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New River Birding Festival

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thank goodness it rained, that's all I can say, because I started downloading photos from West Virginia's New River Birding and Nature Festival this morning at 9 AM, and it's 2:30 PM, and I just finished sorting and editing them. Because I am hopelessly ADD in spring, or anytime, actually, that isn't all I've been doing. I feel really bad for all the other nature bloggers who attended, who had their cameras out and were snapping away constantly, because I barely took mine out from under my slicker, and I'm still overwhelmed. Don't expect to hear much from The Flock for awhile. They're editing.

This is a great festival. One of our very favorites. I've been speaking and leading field trips at it for every one of its seven years; Bill joined me and has been even more heavily involved for the last six. I just checked my list and it has 90 species on it for only three days of birding. Twenty-three of them are warblers. You see the attraction. Fayetteville, WV, is the place to go if you like eastern wood warblers.

It's a small festival, but it was at capacity this year, and that's no surprise, because it's extremely well-run and homey. At this point it really feels more like a reunion than a festival. So many great people, both organizers, leaders and participants. So much fun.Dave Pollard, one of the festival's masterminds, far left, does the Life Bird Stomp. Happy birders watch a prairie warbler strut his stuff.

I'm going to try to give you a taste of it, and it really will be just the tip of the whole diverse particolored iceberg, because I was otherwise occupied for most of the time, running around like a beetle, trying to fulfill all my commitments.

Basically, what happens is you get up at 5:30 every morning and head to a central meeting place, where all the field trips depart. You climb on a long white van with your guides and drive 1 1/2 hr. or less (usually less) to a great birdwatching destination. It might be a mountain road or a high spruce bog or a national forest or a meadow popping with bobolinks. Wherever you go, it drips with birds. Your guides call birds in and set you up with stunning looks in the scope and you rack up the life birds.Me and Whipple Bird Club Royal Meteorologist Steve McCarthy, bristling with tripods, ready to show bird. Photo by Nina.

You get back around 3 pm and kind of lay around, alternately moaning, rubbing your warbler neck and sipping your beverages of choice or, if you're lucky enough to stay at Opossum Creek Resort, sinking into your hot tub until you're served a delicious dinner at 6 pm, capped by a program of some kind. So it's a week of all-day field trips and evening programs. Bill and I do both, and there are many other talented presenters.

Here's a typical New River festival experience. You're walking down a beautiful wooded road with about 15 other birdwatchers, and your guide stops and says, "Prairie warbler. Let's try for that."
And Jeff Gordon, a peerless field guide, whips out his iPod and plays a few prairie warbler songs. A minute or two later a tiny yellow bird darts in and everyone gasps and scrambles to get binoculars on it as it mounts to the top of a sapling and sings a challenge to the vanishing iBird.
And when it whirls off, not to be bothered by a recording of its song for another year, you lower your binocs and sigh happily, exhilarated because you've just seen your life prairie warbler, and it was so beautiful, and almost best of all there are a bunch of other birders standing right there who feel exactly like you do.

Note: People who like warblers are very nice people.

Leslie can't help doin' the Life Bird Wiggle. It was my honor to be there when she saw a number of life birds this weekend. What a feeling!

In case you think field trip leaders only want to guide people who already know their birds, nothing could be further from the truth. It's a blast to show people life birds, to watch them see something rare and precious that they've never seen before. It makes you see them afresh, with brand new eyes, all over again.
photo by Nina

My deepest thanks to Nina of Nature Remains, who sent me these pictures of Science Chimp in display mode.


Oh goody gumdrops - I get to be the first one to leave a comment!

I am wondering if perhaps the NRBF should consider making you their honorary marketing person. After reading your post, I'm ready to register to attend for the next 10 years. Glad it was so awesome!

I was moved to tears a few times (OK, QUITE a few times) by the beauty of new birds. It was a remarkable week.

Thanks for centering today's post around my nemesis bird - the prairie warbler. Everyone saw one but me - I heard it, I smelled it, I felt it, - but never saw it. I had a twenty minute uncluttered view of the rare Swainson's warbler and yet - no prairie. How is it that a birder from Oklahoma didn't get the prairie warbler?

I always like to leave something to return to. You sure know how to get a guy back to New River next year. Keep rubbing it in.

The warblers were exceptional but my first good look at a Pileated put me over the edge.

It's a great place.

New River has spoiled me for any other birding festival. 10 lifers, including the Swainson's, and that was only the birdy part of it. It really doesn't get any better.

Getting life birds is always an awesome experience and I had it 12 times at this festival. I have never cried with joy at getting a lifer until I got to New River. Something about the beauty of the place, the warmth of the people and the caring of the guides that made it super-special. Thanks, Julie.


You know, I didn't get any Life Birds at the festival this year (got 8 in 2007) but that did not diminish my joy at watching others celebrate theirs. Even the "common" birds were seen doing cool things, like a pair of flickers knocking boots, or a Great Blue Heron choking down a meal that was one size too large, or chickadees and a Pileated Woodpecker excavating their nests, or Yellow-throated Vireos and Black-and-white Warblers also nest building or ...

Don't forget the "nature" part of the festival, like efts, snails, wildflowers, and even bear scat. Gotta say it, NRBF is da bomb!

~Kathi, whose pics of Julie are not as flattering as Nina's

Science Chimp in display mode, eh? Looks to me as though you are armed--the way you carry that tripod, I gotta say it looks like a rocket launcher!

Well, I must jump in here as usual to ask that if you love this beautiful area and the birds that depend upon it, PLEASE help us save them. The next 10 years are highly questionable when the best estimates are that Gauley Mountain will be flattened within 15 years. The birds, and SO much else, will gone long before then. Go to Ansted on Google maps, satellite view, scroll up and to the left a little. Then, pull back and look at the whole area, most especially above Kanahawa Falls (on Rt.60 near Glen Ferris) — the falls pictured on many scenic views of the area.

If you are interested in stopping this wholesale destruction, visit

Thank you, my Cassandra. I will give a plug for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in an upcoming post. Feel free to feed me any tidbits, hopeful or otherwise.

Wow--first I get to read your great post and feel like I was there with you; then I get to read KatDoc (of all people!) using phrases like "knocking boots." Does it get any better?

Sounds like a fantastic place: challenging, rewarding, and yet comfortable even for neophytes. I hope to get there one day, and in the meantime, hope everyone will join in the efforts to keep those mountains there! Let's be political birders!

I agree. I often feel like Cassandra, but I hope not to be — in mythology she was the "cursed prophetess" — doomed to know and tell the truth, but never to be believed!

It's impossible for me to read about how much you all enjoy and admire these mountains without thinking, "if only they knew, they could help . . ."

And as Jean Ritchie said, "I'm against not saying anything."

Thank YOU, Julie!

The festival sounds fantastic. How can it get any better than great birds, nice people, and the life bird wiggles? Hope to see you there next year!

I'm so shallow -- reading this great post, all the while thinking "Julie looks terrific in orange." Sorry, but you do. That is one swell jacket.

Julie, can you please explain how one uses an iPod to call a bird.
Does it have a speaker ?
I've read of the software; but don't understand how the birds hear w/o ear buds. (Haha)

Hi Peg,

Go here:

to find out about speakers that work with iPods. You're correct--it is broadcasted to the birds. There are a variety of systems, and they're getting smaller and thinner all the time--as well as more powerful. Good luck!



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