By Ashley Peele
Fifteen volunteers converged on Hungry Mother State Park this past weekend for the 2nd VA BBA Blockbusting rally. Traveling from every region of the Commonwealth, volunteers included long-time veterans, newer recruits, state park employees, and Team Warbler, a group of field technicians from VA Commonwealth University who are studying Golden-Winged Warbler breeding behaviors.
On Friday evening, we all gathered at the Hemlock Haven Conference Center to meet one another, discuss blockbusting tips, and strategize for the next day. These gatherings are a nice chance for volunteers and coordinators, who may have been emailing for years, to get acquainted. Additionally, it allows us time to work out final details for the following big day of blockbusting.
Splitting into five teams, blockbusters radiated out into the surrounding region EARLY on Saturday morning. We targeted high-value priority blocks, those with a lot of historic data, but little to no modern breeding observations. Habitats ranged from high-elevation forests to the matrix of agricultural, field, and woodland edge characteristic of valley areas. Riparian corridors cut through the valleys in many places with abundant oriole nests and the occasional Cliff Swallow colony.
Saturday evening, we broke off from surveying to share a meal at 27 Lions, a nice little brewpub in downtown Marion. Taking over a whole back room, we earned some strange looks from fellow patrons as we loudly shared exciting finds and amusing encounters with curious locals (and deputies). Some sage advice offered by long-time volunteer, Dave Larsen, is to cover up any and all political stickers (whatever your views)!
Sunday morning found teams back out before dawn to survey their second (or third) priority block. A few volunteers hit up blocks on their homeward route. Others ventured further into the montane areas north and south of Hungry Mother. All put in another great day of surveying, before dispersing back to their own corners of Virginia.
Overall, our teams surveyed 10 priority blocks over the weekend, logging an average of 5-6 hours per block. Here are a few summary stats from the weekend…
- 109 possible breeding species observed
- 107 breeding confirmations added to the database
- 524 breeding codes reported
- 60+ survey hours logged
A few species highlights included:
- Territorial Swainson’s Warblers
- Pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers in multiple blocks
- A Hooded Merganser fledgling
- A Barred Owl fledgling
- A singing Bobolink
- And a Red-breasted Nuthatch
A huge thanks to all of the folks who came out to volunteer in this event. Spending a weekend birding in beautiful habitats is fun, but it is also an investment of time, energy, and travel dollars by our awesome Atlas participants. You are all appreciated!
Lastly, a special thanks to regional coordinator Steve Hopp, State Park Chief Ranger Tanya Hall, and Park Naturalist Lily Kingsolver. This event wouldn’t have been possible without all their advice and support, as well as Hungry Mother State Park’s sponsorship of the event.
Now it’s time to get ready for the second Piedmont rally at Staunton River State Park this weekend. Woo, blockbusting! 🙂