Here in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, we are blessed with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities. When The Observer asked, we jumped at the chance to spotlight a few of our favorite activities for the fall.
Potomac Valley Audubon Society
We were talking and my wife suddenly stood with her mouth open, staring out into our distant hayfield. “That looks like orange butterfly weed!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide with surprise.
The caravan of cars reached the top of South Mountain. A couple-dozen riders emerged into the night, bundled into parkas and wearing winter coats. As we inhaled crisp November air, our ears were blasted with a continuous amplified recording that sounded like a big truck backing up.
John James Audubon was a French immigrant who adopted nineteenth-century America as his home. Early on, he resolved to roam the country hunting and drawing birds. “Audubon” has become synonymous with birds and conservation, but few today appreciate his indefatigable genius.
Eastern meadowlarks used to be common birds in local hayfields. Now they’re on a growing list of field-nesting birds—bobwhite quail, vesper sparrow, American kestrel, and red-winged blackbird—whose numbers have seriously dropped. Now you can drive though the countryside and never see any of them.
For 17 years, This Race Is for the Birds! has served as an important fundraiser to support PVAS in its mission to preserve, restore, and enjoy the natural world through education and action. All proceeds support PVAS’s projects, programs, and preserves.
I recently toured the grounds of the National Fish Heath Laboratory, a beautiful facility in Leetown (WV). There are numerous freshwater ponds, a natural wetland, and a woodland trail. The Fish Health Lab belongs to the U.S. Geological Survey. Grounds are closed to the public except by appointment, and visitors must be accompanied by a member of USGS staff. My host was staff member Heather Walsh. I came to familiarize myself with the place so I could help lead a winter bird walk there later this month with the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS). Heather has been leading nature activities with various organizations for the past year—part of an educational outreach program to the public.
Chimney swifts have something special that other songbirds don’t: they roost in large numbers—a thousand or more at a time if they can find the right place. And Shepherdstown has the right place; or at least it has for a long time. In fact, Shepherdstown currently hosts the largest chimney swift roost in West Virginia.