The Story Behind the Cover

Over the next few months we will be sharing stories by the photographers themselves on how the outstanding images that grace this year’s 2017 calendar were captured. Purchase a calendar and follow along with each  behind-the-scenes look at how hard working photographers get those breath taking images! If you want to learn more about each photographer there will be contact information at the end of each posting. Enjoy!

Ricky Simpson, photographer of the 2017 calendar cover, holds up a press proof of his bald eagle cover at Progress Printing Plus.

Ricky Simpson, photographer of the 2017 calendar cover, holds up a press proof of his bald eagle cover at Progress Printing Plus.

RICKY SIMPSON – Cover of bald eagle photographed on the James River near Richmond on a Discover the James Bald Eagle Tour with Capt Mike Ostrander.  (The following is by Ricky)

After many photography tours with Discover the James, this particular morning proved to be unique. Once we were in the boat Captain Mike Ostrander shared a mystical dream with us that he had the previous night. In his dream he encountered two Bald Eagles that flew up to his boat, wings spread, and took on human form.  As they hovered in the air they spoke with him. When Capt. Mike asked their names the eagles called themselves Lalina and Pierre.

Carol Kushlak, Production Manager of Virginia Wildlife magazine, checks the color of the 2017 calendar cover by Ricky Simpson. Ricky Simpson, calendar cover photographer, is behind her taking pictures of the press. Progress Printing Plus staff Marshall Forbes, Senior Account Executive, and Tom Cruise, in red, the sheetfed pressman, wait for approval on color of cover.

Carol Kushlak, Production Manager of Virginia Wildlife magazine, checks the color of the 2017 calendar cover. Ricky Simpson, calendar cover photographer, is behind her taking pictures of the press. Progress Printing Plus staff Marshall Forbes, Senior Account Executive, and Tom Cruise, in red, the sheetfed pressman, wait for approval on color of cover.

All of us thought it was a pretty cool dream and I really didn’t think any more of it until…I got home and was reviewing the images I shot that morning. When I saw what would eventually become the 2017 Virginia Wildlife cover shot my mind immediately went to Mike’s dream. Naturally, I wanted Mike to see the photograph so I sent him the image and asked if the photo was anything like his dream. His response was “Wow…straight from my dream”.  Little did I know at the time that the image would eventually grace the cover of this year’s calendar. Without Captain Mike’s dream this shot would have been buried with the many hundreds of other “keeper” Bald Eagle images I have stored on hard drives. Some would say coincidence but I say divine intervention.

I am honored and very thankful that this image was selected. A big thank you to Lynda Richardson and all the staff at Virginia Wildlife for a great magazine and a calendar that exhibits the beautiful wildlife and scenery we are blessed with in Virginia.

Camera, lens and settings: Nikon D3S body – Nikon 400 2.8 lens with 1.4X tele-converter, Shutter speed 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 400. I used a monopod for support. For those just beginning the adventure of photographing wildlife and nature, I would say be patient, shoot many images and strive for shots that exhibit behavior without disturbing the subject. Also, invest in good glass. High quality lenses hold their value much better than camera bodies and will give you resale value when you decide to upgrade your lenses.

-Ricky Simpson
www.ssdsigns.com
Follow Ricky on Facebook

Purchase your copy of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife Calendar »

Ricky Simpson laughs as Tom Cruise, sheetfed pressman for Progress Printing Plus, signs his bald eagle cover of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife calendar.

Ricky Simpson laughs as Tom Cruise, sheetfed pressman for Progress Printing Plus, signs his bald eagle cover of the 2017 Virginia Wildlife calendar.

  • August 24th, 2016

DGIF eStore Grants Connect Youth to the Outdoors

IMG_6783 cropyIn October 2010, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) and the Wildlife Foundation of Virginia (WFV) created a mutually-beneficial relationship for the purpose of developing new or enhanced fundraising projects and managing funds to implement projects which aligned with the missions of the VDGIF and the WFV. The Virginia Wildlife eStore was launched on July 1, 2013 as an innovative partnership project to raise funds to support fish and wildlife conservation. The eStore represents creative marketing efforts at VDGIF and the WFV and provides customers with products to connect people to the outdoors.

We are keeping with the promise to support fish and wildlife conservation through the development and implementation of the Virginia Wildlife eStore Grant Program to connect youth to the outdoors.

2016 Total Funding Available: $45,000 (individual grant amounts will vary based on the scope of each proposal and we are anticipating the funding of 20-25 projects). The average grant amount in 2015 was $1,500.

DSCN1643Grant Period: August 1, 2016 – July 1, 2017

Eligible Applicants

  • 501(c) (3) Non-Profits
  • Local Government Organizations
  • Schools

Grant Focus Area

  • Youth Outdoor Activities – hunting, fishing, boating, shooting sports, wildlife viewing, or education programs

Disbursement of Funds

  • The WFV shall disburse 100 % of the funds to Grantee when the award is accepted.
  • A match is not required.

IMG_1604Grant Timeline

  • Application Submission Deadline – September 1, 2016
  • Award Announcement – October 1, 2016
  • Project Completion date – June 1, 2017
  • Final Report due – July 1, 2017

Contact

  • July 31st, 2016

Ware Creek WMA

Newly-opened Ware Creek WMA is 2600 acres in New Kent County, in the community of Barhamsville. Located on the York River and bounded by Philbates and Ware Creeks, this area offers extensive wetlands, as well mixed hardwood and pine forests and open fields.

Ware Creek WMA

The uplands of Ware Creek WMA are comprised primarily of variously aged mixed pine and hardwood forests with some pine plantation. Agricultural fields offer upland habitat variety along with small wildlife clearings. Wetlands include rich saltmarshes as well as tidal freshwater marshes and small interior ponds and beaver wetlands. Excellent opportunities exist for a variety of upland game, especially deer and wild turkey as well as small game. Terrapin Point Marsh on the York River, along with the marshes of Ware and Philbates Creeks offer good waterfowl and rail hunting opportunities.

Fishing opportunities here are primarily found in adjacent York River as well as the brackish Ware and Philbates Creeks. The best access to these areas is by boat. Additional fishing opportunities on the WMA will be developed.

Paddling and boating opportunities exist on the York River and Ware and Philbates Creeks. Launching facilities are available at nearby York River State Park for a fee and at the DGIF ramp located in West Point. Excellent wildlife viewing opportunities exist at Ware Creek WMA. Waterfowl, marsh birds songbirds and raptors like bald eagle and osprey can be found here along with reptiles like diamondback terrapin, eastern box turtle, and eastern rat snake.

Ware Creek WMA

The strategies for wildlife management at this WMA are still under consideration. DGIF welcomes public input and comment as to the management of wildlife and habitat, as well as wildlife-related recreational opportunities, at Ware Creek WMA. A public input meeting will be held at the Heritage Library (6215 Chesapeake Circle Ste. D New Kent, VA 23124) in New Kent County on July 19th from 5:30–8:00 PM. Department staff will gather input into all aspects of wildlife-related recreation and management. This meeting and other venues of public input will help to inform management strategies at Ware Creek WMA moving forward.

Directions to Ware Creek WMA

From Richmond and Points West: From I-64 East take Exit 227 VA-30 Toano/Williamsburg. Turn Left onto Old Stage Rd (VA-30). After 1.5 miles turn right onto Holly Forks Rd. After 0.9 miles Holly Forks Rd becomes Tabernacle Rd. Continue on Tabernacle Rd for 1.9 miles and turn left onto Triangle Rd. After 0.5 miles turn right onto Holly Fork Rd and proceed 0.3 miles to Millers Rd. Turn left on Millers Rd and continue 0.4 miles to the management area.

From Newport News and Points South: From I64 West take Exit 227 VA-30 Toano/Williamsburg. Turn right onto Old Stage Rd (VA-30). After 1.5 miles turn right onto Holly Forks Rd. After 0.9 miles Holly Forks Rd becomes Tabernacle Rd. Continue on Tabernacle Rd for 1.9 miles and turn left onto Triangle Rd. After 0.5 miles turn right onto Holly Fork Rd and proceed 0.3 miles to Millers Rd. Turn left on Millers Rd and continue 0.4 miles to the management area.

  • June 24th, 2016

Restoring the Red-cockaded Woodpecker in Virginia

 

Under the still, blue skies of Sussex County on the morning of June 10, six pairs of boots strolled  through the open loblolly pine forests of Big Woods Wildlife Management Area (WMA). Faintly at first, then louder, the repeated call of a red-cockaded woodpecker was heard by six pairs of excited ears. This lone woodpecker’s call was evidence that birds from

image1

Red-cockaded woodpecker with nestling. Photo by Kevin Rose (DGIF).

the bordering Piney Grove Nature Preserve, owned by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), are finding their way onto the WMA, owned by DGIF.  The boot-clad biologists from DGIF and TNC were thrilled, after all, they had met at the WMA specifically to discuss facilitating an expansion of the red-cockaded woodpecker population from Piney Grove onto Big Woods in the coming years.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers, affectionately known by the acronym RCW, are a federally endangered species that depend on mature, open pine savannas that once blanketed much of the southeastern United States, but have over time been reduced to a fragment of their former glory.  Despite this adversity, the birds persist on this remaining landscape and for decades, have been staging a recovery thanks to intensive habitat management and woodpecker monitoring by a variety of partners.

BigWoodsPineSavanna

Open loblolly pine savanna at Big Woods WMA.

In Virginia, DGIF participates in a coalition working on RCW conservation that includes partners such as TNC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary. DGIF has supported management and monitoring of RCWs at Piney Grove Preserve, Virginia’s only documented RCW population, as well as the recent reintroduction efforts of RCWs into Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (which is hoped will result in the

image1

Prescribed burn at Big Woods WMA. Photo by Matt Kline (DGIF).

Commonwealth’s second RCW population). DGIF’s purchase of Big Woods WMA in 2009 and habitat management efforts to restore its pine savanna habitat, including hundreds of acres of prescribed burns (980 acres in 2015; 1200 acres in 2016), underscores the Agency’s commitment to recovering RCW in Virginia.  The woodpecker population has thrived at Piney Grove, but is now pushing up against available habitat with little room left to expand.  With some additional thinning and continued prescribed burning to open the understory of its fire-adapted pine forests, areas of Big Woods should be suitable to welcome RCWs in the next year or two.  In order to encourage settlement and breeding by the RCWs, older mature pines will be provided with artificial cavities, a technique that has successfully been used to expand RCW populations into new areas of already-settled forest.

CoringLoblolly1

DGIF biologist takes a sample core from loblolly pine to evaluate its suitability for RCW cavities.

RCWs are unique among woodpeckers in that they excavate cavities exclusively in living pine trees, rather than in snags (dead trees).  RCWs are also unique in that they are cooperative breeders (only 3% of all bird species breed in this manner). They live in family groups whose offspring from previous years delay their own reproduction in order to help parents raise their future siblings.  The dynamics of this breeding system limit the number of birds that are nesting in any given year. This behavior, in conjunction with the mechanics of excavating cavities in living trees and the dependence on mature and open forest conditions, contributes to long recovery times for the RCW population as a whole.  Restoration of this unique species requires patience and a long-term view, but with continued collaboration among partners, is achievable within the Commonwealth.

IMG_0089

Red-cockaded woodpecker approaching its tree cavity. Photo by Kevin Rose.

In the meantime, walking through Big Woods on that mild late-spring morning reminded the biologists that their conservation goals for RCW speak to the broader goal of restoring a southern pine ecosystem to the WMA, along with all of the species supported by this habitat-type.  They listened for bobwhite quail, watched red-headed and pileated woodpeckers fly from tree to tree, and heard the singing of yellow-breasted chats, prairie warblers, Eastern towhees and field sparrows. Experiences such as these, while planning future management strategies, help to keep spirits high and minds focused while moving forward on this conservation journey.

IMG_0073
  • June 20th, 2016

Coyote Research Study Update

Although they are found state-wide, coyotes are a relative new-comer to Virginia.  Coyotes are native to the plains of the Midwest, but they eventually arrived in the western mountains of Virginia during the late 1970’s following a well-documented eastward expansion.  Coyotes prefer hilly terrain with open or brushy habitat, but they are also a highly adaptable species. Their numbers quickly increased and coyotes soon became firmly established in every county of the Commonwealth.

Coyote With Transmitter

Coyote wearing a GPS radio collar as part of the research study.

Soon after the coyote’s arrival, many hunters and wildlife enthusiasts began to express apprehension regarding the potential impacts coyotes might have on our native wildlife species.  In particular, deer hunters voiced concerns that increasing coyote numbers might lower deer populations in portions of the state.

In order to better understand the potential effects of coyotes on deer numbers, the Virginia Department  of Game & Inland Fisheries embarked upon a 4-year research project in the western mountain region of the state.  The study was headed up by researchers at Virginia Tech and initiated in 2011.  The project was focused on National Forest lands in Bath and western Rockingham County, where deer numbers appeared to have declined substantially during the past decade.  Primary objectives of the project included an assessment of what coyotes eat throughout the year, their movement behavior, habitat selection, and home range size. The diet of bobcats and bears were also studied in the same area and compared with coyotes.

To study the diet of coyotes, researchers meticulously examined 395 coyote scats (feces samples) collected monthly over a 2-year period.  They found out that coyotes eat deer very frequently.  White-tailed deer had the highest overall occurrence in the scat (74%), followed by voles (27%) and insects (16%).  Seasonally, deer occurrence in the scats was greatest in January, March, June, July, and November.  The June-July period coincides with the fawning season but deer were also an important food item during the early fall and late-winter months.

diet analyses

Bones found in coyote scat for diet analyses.

Although we now know that coyotes eat deer a lot, we don’t know if they eat a lot of deer.   Scat analyses tell us what an animal has eaten, but not how the food item was obtained.  As a result, it’s unknown whether the source of deer in the coyote diet was from deer actually killed by coyotes or whether coyotes were scavenging on carcasses of deer that died from other causes.  Most likely, both sources were important diet components, but additional research (currently underway) will be needed to quantify the contribution of each source.

Coyotes were not the only predators eating deer in the study areas.  Of the 607 bobcat scats analyzed, deer were found in 35% and squirrels were found in 53%.  Seasonally, deer was highest in the scats during June (when most fawns are born) and in late winter (December and January).   Bears also had a high occurrence of deer in their scat (35%), but acorns and berries were found in 61% and insects were found in 45%.

In addition to studying what coyotes were eating, researchers also monitored the movements and survival of 19 coyotes wearing high-tech GPS radio collars.  They found that coyotes in the western mountains formed a mosaic of stable and shifting home ranges that were significantly impacted by high mortality, primarily from shooting and trapping.  Some coyotes lived in loose family groups and occupied well-defined territories.

VACS photo 8

Application of a GPS radio-collar on a coyote.

Others were lone individuals classified as “transients” with large home ranges situated between defended territories, referred to as “biding areas.”   These nomadic coyotes were basically lying in wait to fill vacant territories.  Since mortality of coyotes was high (63% of radio-collared coyotes were killed during the monitoring period), it usually didn’t take long for a territory to become vacant.

This complex social structure illustrates why coyote numbers are difficult to manage at the landscape level.  In areas where available territories are limited, coyote numbers appear to be regulated more effectively by competition with one another rather than by mortality from hunting and trapping.  If coyotes truly are having an impact on deer populations, the most effective response may be to improve deer habitat, rather than kill more coyotes.  Coyotes make convenient scapegoats, but they are just one species in a multi-predator system that also includes bobcats and bears.   As is usually the case in wildlife management, ecological relationships are almost always more complex than they appear on the surface.  Certainly, the predator-prey dynamics of coyotes and deer are no exception.

 

All photos courtesy of Virginia Tech.

  • June 2nd, 2016

Sea Turtles in Virginia

Did you know that five of the world’s seven sea turtle species occur in the Chesapeake Bay and the coastal waters of Virginia? These species include the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), the Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtle, the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).

LoggerheadSeaTurtle_BackBayNWR_USFWS

Loggerhead sea turtle at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by USFWS.

The most abundant and regularly occurring species in Virginia are the Loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Green turtles and leatherbacks are observed in the Commonwealth each year, but they are far less abundant and their distribution is uneven. The hawksbill turtle is the rarest of all species in the region; it has only been
recorded twice in Virginia.

Sea turtles are easily distinguished from other aquatic turtles by their large size and paddle-like limbs or flippers which lack toes. Unlike other turtles, sea turtles are unable to withdraw their head and flippers into their shells. Sea turtles have long been considered the ancient mariners of the sea because of their long migrations across ocean basins.

LoggerheadSeaTurtleHatchlingsatBackBayNWR_USFWS

Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings at Back Bay NWR. Photo by USFWS.

Sea turtles typically occur in Virginia from May – October but may stay through late fall/early winter if water temperatures remain warm. The majority of these turtles are juveniles. The highly productive waters of the Chesapeake Bay and the seaside lagoon system of the Delmarva Peninsula represent important developmental habitat for growing turtles.

Virginia represents the northern extreme of the Northwest Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle nesting range. Since 1970, 166 loggerhead nests have been documented on Virginia’s dynamic ocean-facing beaches.

The state’s first and only green sea turtle nest was reported in 2005 and the Commonwealth’s first and second Kemp’s ridley nests were documented in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

KempsRidleySeaTurtle BuildingANestatFalseCapeSP_DCR

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle building a nest at False Cape State Park. Photo by VA Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The average sea turtle nest contains over 100 eggs, of which very few reach adulthood. After about a 60 day incubation period, hatchlings emerge at night and enter the ocean where they embark upon a life in the marine environment.

Sea Turtle Conservation

All five species of sea turtles that can be found in Virginia are afforded protection under state and federal Endangered Species acts. Loggerhead and green sea turtles are listed as threatened; Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles are listed as endangered.

JD with Chico Cm

Juvenile green sea turtle discovered in the Chickahominy River near Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area. Photo courtesy of J.D. Kleopfer (DGIF).

The recovery of these species requires a substantial and well-coordinated effort to understand each species’ distribution and abundance as well as its life history and ecology; thus, many of these programs are developed and implemented through partnerships with other conservation agencies and organizations. VDGIF has taken the lead in promoting the establishment of a multi-agency sea turtle nest monitoring and management program that is consistent with other state programs in the US loggerhead nesting range. The Department continues to support sea turtle research that has strong management implications and furthers the conservation of sea turtle within the Commonwealth and beyond.

In 2015, the VDGIF, the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response Program and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources drafted the Virginia and Maryland Sea Turtle Conservation Plan (which is still awaiting final approval). The overarching goal of the conservation plan is to enhance the survival and conserve the habitats of sea turtles in Virginia and Maryland. The path to achieving this goal is described in a comprehensive Conservation Outline, which is meant to guide the conservation, research and management of sea turtles in Virginia and Maryland over a ten-year period.

One of the issues facing sea turtles are strandings. Strandings are events in which several hundred sea turtles wash ashore dead or near death. These events occur every year. The causes of strandings are often difficult to determine, but are known to include interactions with fishing gear, ingestion of marine debris, boat strikes, disease and sudden exposure to cold water temperatures.

MNFS2004-06-23-01_088

Stranded leatherback sea turtle. Photo by the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Center’s Stranding Response Team.

How to report sea turtle strandings: If you encounter a dead or a live, but weakened sea turtle (or a marine mammal), please call the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center’s Stranding Response Team at 757-385-7575 and be prepared to provide information on the location, species (if known), estimated size, condition, and a contact number of a person who will be near a phone. If possible, please take photographs with your cell phone that can be texted or emailed to the stranding team, upon request.

  • May 23rd, 2016

Motorists, Give Turtles a Brake

Eastern Box Turtle #001Why did the turtle cross the road? Most likely to find a place to lay its eggs or to find a mate. May and June are peak months to see turtles attempting to cross Virginia’s highways and unfortunately, thousands are killed every year in the process. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries would like you to be “turtle aware” and encourage drivers to slow down and safely steer around them. If you do encounter a turtle in the middle of the road and would like to assist, be sure you can safely pull over and move the turtle off the road in the direction it was heading.

To learn more about Virginia’s turtles and their conservation, you can purchase A Guide to the Turtles of Virginia at our eStore.

ShopDGIF-turtleguide01
  • May 23rd, 2016

Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan

RCW_USFWS

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are a federal and state endangered species in Virginia. They are a Tier I ranking in our Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For over 40 years, Virginians have worked to keep species from becoming extinct. We can be proud of some amazing achievements. Species like the bald eagle and the Dismal Swamp southeastern shrew are no longer endangered. Our population of red-cockaded woodpeckers is healthy and slowly growing. Shenandoah salamanders are as secure as we can make them on their ridgetops in Shenandoah National Park. Finally, despite overwhelming odds, we’ve been able to maintain many of our populations of wood turtles and freshwater mussels. Indeed, we can be proud of our many accomplishments.

ShenandoahSalamander_BrianGratwicke

The shenandoah salamander is listed as endangered at the federal and state level. It is a Tier I ranked species in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by Brian Gratwicke.

Unfortunately, the effort is far from over. Nationally, during the last decade, the number of species petitioned for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act has increased by over 1000%, and over 12,000 species of conservation need have been identified. Almost 900 of these species occur in Virginia and are impacted by the loss of their habitats, the introduction of invasive species, exposure to new diseases, and changing climatic conditions. Since the Endangered Species Act was created in 1973, we’ve also learned that endangered species conservation is an expensive and contentious decades-long commitment that isn’t always successful. Despite our best efforts, some endangered species still become extinct. The green blossom pearly mussel was recently declared extinct in Virginia and surrounding states.

sp_woodturtle002

The wood turtle is a state threatened species in Virginia with a Tier I ranking in our Wildlife Action Plan. Photo by John White.

With these growing challenges in mind, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is pursuing a different strategy—keeping species from becoming endangered in the first place. Working with numerous partners, DGIF has completed Virginia’s second Wildlife Action Plan. This document was created to help Virginians use known science and proven, cost effective techniques to keep species from becoming endangered. Many of these actions can be taken around our homes and communities. Check out the list below for some simple suggestions that can make a big difference for wildlife.

Simple Actions to Help Wildlife

  • Keep our Rivers Clean – Preventing erosion, planting trees and shrubs along shorelines, keeping dog waste out of ditches and storm drains, and not over applying fertilizers to lawns and gardens help conserve hundreds of our fish, crayfish, mussels, turtles, frogs, and insects.
  • Clean Outdoor Gear – Several invasive species and wildlife diseases are spread on boats, waders, boots, and other outdoor equipment. Clean these items to help keep our rivers and forests healthy.
  • Plant Native Plants – Many of the most harmful invasive species in Virginia were planted by unsuspecting gardeners. Avoid repeating these mistakes by incorporating native trees, shrubs, and flowers into you landscaping. Planting native plants will also provide sources of food and shelter to support our native birds, butterflies, and more! To learn more about planting with native plants to create Habitat at Home, visit our habitat webpage.
  • Find New Homes for Unwanted Pets – Remember that pets are a lifetime commitment. However, if you find yourself in a situation in which you can no longer take care of your pet, do not release them into the wild. This is often traumatic for your animal as well as a common way for invasive species and new diseases to be introduced into our ecosystems. Instead, work with shelters and rescue organizations to find new homes for your unwanted pets.

To learn more about Virginia’s Wildlife Action Plan and Virginia’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need, please visit bewildvirginia.org.

  • May 20th, 2016

Tracking the Golden-winged Warbler

14219097243_894acf30c6_o (2)

Male Golden-winged Warbler. USDA NRCS photo by Greg Lavaty.

A gorgeous splash of lemon yellow graces the cap and wings of the male Golden-winged Warbler, and pictures can’t do it justice – it has to be seen in the field to feel its full impact.  And by ‘the field’, we mean that literally, as this declining species is a bird of open habitats such as old fields and shrubby pastures; these are habitats that host a variety of other ‘young forest’ species that are also losing ground, including Field Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Bobwhite quail.  The golden-wings’ habitat requirements are very specific; the open lands in which it nests are found in heavily forested landscapes at mid- to high-elevations.  In Virginia, the bird’s range is restricted to the high valleys of the western, mountainous part of the state.

GWWAhabitatClinchWMA

Golden-winged Warbler Habitat on Clinch Wildlife Management Area. Photo by Sergio Harding.

Golden-winged Warblers are already returning back to their Virginia breeding grounds, after spending their winter somewhere in Central or northern South America.  But exactly where do Virginia golden-wings winter?  This is the subject of an ongoing study that will have field technicians from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) busy catching golden-wings at sites in Highland and Bath Counties for the next month.  The study is funded by Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) who, with VCU and other partners like The Nature Conservancy, is collaborating on a multi-state project to learn more about the migratory routes and wintering sites of Golden-winged Warblers.  While factors on the species’ breeding grounds are contributing to its wide-scale declines in the Appalachian region, better understanding the challenges that it faces across its full life cycle across two continents will help researchers to more effectively target the necessary conservation actions.

IMG_3379

VCU Crew at Golden-winged Warbler Field Site. Photo by Jessie Reese.

At this same time last year, VCU techs caught 23 golden-wings (and 2 hybrid warblers) using mist nets, placed aluminum and colored plastic bands on their legs as identifiers, and outfitted them with a harness carrying a tiny geolocator.  This device records light levels (to determine timing of sunrise and sunset) that will allow researchers to roughly calculate the coordinates marking the daily location of each bird throughout its fall migration, the winter, and its subsequent spring migration back to Virginia.

GWWAwithGeolocator

Male Golden-winged Warbler with geolocator in 2015. Photo by Lesley Bulluck.

Geolocators are are a a low-tech substitute for the satellite transmitters that are used to track the movements of much larger bird species; this technology cannot currently be scaled-down to a small songbird such as the golden-wing, which weighs approximately 9 grams (0.3 ounces).  The challenge with geolocators is that the birds carrying them must be caught again in order for researchers to retrieve the devices and download the data for analysis.  They work well for a species, like the Golden-winged Warbler with high fidelity to their breeding sites; these birds have a good probability of being re-caught in the vicinity of where they were outfitted with the units last year (that is if they survive winter and the perils of migration). Just this past Saturday May 7, three birds with geolocators were observed in the exact same locations as where the units were deployed in 2015.  Two of the birds were recaptured, allowing retrieval of the geolocators.  After some data analysis, we will know where in Central or South America these birds spent their winter months!

IMG_3440

Geolocator retrieved from re-captured male Golden-winged Warbler in 2016. Photo by Jessie Reese.

Over the past 10 years, DGIF has funded and collaborated on various Virginia projects aimed at better understanding the distribution and ecology of Golden-winged Warblers in western Virginia.  We currently lead a Virginia partners group working to further conservation of this declining species and to promote incentive programs for landowners to create and maintain quality habitat on their lands for the benefit of golden-wings and a host of other species.  To learn more more about the Golden-winged Warbler and the work that has been done to date in Virginia, please visit our Golden-winged Warbler webpage.

  • May 11th, 2016

Start of Red Knot Migration in Virginia

Red Knots will soon be migrating along our coastline! The Red Knot is one of the largest and most colorful sandpipers in North America and their migration is one of the longest of any bird. Each spring they travel 9,300 miles from their wintering grounds at the southern tip of South America to return to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.

RedKnot_DonFaulkner

A flock of Red Knots. Photo by Don Faulkner.

Plan a trip to see the Red Knots late April – early June when they stop along Virginia’s coastline to refuel and replenish body weight. Your best bets for observing the Red Knots in Virginia are at these Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail sites: False Cape State Park, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

RedKnot_AnnMarieMorrison

Red Knot. Photo by Ann Marie Morrison.

The Red Knot is a robin-sized shorebird with a somewhat chunky body, straight black bill and relatively short, thick legs. During migration, most adults will be in their full breeding plumage with a unique rusty orange-red color on their face that extends down their breast and underside. Their backs will be mottled with gray, black, and some orange. Breeding females and males are similar looking, but males are a little more brightly colored than females. It’s possible that some migrating individuals may still be in non-breeding plumage, in which case they will have a gray back and white belly, dark barring on their sides, and a white eyebrow on their face.

Look for migrating Red Knots on coastal shorelines and intertidal areas (mudflats and sand flats) where they will likely be pecking or probing the sand or mud foraging on invertebrates, including small mussels, clams, snails, crustaceans and marine worms.

RedKnot_GregFaulkner_2

A flock of foraging Red Knots. Photo by Greg Faulkner.

As you head out to look for Red Knots, please be mindful that they are a Federally and State Threatened Species and listed as a Tier I Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the Virginia Wildlife Action Plan, which means that this species faces an extremely high risk of extinction or extirpation. If you spot a Red Knot or a flock of them, please observe from a respectful distance and make a contribution to citizen science by entering your observation into e-bird and the Virginia Wildlife Mapping project to help DGIF and other bird biologists keep track of their status. Good birding!

RedKnots _GregoryBreese_USFWS

Red Knots. Photo by Gregory Breese/ USFWS.

  • April 27th, 2016