By Eric Wallace
New Weekend Blockbusting Rally Series makes traveling to help with the VABBA2 easier than ever.
We know many VABBA2 volunteers would love to help blockbust in under-birded priority blocks—but juggling busy lives often leaves little time for planning. This year, though, we’re worked to make this easy: We’ve partnered with state parks in the southern Piedmont and southwest Virginia to hold four Weekend Blockbusting Rallies between May 31-June 30.
“Each park features great amenities and scenery, but brings the added bonus of being located in or within quick range of un-surveyed priority blocks,” says director Ashley Peele, PhD.
A good example is the Twin Lakes State Park Atlas Rally, which will launch the Series on Friday, May 31. Located about 16 miles from Farmville in rural Prince Edward County, the park offers attendees access to 543 acres of protected habitat surrounding Goodwin and Prince Edward lakes (both swimmable). It is nestled within the 6,496-acre Prince Edward-Gallion State Forest—which dates to 1919 and is the oldest in Virginia—and lies a few miles south of the 740-acre Sandy River Reservoir. Overnight accommodations include a 33-site campground with bathhouse, as well as 11 climate-controlled cabins with kitchens—all surprisingly nice; some located on waterfront lots. An almost totally un-birded priority block is situated just north of the park. There are more nearby.
Most importantly: The park is a veritable treasure trove for birders. The lakes are fed by two small rivers and are surrounded by dense forests and grassy meadows. Trails are available throughout. At 15 and 36 acres, the bodies of water attract interesting species and bolster avian diversity.
In and around the woods, rally participants may catch glimpses of Eastern Wood Peewees, Red-eyed Vireos, White-breasted Nuthatches, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and many warblers—including Prothonotary and Kentucky Warbler. Look for Downy, Hairy, Pileated and Red-headed Woodpecker too. The lakes bring viewing opportunities for Belted Kingfishers, Great Blue and Green Heron, and more.
While Rally sites are all equally unique, the events will follow near-identical schedules. “The idea is to make everything as easy as possible,” says Peele. “Basically, we’re trying to make it so all you have to do is pack your things, reserve your campsite/room, and show up. We’ll take care of the rest.”
Would-be participants can register in advance through the VABBA2 Events Page. Arriving at the respective Rally on Friday afternoon, attendees will gather for a friendly, meet-and-greet-style orientation (typically at the park’s visitor center). Blockbusters will be assigned to small groups, with leaders consisting of veteran birders, regional coordinators, area experts, and even Peele herself. In addition to Rally-specific details and assignments, the meetings will provide an update regarding the overall progress of the VABBA2.
“We’ll cover all the serious nuts and bolts stuff, but we’re also going to focus on keeping it fun,” says Peele. Over the course of the past 3 years, Atlasers have become like an extended citizen-scientist family. As such, Peele anticipates the meetings will have a degree of intimacy—not unlike a get-together with a local bird club. “Many of us have corresponded by email, or through Facebook, or talked on the phone, but haven’t had the chance to meet in person,” she says. “On top of gathering great data, my hope is these Rallies will serve as a catalyst for getting to know one another better, building new relationships, and helping foster an even more closely-knit statewide community of birders.”
If desired, group camping will be available. Saturday morning, participants will convene at a central location in the State Park, with groups then dispersing to assigned areas for Atlasing. Each will cover a range of habitats with plenty of scenic and avian eye-candy. On Saturday evening, Atlasers will convene for a catered get-together at the park, or a meal at a local restaurant or brewery.
The Twin Lakes party, for instance, will likely be held in downtown Farmville at Third Street Brewing. Housed in a renovated historic brick warehouse, the brewery has a lovely outdoor seating area. Local newspapers tout it as the city’s best bar. With a resume that includes work with Trapezium, Star Hill and Flying Dog, brewmaster David Steeves knows his stuff.
And if that wasn’t enough? The VABBA2 plans to treat Rally participants to dinner.
“We want to share a meal together and collectively raise our glasses in recognition of everybody’s hard work,” says Peele. “This is going to be a time to celebrate the efforts we’ve made at both the Rally and over the course of three great years of data-collection.”
For those that can stay, Sunday morning and early-afternoon will bring further birding.
In addition to Twin Lakes, events will be held in Smyth County at Hungry Mother State Park (June 14-16), at Staunton River State Park in Halifax County (June 21-23), and at Scott County’s Natural Tunnel State Park (June 28-30).
“All of these places are lovely and interesting in their own right,” says Peele. For instance, located at the
terminus of both the Dan and Staunton rivers—and offering access to the 77-square-mile Kerr Lake—the 2,400-acre Staunton River State Park was named an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. Natural Tunnel boasts a 10-story-high, 850-foot-long natural limestone cave that has been used by trains since 1894. If you’re bringing kids, there’s also a 100-foot waterslide.
Throw in fascinating bird species, diverse wildflowers in cool habitats, and mostly un-birded priority blocks? You have a recipe for readymade Atlasing adventure.
To learn more about individual Blockbusting Rallies, volunteer as a group leader, or register to attend, visit the VABBA2 Events Page. Online registration forms are available for each. Please reserve your spot today!