation of our natural heritage. The club undertakes studies which have scientific value, including population and breeding bird surveys.

Handlan Chapter of the Brooks Bird Club

Website

The Handlan Chapter of the Brooks Bird Club meets the second Monday of each month, January-May, September-December. The next meeting is scheduled for 7:00 pm Monday, February 12, 2001 in Room 204 of the Activities Building at First Presbyterian Church in Charleston…

Mountaineer Audubon Society

Website

PO Box 422, Morgantown, WV 26505-0422 - Susan Olcott, President

Nature Conservancy in West Virginia

Website

Welcome to The Nature Conservancy's West Virginia Chapter home page. Here you'll find information on the many ways we're working to help preserve the diversity of living things by protecting the habitats they call home. Our foray into cyberspace is just beginning, but we hope we are meeting your most immediate needs for information. As our Web page construction efforts continue, we will bring you much more about our work in West Virginia. In the coming months, we'll be adding new stories and pictures, and we hope you'll stop by frequently…

Potomac Valley Audubon Society

Website

PVAS is a chapter of the National Audubon Society and covers the counties of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan in West Virginia and Washington in Maryland. Monthly meetings are held on the second Wednesday of each month, September through May, at the US Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center outside Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

West Virginia Bird Records Committee

Webpage

Until recently the criterion for adding a species to the official state list of bird species was to have a specimen preserved in a museum. Today it is impossible to use this criterion since collecting permits are difficult to obtain, and most of the birding community is unhappy with the idea of collecting…

Festivals

Canaan Valley Birding Festival

http://canaanvalley.org

June 3-5, 2011 - It’s a high-mountain paradise with more miles of trail than road, more designated wilderness areas than traffic lights, more room to roam, and more adventure than you can shake a hiking stick at. From the rugged beauty of the Blackwater Canyon to the pristine back country of the Dolly Sods wilderness, it’s a world untouched, unhurried, and unrivaled…

New River Birding & Nature Festival

http://www.birding-wv.com

The New River Birding & Nature Festival takes place in and around the New River Gorge National River. Administrated by the National Park Service, this area is the heart of the upland, hardwood forests that Cornell Lab of Ornithology has identified as a crucial stopover habitat for the continued survival of species such as Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Swainson's Warbler, as well as the Scarlet Tanager. This bird watching festival highlights more than 100 bird species on a variety of birding tours…

Observatories

Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory

Observatory

Hanging Rock Raptor Observatory on Peter's Mountain in Monroe County, West Virginia, is a former fire tower now used to monitor raptor migration. Every year, starting around the first of September, volunteers man the tower to watch for migrating hawks, eagles, falcons, and ospreys.

Reserves

Canaan Valley NWR

Webpage

Satellite View

Welcome to Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, the nation’s 500th! The refuge works to preserve the unique wetlands and uplands of this high elevation, moist valley. On August 11, 1994, with the purchase of 86 acres the refuge was established. With the purchase of approximately 12,000 acres in 2002, the refuge grew to 15,245 acres in size. The refuge currently is approximately 17,000 acres.

Cranberry Glades Botanic Area

Information

Satellite View

Cranberry Glades — also known simply as The Glades — are a cluster of five small, boreal-type bogs in southwestern Pocahontas County, West Virginia, USA. This area, high in the Allegheny Mountains at about 3,400 feet (1,000 m), is protected as the Cranberry Glades Botanical Area, part of the Monongahela National Forest...

Cranesville Swamp

Webpage

Satellite View

Cranesville Swamp's lush forest and wetland is home to an exceptional variety of plants and animals. In 1965, Cranesville Swamp was one of the first National Natural Landmarks designated by the National Park Service. The mountain peatlands created by this rare mix of altitude, temperature, and precipitation are home to a spectacular range of plants, birds, and mammals.

George Washington & Jefferson National Forest

Webpage

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The George Washington and Jefferson National Forests stretch along the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and even cross into parts of West Virginia and Kentucky. It includes Dolly Sods National Wilderness Area.

Three Rivers Avian Centre

Website

Satellite View

Welcome to a place in West Virginia's New River Gorge which is dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured raptors and other wild birds. A place for people to rediscover our environment from the point of view of creatures whose powers of perception and locomotion rank them as nature's premier symbols of freedom and grace.

Yankauer Nature Preserve

Webpage

Satellite View

The Yankauer Preserve is an encouraging example of what happens to agricultural land after it is given back to nature. Located between the towns of Bedington and Shepherdstown, the preserve was a gift to The Nature Conservancy of West Virginia (TNC) by Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Yankauer. It is jointly managed by TNC and PVAS. In one of the fastest growing parts of the state, this 107 acre Preserve becomes more unique and irreplaceable each year. Interpretive signs for the Kingfisher Trail have been installed.

Blogs

Introduced Birds - John L Trapp

Blog

…The one thing that has remained constant in my life is birds: I eat, drink, sleep, and even dream birds. Birds are my vocation as well as my avocation…

Other Links

Birds etc

Website

Personal reflections and commentary on wild birds and other natural history topics of interest, with special reference to West Virginia and surrounding States

West Virginia listserv archives

Website

Photographers & Artists

Photographer - Robert Royse

Gallery

Thanks for visiting my photo gallery and birding pages. I am a 43 year old birder and amateur photographer living in Columbus, Ohio…