Posts Tagged ‘bird banding’

“Fire”, A Female Cooper’s Hawk, Was The Hit Of The 21st Annual Eastern Shore of Virgina Birding & Wildlife Festival

Monday, November 25th, 2013
Image of Eastern Shore flyway

Eastern Shore Virginia bird migration flyway

Every year during the first week of October, thousands of bird lovers gather on the Eastern Shore of Virginia for the annual Birding Festival.  Hosted by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Festivals, Inc, a local non-profit, we recently celebrated the 21st annual Birding and Wildlife Festival.  Coinciding each year with the annual fall bird migrations,  the Festival is a celebration of the amazing variety and quantity of bird life found here on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore, especially at the Shore’s beautiful Southern Tip.  Since the land mass of the DelMarVa  (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) peninsula, of which the Virginia portion is the southern terminus, is widest at the northern section and narrows gradually as one moves south,  it acts almost like a funnel.  The bountiful tip of  Virginia’s Eastern Shore,  just south of Cape Charles, VA where the land ends as the  Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay converge,  is a bird-friendly area offering lots of food, water and protective vegetation becomes the natural  “layover”  point for  millions of migrating feathered friends as they travel south along the Atlantic Flyway. 

Eastern Shore Virginia Barrier Island chain

Eastern Shore Barrier Island chain, part of the Virginia Coast Reserve

So what better location to hold a Festival to see and learn about a whole variety of birds than the special place where they stop to rest and feed before beginning a  journey over open waters ?   Having spent a summer nesting and parenting,  munching on gourmet goodies like seeds,worms and insects, just generally loafing around and yuking it up in the temperate climate of the East Coast of North America, the Birding Festival takes place during the peak migration period.  Migration is dangerous, a  journey from which  is estimated that nearly half  will not survive to return to breed in the Spring because of  the  predators encountered en route and the hazards of  a long, energy-demanding flight over  lengthy stretches of open waters.  Since the Chesapeake Bay is a large physical barrier,  it is especially important that natural habitat offering plentiful food and cover be available at the tip of the Shore to provide for refueling and protection from predators as the birds  rest for a day or two before  departing on the next leg of their journey.  This makes it especially important on the Eastern Shore for individual landowners and conservation groups to make sure that the trees, shrubs and grasses which  provide the critical seeds and berries needed by the birds are maintained . Towards this end, several large farm parcels  located in this very critical rest corridor have been purchased by The Nature Conservancy for the express purpose of trying to maintain vegetative cover for bird habitat. And The Nature Conservancy has also been very active in preserving other critical  bird life areas on the Eastern Shore including  acquisition of  the famed “Virginia Coast Reserve“, the off-shore Virginia Barrier Islands chain, now designated as a United Nations Biosphere,  purchased by the Conservancy to protect them from development and to maintain crucial wildlife habitat.

Kids petting a skunk at eastern Shore VA birding festival

Petting A De-perfumed Skunk At The Eastern Shore Virginia Birding Festival

Fire, A Harris Hawk, Munching On A Her Raw Chicken Reward

Fire, A Trained Harris Hawk, Munches On Her Reward For A Demonstration Well Performed

The Festival includes a central Exhibitor’s Hall in Cape Charles, a forum for conservation groups and private firms to provide information on their programs. Once again the exhibits by the Virginia Living Museum were a big hit, especially the de-perfumed skunk which the kids had great fun petting.  But some of  the really fun stuff  involved a few special programs and the amazing variety of  unique field trips.  Which brings us to the beautiful  Harris Hawk  named Fire.  She is the big star of  an amazing show featuring  various raptors  in flight, called, duh, the Flight of the Raptor.  Started in 1995 by Master Falconer Ray Pena,  this fascinating demonstration includes numerous hawks and peregrine falcons who have been trained to catch a lure in mid-air and bring it to ground,  just as they would in the wild.  Apparently for nearly four thousand years  raptors have been trained by man to help  hunt for food, especially rabbit and pheasant.  During the show, Fire and other hawks are released and freely fly to any nearby perch— in Fire’s case,  to the top of a Bay Coast Railroad locomotive.   The falconer then twirls a feathered or fur lure in circles over his head, the hawk circles overhead and then dives for the lure, bringing  it dramatically to ground.  Ray gets the hawk to release the prey to him and rewards it with a bit of raw chicken,  Fire’s favorite treat. ( By the way, hawks eat everything from their catches —  feathers,  fur, bones, the whole nine yards, which help satisfy the mineral requirements in their diets. )  The substantial crowd which had gathered for this demonstration was pretty amazed to see how, when these hawks are released from their perches, they fly off to a nearby tree or whatever, watch for the lure, dive for it and then let the falconer take it away from them.   

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Banding songbirds at Kiptopeake State Park

Bird Banding At Kiptopeake State Park During The 2013 Eastern Shore VA Birding Festival

Aerial view of Oyster VA harbor

Aerial View of the Oyster, VA Harbor, Departure Location For Several Birding Festival Boat Tours

All kinds of interesting field trips are available for attendee  participation — ranging from bird banding demos, hikes,  boat tours and workshops, there is something for everybody.   The bird banding is fascinating and the  hikes are a big favorite, especially the  Eyre Hall Hike over 600 acres of diverse habitat along Cherrystone Creek.  Here hikers will see mature forests, freshwater marshes and ponds, open saltwater beaches and tidal flats as well as open farm fields.  Bird watchers are invited by the owner to tour the famous gardens associated with Eyre Hall’s  circa 1760 home.  The  Owl Prowl Sounds of the Night outings at the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge and the Kiptopeake State Park are also lots of fun and  good opportunities to experience nocturnal wildlife activity.  Captain Buddy Vaughan’s Cobb Bay Boat Excursion leaving out of  Oyster village harbor is an exciting way to see a barrier island beach and view numerous shorebirds including oystercatchers, whimbrels, sandpipers and terns. For attendees hoping to see clapper rails saltmarsh sparrows and maybe even a Delmarva fox squirrel, Capt. Rick Kellam’s Broadwater Bay Ecotours out of Willis Wharf  offered a boat tour of the pristine Machipongo River, a seaside saltwater inlet from the Atlantic Ocean.  Popular workshops included the Butterfly Walk and the Dragonfly Workshop &  Field Trip.  Another interesting boat trip, sponsored by the Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality, was the Sea Grasses and Oyster Reefs Boat Trip.  Also departing out of  Oyster village, this trip traveled to the nearby sites of the US’s largest and most comprehensive  aquatic grass restoration project,  a $6,000,000 investment by Virginia Coastal Zone Management to support shellfish farming and ecotourism.  Something for everyone is the promise of  each Birding Festival and it truly delivers on that promise. 





On Resolute Wings- Celebrating Birds And Birding At The 19th Annual Birding Festival on The Eastern Shore of Virginia

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Eastern Shore Migration Paths

The importance of the Eastern Shore of Virginia as a feeding and rest area for migrating songbirds and raptors as they travel south down the Atlantic Flyway cannot be over estimated.  Because birds need to catch their breath,  rest up and chow down,   before flying over large spans of open water the beautiful southern tip of  the Virginia Eastern Shore  serves as  a Howard Johnson’s  for birds– pleasant motel plus 24 hour full service restaurant.  ( I know I’m dating myself here but as a child I loved  their fried clam strips and  awesome Indian pudding, not that anyone knows about Indian pudding anymore, and of course Howard Johnson’s has been gone for a thousand years. )  As the birds funnel down the ever-narrowing peninsula  by the thousands each fall,  flying south for the winter, flock after flock between September and November,  the habitate and food resources available in our southern tip, from Cape Charles south to the Bridge-Tunnel become critical to these birds,  life or death even.  And fortunately for these beautiful feathered creatures,  Kiptopeake State Park,  with its unique coastal habitate and ample food supply,  is ready and waiting for them.  And for over 30 years, long before it became a state park,  an important bird banding program has been on-going at Kiptopeake with over a quarter of a million birds banded in that time.

Examining And Measuring Songbirds Being Banded At Kiptopeake State Park

The bird banding program is so interesting, kids and adults alike are  just fascinated by the process.  Nets constructed of a nearly invisible mesh are placed at strategic points throught out the  Park’s wooded areas and then checked by volunteers every half hour or so.   Usually several birds have been caught in the net and these are carefully disentangled by the volunteers and the birds brought into the banding station for a careful examination.  The volunteers have data charts on which they measure and note such items are age, sex, fat, body molts, wing molts, skull size, etc., etc. for each bird that is banded.

Eastern Shore Butterfly Migration

And from the banding program and the interest of many groups including US Fish and Wildlife and the Virginia Department of Conservation and many individuals the concept of a Birding Festival was born and has been gaining strength ever since,  adding additional activities each year for Birding Festival attendees to enjoy.  In addition to all day demonstrations of Bird Banding and various Hawk Observatory programs at Kiptopeake Park,  this year some of the many other activites included  Butterfly Walks at both the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge and Kiptopeake Park, with the expectation of possibly seeing up to 60 + species of butterflies and skippers as they migrate  through,  several Owl Prowls during the evening hours at both the Refuge and the Park,  a Barrier Island Walk  at Fisherman’s Island, home to many waterfowl, shorebirds and wading birds,  A hike through the Savage Neck Dunes Preserve  which has a mile of  Chesapeake Bay shoreline as well as the highest dune on the Eastern Shore and a hike at Wise Point, a pine forest located at the very, very tip of the Shore.

The Popular “Touch and Feel” Tank From The Virginia Marine Science Museum

Water related activities included eco-tours by Broadwater Bay Ecotours leaving from both Willis Wharf and Watchapreague,  getting a duck’s eye view and exploration of our pristine seaside salt marshes, mud flats and open waters, look for seabirds and shorebirds. For kayak lovers there were three wonderful trips, the Cherrystone Creek Kayak trip and the Chatham Vineyard’s Kayak and Winery Tour to see wading birds, osprey, etc. and the Wildlife Refuge Kayak trip along the Virginia Inside Passage, home to osprey, plovers, egrets and herons among others. And this year, for the more adventurous, a Stand Up Paddleboard Trip from the Wildlife Refuge. Paddleboards are billed “as the coolest craft on the water”  and apparently are a great way to do birding, certainly sounds like a lot of fun.  For the less adventurous but also interested, a variety of exhibits and demonstrations take place at the Cape Charles Fire Station including a “touch and feel”  aquarium tank  exhibit from the Virginia Marine Science Museum,  perfect for kids of all ages.  In short, this Festival is a wonderful event for everyone  who is interested in having fun while celebrating birds and birding.  For  information on the upcoming 2012 Birding Festival  on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore,  keep updated by visiting .

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Celebrating The Great Fall Migration — The Eastern Shore of Virginia’s Annual Birding Festival

Monday, October 11th, 2010

See you at the Owl Prowl

What do the  “Run For The Birds”,  the  “Butterfly Walk”  and  the  “Owl Prowl”  have in common ?   ( No,  they’re not new dance steps !  )  Rather,  each is a part of the annual Birding Festival held on Virginia’s Eastern Shore on the first week-end in  October.  ( The first week of October is getting to be a pretty important week  what with the start of  the new term of  U.S. Supreme Court  and the Eastern Shore’s Harvest Festival and Birding Festival all held then. )  This year’s Birding Festival,  held last week-end,  was the 18th in this  series of highly successful  eco-tourism events and included the largest number of  participation activities of any Festival so far.   Bird lovers  from all over Virginia,  indeed from all over the East Coast,  came to  Cape Charles, Virginia  to hear the keynote address given by Dr. Gregory S.  Butcher,  an internationally renown ornithologist and Director of Bird Conservation for the National Audubon Society.

If you look at a map it’s easy to see that the shape of  the DelMarVa  (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) peninsula  is rather funnel-like.   On the northern end,  in Delaware,  the funnel is rather wide.  Venturing  south, the penninsula grows more and more narrow so that  by the time you reach Northampton County,  the Shore is only about  8 miles across,  narrowing to about 4 miles south of Cape Charles.   During the Fall bird migration,  as the birds fly south along the Atlantic  Flyway,  they are funneled into an ever decreasing land mass.  This results in the Eastern Shore of Virginia having large concentrations of migrating songbirds and raptors at our southern tip where they are able to rest and replenish before flying over open water.  Great efforts to protect and study these birds have been expended by a large number of organizations including  US Fish and Wildlife,  The Nature Conservancy,  Coastal Management Dept of VDEQ and numerous others.  From those efforts grew the idea for the eco-friendly  Birding Festival.  The rest, as they say,  is history.

Part Of Our Pristine Chain Of 18 Barrier Islands

I personally think that what accounts for the continuing great success of the Birding Festival is that there are such interesting  activities in which to participate,  with new and different activities being added all the time.   This year a number of  different boating options were available including  a  two+ hour trip from  the little town of  Willis Wharf  out  to the Machipongo River to view shore and wading birds,  a 2 + hour trip out of Watchapreague  and  a 3 hour boat trip out of  the tiny town of Oyster to Cobb Island hoping to see  nesting terns,  oystercatchers, whimbrels, sandpipers,  etc., maybe even plovers out on these pristine Barrier Islands and a 2+ hour trip,  also from  Oyster,  out to Wreck Island to see what is being hailed as  the world’s  largest and most successful seagrass restoration program.

Adios Amigos, We Are Off To Mexico

I personally always enjoy the bird banding– it’s amazing  how calm these beautiful  birds are as they are banded but how quickly they flit away as they are released.  The bird banding station is located at Kiptopeake State Park which is the very, very  tip of the the Eastern Shore of Virginia.   Millions of songbirds migrate through our area each year and many of them can be found at Kiptopeake  Park  which has a huge natural maritime forest plus open areas and lots of  specifically planted beneficial shrubs and trees.  Like ducks to water,  the birds have really taken to the Park.   Apparently over half a million birds have been banded at Kiptopeake Station over the years,  a real achievement,  mostly by volunteers.   Also located at the Kiptopeake Park is an amazing hawk observatory.  On Saturday,  mermerized watchers were counting with glee the numbers and variety of hawks and falcons they were observing —  lots of Cooper’s hawks especially.  The Kiptopeake  Observatory is plays a vital part in the the annual raptor count for the Shore.  Kiptopeake Park  is also home to a  beautiful Butterfly Garden planted and maintained by the Master Gardeners of the Eastern Shore.   The Garden was filled with colorful Monarch butterflies on Saturday,  flitting along in their  migration  south to over-winter in Mexico .  Lots of  folks, many with kids in tow,  were snapping picture of them while waiting for the  “Butterfly Walk”  to begin.  Later still,  9-11 pm,  for those who  had the energy,  Kiptopeake Park would be one of several sites for a two hour  “Owl Prowl”.   ( I love owls.  Often,  if I am up very late,  I can hear a pair softly calling to each other not too far from my house.)

" Release Me Already, I'm Banded"

Finding Butterflies

Hawk Observatory- Seeing A Lot Of Cooper's Hawks Today

Meantime back in the town of Cape Charles,  at Festival Central,  ( )  lots of organizations  had booths set up,  literature to distribute,  ready to answer questions  and give advice.   Tons of interesting exhibits and plenty of stuff for kids too.  Next door,  the Marine Science Aquarium’s huge mobile truck was set up with its  “Oceans In Motion”  exhibit plus its  mini  “Touch and Feel”  tank which was attracting kids of all ages.   Anyone who loves Nature would love the Birding Festival.   So don’t forget– the first week of October each year signals  the new term of  the  Supreme Court,   the Eastern Shore of  Virginia’s Harvest Festival and the Eastern Shore Birding Festival !   Hope you can make it next year.

Aquarium In A Truck -- Amazing !

Virginia Dept. Game & Inland Fisheries, An Important Festival Sponsor

Festival Central- New Information, New Ideas, New Efforts