Sunday, February 3, 2008

New River State Park, Alleghany Access, Mouth of Wilson, Va.

There is a North Carolina state park nearby, an old farm given to the park by the old farmer, down on the New River. I go there often, formerly with Aaron Floyd, and now with Mica Paluzzi, a 13-year-old friend who has taken to birding.

Surrounding the park are huge vacation home developments, gated, growing like fungi. So this part of the park is an oasis, lots of trails, primitive canoe camping areas provided. Aaron and I discovered the endangered golden-winged warbler breeding here three years ago, fully documenting the process from building the nest, to bringing caterpillars to the young. But deer have pretty much destroyed their preferred fragile habitat, so no warblers of that kind have been seen breeding here since.

In the summer, the undergrowth makes off-path walking a challenge -- but, ah, in the winter, everything opens up. Today Mica and I spent half of our time just rambling about, and though it was warm, there was ice, making trudging through the marshy areas a solidified breeze. We discovered an old farm road, found an old foundation, saw remnants of fence rows, etc. I pointed out the various signs of how successional field-to-forest events were happening before our eyes.

Across from the park, below a new house, there is an enormous rock face that has played host to generations of nesting ravens. Three years ago was the last time anyone had seen activity there, but today we not only saw a raven on her nest, but two others nearby playing on the rock face and soaring, depending on their mood. This is great news, and I intend to monitor the site throughout our late winter. This is the typical time for ravens to nest, for they must tend to their offspring for nearly a year, and they need a jump start on things.

Aaron's father knew the old farmer, who had one of the most amazing arrowhead collections known in these parts, picked up from the fields after spring plowing. When Aaron was a lad, he visited the farmer and was shown the wonderful array of chiseled beauties. Aaron and his brother have a pretty good collection they drew on for comparison.

The raven show suggested some questions regarding their behavior. We watched off and on through the four hours there, and never saw four. Just the one on the nest, and those other two, often picking at the hardy plants clinging to the sheer face of the rock, and otherwise flying around and joking in raven.

It is possible that there are two couples, and possibly another nest not detected. This afternoon after returning to my library, I could not find any documentation of second-generation ravens aiding in the rearing of the next, helping their parents as some corvids do. So, anybody out there that might have some closer knowledge would be of great help to us.

Mica is working on his bird-watching merit badge, and after only a year of our sharing these jaunts, he has become, shall we say, daunting. My abiding advocacy is: get those kids outside, mentor, share, and have fun.

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