"After the first three years, word got out about birding in West Virginia," Pollard explains. Thanks largely to word of mouth among birders and a few strategically placed ads in BirdWatcher's Digest, West Virginia has joined New Jersey, Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and Texas as states known as birding destinations.
Pollard also notes with pride that any profits generated by the Festival are plowed back into environmental education programs in local schools. He wants to ensure that local children appreciate the New River's natural heritage.
The appeal of the New River Birding and Nature Festival is threefold: The New River Gorge is absolutely beautiful in May. Spectacular migratory birds, including warblers, vireos, and tanagers, are abundant. And the logistics of the event are informal and friendly. Pollard and Heater work hard to make the event as hospitable as it is rewarding for participants. For example, no one works harder than Heater to find birds for participants, especially beginners. I've seen him gather a small group for an impromptu field trip to see a single species.
A typical day begins with an early morning breakfast, followed by a full a day of birding. Some vans stay within the gorge, where scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, rose-breasted grosbeaks, cerulean warblers, and worm-eating warblers are abundant. Lucky birders might even get to see a Swainson's Warbler, a species that reaches the northern edge of its breeding range in Southern West Virginia.
Other groups pile into vans for trips to Cranberry Glades, Babcock State Park, the Sugar Creek/Gauley River area, and the High Country, where trees leaf out later than at lower elevations, so birds such as Golden-winged, Canada, and Black-throated Green Warblers are easier to see.
Adding to the festival experience are field trip leaders such as BIrdWatcher's Digest editor Bill Thompson III, wildlife artist Julie Zickefoose, naturalist Jim McCormac, "Cerulean Blues" author Katie Fallon, bird bander Bill Hilton Jr., and photographer Connie Toops. And in the evening after dinner, these same people present entertaining indoor programs.
For information, visit www.birding-wv.com.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via my website, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.