By Mel White
Birds in This Story
|National Wildlife Refuges||National Parks||Acreage of Important Bird Areas|
Although West Virginia lacks the range of terrain and habitats found in bigger states, it is no less compelling a destination for birders. The state’s rugged, mountainous landscape is remarkable for its wild beauty. It also provides crucial stopover habitat for species such as Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Swainson’s Warblers.
The Monongahela National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains is noted for its coniferous highlands, which harbor breeding species similar to those found in Canada’s boreal region. Birders look here for Veeries, Mourning Warblers, Blackburnian Warblers, and Canada Warblers, among others. A hundred or so miles to the west, at the New River Gorge National River, the annual New River Birding & Nature Festival places beginner and expert birders in upland, hardwood forests during spring migration. Adventurous birders can even check off species while ziplining through a treetops canopy tour.
West Virginia isn’t all mountainous, and stretches of marsh along the Eastern panhandle and Ohio River provide habitat for Pied-billed Grebes, Least and American Bitterns, and Marsh Wrens. There’s even a Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad, which for three hours chugs through a canyon populated by Bald Eagles.
West Virginia Birding Hotspots
Located 15 miles northeast of Huntington, this 1,096-acre area along the Ohio River is one of West Virginia’s most popular and productive birding sites. It’s also a popular hunting area, so be aware of game seasons in fall and winter.
Green Bottom has extensive marsh habitats, and the water levels of some are managed throughout the year to benefit wildlife. That makes it a magnet for waterfowl and other waterbirds. The site is easily accessible from side roads off Highway 2, and there’s a boardwalk leading into the marsh.
Birders find Canada Goose and ducks of many species abundant in late winter and spring. Least Bittern nests here, and in summer Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Green Heron can be found. Osprey and Bald Eagle are seen in migration, and Northern Harrier hunts from fall through spring. King Rail, Virginia Rail, and Sora drop by in spring and summer.
Other breeding birds at Green Bottom include Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, American Kestrel, Willow Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blue Grosbeak (scarce), Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.
To reach this area, drive north about six miles from Point Pleasant on Highway 62 and turn east on Fairground Road. The 3,655-acre tract includes more than 1,700 acres of hardwood forest, as well as fields and ponds. Note that hunters favor it too.
The mix of habitats makes McClintic a good overall birding site. Ducks are common in spring, and Wood Duck nests here. Look for Wild Turkey, Red-shouldered Hawk, White-eyed Vireo, Eastern Bluebird, Wood Thrush, Eastern Towhee, and Scarlet Tanager in nesting season. Breeding warblers include Blue-winged, Prothonotary, Hooded, Yellow, and Yellow-throated. Cerulean Warbler, a declining species of special conservation concern, has also been found nesting here.
Like many sites of mixed habitat, McClintic is at its best during migration, when the combination of woods and open areas can lead to an extensive bird list.
From Robert C. Byrd, about 12 miles south of Point Pleasant, visitors can observe birds swimming and flying along the Ohio River. There’s a state fish hatchery here as well.
Diving ducks such as Canvasback and Common Goldeneye are present in winter, as are Double-crested Cormorant and Bald Eagle. Osprey nests in the area. Rare gulls have appeared along with the common Ring-billed and Herring. In spots with exposed mud, shorebirds can be found feeding—they peak in May.
Birds that nest in the area include Wood Duck, American Kestrel, Willow Flycatcher, Cliff Swallow, Yellow Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, and Orchard Oriole.
Beech Fork Lake, a popular camping and recreation site, sits about 10 miles south of Huntington. A state park occupies part of the shoreline, while Beech Fork Dam and Recreation Area, operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, lies to the west. The 7,531-acre Beech Fork Lake Wildlife Management Area envelops yet another part of the lake.
The state park has been designated an Audubon Important Bird Area because of its array of woodland-nesting birds. All together, the lake and surrounding area make a fine birding destination. It’s especially favored in spring migration.
Birds that breed here include Wood Duck, Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.
West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest encompasses some of the best scenery in the eastern United States, as well as many significant natural areas. Among them, Cranberry Glades Botanical Area is a standout. It’s home to many unusual plants and animals, including birds associated with regions farther north.
Cranberry Glades features 750 acres of acidic peat bog. The swampy ground is easily damaged, so a half-mile boardwalk provides access. Birds found here include Ruffed Grouse, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Alder Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Winter Wren, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Mourning Warbler, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Purple Finch, and Red Crossbill.
Many other national forest trails offer the chance to explore this area. At the intersection of Highways 39/55 and 150 (Highland Scenic Byway), the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center can provide maps and advice. Note, however, that it’s closed in winter.
A tract of virgin spruce forest, which escaped decades of logging, makes the 140-acre Gaudineer Scenic Area well worth a visit. Now part of Monongahela National Forest, these majestic trees are home to a suite of birds with northern affinities. Trails offer access to the scenic area and to 4,432-foot Gaudineer Knob, a short distance south.
Look here for Ruffed Grouse, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Winter Wren, Veery, Swainson's Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Wood Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Purple Finch, and Red Crossbill.
Located in the Appalachian Mountains on the border of West Virginia and Maryland, Cranesville Swamp is a boreal peat bog that retains the influence of the last ice age. It’s home to rare plants and butterflies as well as very rewarding nesting birds.
Because the surrounding hills capture cold air and moisture, the preserve is significantly colder and wetter than the areas around it. As a result, many species found here are common in colder climates. Coniferous and hardwood forest add to the diversity. Explore using the preserve’s five trails, including a 1,500-foot boardwalk that leads into the bog.
A highlight of Cranesville is the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Other breeding birds include Ruffed Grouse, Broad-winged Hawk, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Nashville Warbler (scarce), Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.
West Virginia University operates this remarkable, 91-acre site in Morgantown. On the bank of the Monongahela River, the arboretum preserves old-growth forest with trees thought to be two centuries old. Oak, hickory, and walnut grow on the upper slopes and maple and willow near the river—though many other tree species grow here too.
Local birders visit especially during spring migration, when the grounds host flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, and other species. The Mountaineer Audubon Society holds bird walks in spring. More than three miles of trails wind through the area, which is also known for its excellent display of spring wildflowers.
Nesting birds here include Pileated Woodpecker, Acadian Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.
Nestled in an Allegheny Mountain valley, this 16,550-acre refuge combines wetlands, forest, and open areas for a superb all-around birding experience. Stop at the refuge visitor center, on Highway 32 about eight miles south of Davis, for maps to the various entry points.
Many birders favor the Beall trails near the Blackwater River. Look here for Northern Harrier, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Alder Flycatcher, Willow Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, Common Raven, Hermit Thrush, Cedar Waxwing, Ovenbird, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, and Bobolink. The A-Frame Road area may be more likely to have Veery, Hermit Thrush, Magnolia Warbler and Canada Warbler.
Blackwater Falls State Park, located a very short distance west, has many of these same birds, as well as one of the most striking landscapes in the state. Look here for Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Veery, Hermit Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Magnolia Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Canada Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, Purple Finch, and Pine Siskin.
More than 150 species have been seen in this small preserve, which sits about 10 miles west of Martinsburg in eastern West Virginia. Potomac Valley Audubon Society owns and manages Stauffer’s Marsh and has developed trails for viewing the wetlands.
Several species of ducks are found here from fall through spring, and Wood Duck nests. American Bittern, Least Bittern, Virginia Rail, and Sora have been seen, though all are scarce. Osprey and Bald Eagle are sometimes seen in spring migration, and a variety of shorebirds have been recorded in spring and late summer.
Nesting birds of Stauffer’s Marsh include Green Heron, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, and Baltimore Oriole.