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Misty Mountains

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Some things are a lot more beautiful in the rain, and West Virginia's New River Gorge is one of them, I think. There's an overlook where you can lean over a fence and gaze down on the river and the slow-moving coal trains grinding along the tracks at the bottom of the Gorge. Hearing them gives me a wild, nameless feeling, mystery and longing rolled into it, marveling that those hundreds of cars are rolling along to a nameless destination, pulled by a locomotive a mile ahead.

Watching the coal in the seemingly endless train, I wondered how much longer we'd be taking coal out of these mountains. I hoped what I was seeing had been mined the old-fashioned way, by excavating from below, rather than by taking the mountain apart and dumping it in a valley.We always pause here and study the river and the rocks, looking for birds to fatten the festival list. It's like a game of I Spy--we scan carefully with binoculars and scopes, hoping to be the one to find the special hidden bird. Spotted sandpipers, black vultures, a gorgeous pileated woodpecker (seen flying from above!) and common loons rounded out the list for us this year.

At higher elevations, Blackburnian warblers sing their thin song, a jingling, loose series of notes that ends in a fine, wiry spiral up past the limits of human hearing. Females are pretty--this one was in our yard this May--

but males are breathtaking. They are fiery coals; you'd think they'd set the wet spruces aflame with their color.
A typical Blackburnian move--craning its head around to look under needles and leaves as it gleans for insects.The little warbler was named for an ornithologist named Blackburn (hence the capital letter), but the name fits it so perfectly--black and burning at the same time. I love to show Blackburnians to people, to hear the gasp when they've finally got the little midge in their binoculars. I especially remember my friend Patti's first Blackburnian. I never tire of hearing that sharp intake of air, that wonder exhaled.


Julie, what beautiful shots of the Blackburnians! We just don't have very many examples of such breathtaking color in the birds down here in Texas.

Just curious, but what length of telephoto lens do you use to get such great shots? I know you've said you take your camera with you wherever you go, but I would think that lugging anything bigger than a 300mm would weigh you down too much to actually get anywhere.

Once again, thanks for all the gorgeous pictures and the wonderful info to go along with them. I learn more from your site on a daily basis than pretty much anywhere else that I lurk on a regular basis. :)

The Blackburnian warbler is a bird that made me sit down in the middle of a path and cry. I had just started birding and went to Magee Marsh. I was walking the bird trail near the Sportsmans center and birds were everywhere. I had the Blackburnian in my binos-but had NO IDEA what it was. I was thinking an Oriole--but nothing matched in my guide book. There was no one around to ask (it was a Thursday) and I was so frustrated at not knowing what that beautiful bird was--I just sat down and cried. Up to that point, I thought birding was easy. HA! It was many weeks later when I found out what I had been looking at. I love that bird.

Sandy B

I saw my first Blackburnian warbler last month here in Minnesota. The first one I a friend showed me made me gasp. I found the second one on my own and I had to stop and laugh out loud. It is simply the prettiest bird I have ever seen. Fire with wings.

That's a spectacular bird and you show it so well! I'd do more than gasp.

WV is beautiful.

"Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal,
or acts to improve the lot of others,
or strikes out against injustice,
he sends forth a ripple of hope
and crossing each other
from a million different centres
of energy and daring,
these ripples build a current
that can sweep down the mightiest walls
of oppression and resistance."

Robert Kennedy

Thank you for these eye-opening series of posts on West Virginia, MTR and the New River Birding and Nature Festival.

Your searing passion has proved contagious. Thanks for showing the way.

I haven't thought of the beautiful New River in years. Spent a little bit of time hiking around in southwest Virginia, where my older brother lives. I love your photo of it. That high vantage point really captures its meandering beauty.

The Blackburnian is such a dazzling thing. I think the closest I'll ever get to actually seeing one is here in your photos. I wish they would fly further west.

Blackburnians are truly glorious!

I've encountered your blog for the first time, and having read your posts about mountain-top removal, feel I want to offer a word of support to your efforts to have people understand that what is destroyed like that can never be replaced. Your passion and understanding of the issues is inspiring. I wish you well.

Writing from the Potholes and Prairies Birding Festival in Carrington, North Dakota...Thanks so much for the kind words. We're all having a wonderful time, and Ruthie (Nature Knitter) and Laura (Somewhere in NJ) and Birdchick are here, and the weather is lovely, and we're seeing all kinds of incredible birds.

Kyle, I use Canon's 70-300 mm image-stabilized zoom lens on my Digital Rebel XTi. It's small and light and black (not the huge beige ones) and I have the Mostest Fun with it.

Great bird. It's one of my favorite warblers.

kyle must have missed the great fallout we had in April at Sabine Woods, High Island, TX. We had quite a few Blackburnians. We were luck enough to have had 22 Warbler species in just a few hours between rain showers (great fallout weather).

The misty shots are great. Come see my Columbian River rain shot.
Visit anytime,
Troy and Martha

Oh, that's my favorite warbler! Thanks!

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