On April 30, as part of OVEC’s 30th Birthday Bash Weekend, Mike Griffith and I agreed to lead a bird walk at the Green Bottom Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
Six wonderful, bird-loving, nature-loving folks (above and below; photos by Janet Keating) joined us for our Sunday-morning trip. Stretching along the banks of the Ohio River, Green Bottom WMA is a network of agricultural lands, forestlands, wetlands, and open water. More than 100 species of birds may be seen here each year. These unique wetlands are located just 16 miles north of Huntington. In fewer than the 5 hours scheduled for the outing, we saw 53 different species.
While homing in on a green heron on the gravel road that leads to the boardwalk, we spotted a killdeer, with three fluffy, tiny chicks, darting back and forth on the gravel road. When killdeer hatch, they are able to walk on the ground and feed themselves immediately; they are referred to as being precocial, as opposed to altricial. Altricial birds are hatched featherless and unable to feed themselves for several weeks or even months. We watched as the parent bird (likely the mother, though both species care for the nest and young), gave her “broken wing” display to distract us away from her little ones. These hatchlings were likely no more than two days old and will not be flying for several weeks.
After walking the road between the two major wetlands, as well as the boardwalk, we drove to the General Jenkins house (a well-preserved brick house of a Civil War general, built in 1853) in search of a Baltimore oriole. As we first pulled in, as if on cue, we saw a mature male oriole perching atop a bare tree, singing its heart out. Almost all of us saw it, but Mike knew that this bird reliably can be found in one of the large sycamore trees next to the house, so he walked in that direction. Soon, a lovely first-year male (bright yellow and black instead of orange and black) appeared for all to see. It flew to various places on lower tree limbs and even landed on the ground, giving us excellent views. A few minutes later, the mature male joined this younger bird.
Toward the end of our walk, though some of our group needed to head back home, Brodie, son of OVEC members Ken and Barb Lewis, wanted to see a prothonotary warbler, a stunner of a warbler that would be a life bird (his first sighting) for him. This warbler reaches the northern limits of its range in West Virginia and prefers nesting in tree cavities near water. Brodie, who’s been birding since 2011 in Asia and in the northwest United States, hasn’t seen all of the West Virginia species. I am always thrilled to show someone a life bird!
In order to see this specialized warbler, we left the main wetlands and drove a couple of miles up Route 2 to an oxbow area of Green Bottom WMA. We hiked briefly down a grassy area to a creek and backwater. Mike and I had seen this bird here just a few days before. Then, we waited. And waited. And waited. Brodie could hear it calling in the distance, but we really wanted him to see this beauty. Just as we were about to give up, a small, bright, mostly yellow-gold bird flew low across the water and then landed in the nearby tree. It was the prothonotary warbler! Brodie, equipped with a camera and zoom lens, began photographing as the bird perched ever closer. Click, click, click went the camera. Brodie had the time of his life connecting with this warbler—a truly memorable nature experience. We see a magazine cover in Brodie’s (and the bird’s) future!