22-30 November 2009
Installment #456---Visitor #Aeropostale Clothing

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A few spaces are still available for our 2010 midwinter HUMMINGBIRD
to warm, sunny Costa Rica
(Week 2) & Guatemala (Belize trip is full)

Neotropical Hummingbird Expeditions


All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Male Indigo Bunting photo © Glenn Dulmage


Almost eight years ago we heard of a new birding festival starting up in Fayetteville, West Virginia and due to our life-long love affair with the Mountain State inquired whether they needed any speakers. We were pleased to get a quick, affirmative response from festival organizer Dave Pollard. Dave and his wife Lynn, Geoff Heeter, Keith Richardson, and others had been planning a spring event to bring folks to the area in early May 2003 before the local world-class whitewater season began. The New River Birding Festival was an immediate success. Struck by wonderful hospitality, enthusiastic participants high school through adult, and a dazzling assortment of spring Neotropical migrant birds, we've been back every spring since that first year to lecture, lead field trips, and band birds (male Indigo Bunting, above) for what is now the "New River Birding & Nature Festival"--generally considered to be among the top events of its kind in North America. We've made lots of West Virginia friends through the event, so when Dave contacted us last year requesting advice on a proposed permanent nature center in Fayette County we could hardly refuse.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Despite great people and magnificent scenery (New River Gorge, above), West Virginia is a state with a seriously depressed economy, so residents wisely seek ways to attract new commercial endeavors and their accompanying tax dollars. Like many local governments, Fayette County thought establishing a business park might help, but they knew many competing counties were trying the same approach. After long deliberation--and with considerable input from Dave Pollard--the Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority (URA) decided on an unusual plan. Their Wolf Creek Project would be a true mixed-use business park with commercial development (light industry, professional offices, and small retail) and residential properties (including single-family residences, condos, a retirement community, etc.)--all tied together by extensive greenways and nature trails.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Click on map above to open a larger image in a new browser window

In purchasing 1,000 acres of rolling woodland along Wolf Creek between Fayetteville and Oak Hill (see original conceptual map above), planners realized natural areas within were an invaluable asset that would attract certain businesses and homeowners. Showing real vision, the URA added a nature and education center to the master plan, making the Wolf Creek Park initiative truly a place for folks to "Live, Learn, Work, and Play."

In July 2008 we began designing for the URA a comprehensive environmental education curriculum and site plan for a proposed New River Birding & Nature Center. In return for a much-appreciated major financial contribution to Hilton Pond Center, we have helped plot a course to help our "sister center" in West Virginia meet its goal of attracting green businesses and conservation-minded homeowners while protecting and enhancing natural areas to be enjoyed by Wolf Creek Park employees, residents, and visitors--including local school kids. The plan is already working: Two businesses now under construction chose Wolf Creek in part because of amenities to be provided through the Nature Center, and a developer is putting together the first ten-acre tract devoted to single-family homes.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We haven't had much to do with the corporate or residential side of Wolf Creek Park, but by coming on early in the project we've been able to guide how some development will occur. Of particular importance is routing the first sections of a miles-long trail system that eventually will wind throughout the 1,000-acre property, allowing employees wanting a relaxing lunch break or residents out for an early morning bird walk to simply exit their back doors to be surrounded by nature. We're sure those folks will delight in such natural wonders as the Pink Lady's-slippers (above) we photographed this past spring along one of the trails.

We also got to select what we believe is the optimal location for the Nature Center's first structure, a very green LEED-certified building that will be used mostly when the REAL nature center--the surrounding woods and trails--are inaccessible during bad weather. A design firm is right now creating conceptual drawings for this earth-sheltered multi-purpose structure that will nestle inconspicuously into a Wolf Creek hillside when funds are available. We've advised that, wherever possible, the building be constructed of native materials.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The latest excitement for New River Birding & Nature Center has been a $15,000 grant from Project FLOW, a wing of West Virginia government that disperses funds to organizations using volunteer labor to improve watersheds. When we first visited Wolf Creek Park we were struck by one of its most significant natural aspects--a 15-acre wetland maintained primarily by a colony of American Beavers. It was immediately apparent this expansive wetland (photo above & location 1 on the map) needed to be an integral part of the Nature Center plan, so we advised the URA to use nearly all FLOW funds to buy materials to construct a boardwalk. This Wetlands Boardwalk, in turn, would allow access to a very important natural area that few people understand and even fewer get to see firsthand.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

In winter (above), the Wolf Creek wetland might not look like much more than a few dead snags and broken down sedges, but come spring the 15 acres becomes a hotbed of nature activity--from nesting woodpeckers to the passage of Neotropical migrant songbirds, from a cacophony of frog calls to native pollinators buzzing everywhere as they gather vernal nectar. In addition to providing habitat for plants and animals with aquatic needs, this morass of roots and microorganisms filters out particulate matter and pollutants deposited by two streams and runoff that feed it--meaning water that flows FROM the wetland into Wolf Creek and the New River is considerably cleaner than it would be otherwise.

The URA agreed this wetland was a precious resource and that a boardwalk was in order, so we set about to find some dependable volunteer labor; it eventually came in the guise of a ten-person crew from the AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). This federal program--the modern-day counterpart to the Roosevelt-era Civilian Conservation Corps--recruits young men and women ages 18-24 who wish to serve America according to the NCCC mission:

To strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service. In partnership with non-profits (secular and faith-based), local municipalities, state governments, federal government, national or state parks, Indian Tribes and schools, NCCC members complete service projects throughout the region they are assigned.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo courtesy Rachel Davis

Based out of Vicksburg in Mississippi, "Delta 2" (above) came to West Virginia in early November after spending a couple of months repairing homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina, and they were eager to learn new skills involved in installing an environmentally sensitive boardwalk in the wetlands at Wolf Creek Park. We spent considerable time teaching them about watersheds and wetlands before they picked up the first hammer or saw, and they were good learners. Then the crew spent three weeks implementing our design for Phase One of a handicapped-accessible Wetlands Boardwalk--carefully measuring, cutting, nailing, and bolting together what will be by year's end a real asset for the entire community.

For the record, the Delta 2 crew included Jamison Czarnecki (Elkhart IN), Paula Dorfman (Bethesda MD), Kate DeMayo (Liberty NY), Tyler Dubois (Garden City MI), Gary Hansen (Taylorsville UT), Alan Johnson (Sacramento CA), Jordan Mohr (Greensboro NC), Justin Rosemeyer (Dekalb IL), Stephanie Taylor (Chicago IL), and team leader Patrick Edwards (Fort Collins CO). We wish them well as they move on to their next project.

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Photo courtesy Rachel Davis

The dedication of Delta 2--coupled with parttime assistance from community members and support from local businesses--allowed installation of the first 265 feet of boardwalk, now nearly complete with hand rails with a teaching/learning platform to be used by school groups and visitors investigating the importance of wetlands and watershed protection. We're certain participants at next year's New River birding festival will also make good use of the boardwalk as they try to spot some hard-to-get marsh species. (The photo below of one of the smaller 18" high beaver dams was taken with our trusty iPhone as we plodded through the wetland in chest waders. The boardwalk eventually will swing around the beaver pond--providing a sight seldom seen by most students--and form a wide, meandering loop more than a half mile long.)

All text, maps & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Although this work in West Virginia has kept us away from South Carolina a few days each month, we're grateful for on-going opportunities to visit the Mountain State and to help the New River Birding & Nature Center become an important educational and natural resource for Fayette County and beyond. And, to be perfectly honest, the URA's "donation-in-exchange-for-expertise" to non-profit Hilton Pond Center has kept our OWN research, education, and conservation programs afloat in what has been a very difficult year of drastically reduced individual and corporate contributions to the Center. For this and other important reasons, we'll continue to consult with the URA at Wolf Creek Park and wish them well as our West Virginia "sister center" becomes a reality.

Leaves in Autumn fall,
Like me, into the wetland--
Beautiful, but cold.

Haiku by NCCC crew member Paula Dorfman

Comments or questions about this week's installment?
Please send an E-mail message to INFO.

Be sure to scroll down for an account of all
birds banded or recaptured during the period,
plus other nature notes of interest.

Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond." (Please see Support if you'd like to make a gift of your own. You can also contribute by ordering an Operation RubyThroat T-shirt.)

  • None this week

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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22-30 November 2009

Ruby-crowned Kinglet--1
Northern Cardinal--2
White-throated Sparrow--2
House Finch--3
Mourning Dove--1

* = New species for 2009

5 species
9 individuals

62 species (28-year avg. = 68.9)
1,703 individuals (avg. = 1,913.8)

(since 28 June 1982, during which time 170 species have been observed on or over the property)
124 species
53,585 individuals

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Carolina Chickadee (2)
06/26/08--2nd year unknown
06/27/08--2nd year unknown

American Goldfinch (1)
03/05/09--2nd year male

Song Sparrow (1)
02/28/07--after 3rd year unknown

Tufted Titmouse (1)
09/16/07--after 2nd year male

Carolina Wren (1)
07/03/08--2nd year female

House Finch (2)
06/11/06--4th year female
12/04/08--after hatch year female

White-throated Sparrow (2)
11/12/05--5th year unknown
12/16/06--4th year unknown

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

Nature Blog Network


--Due to out-of-town travel, bad weather, and the Thanksgiving holiday, banding during the period at Hilton Pond Center was restricted to just one day (30 Nov) when we ran four mist nets and caught nine birds (list at left). We did, however, have an interesting assortment of returns and recaptures, including a venerable five-year-old White-throated Sparrow banded back in 2005.

--Click on the highlighted terms below for more information about topics mentioned in the photo essay above: New River Birding & Nature Festival, the Wolf Creek Project, or the AmeriCorps NCCC program.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Operation RubyThroat has teamed with EarthTrek so citizen scientists--like YOU--can contribute observations about hummingbird migration and nesting behavior. Membership is free for this great new opportunity to help increase scientific understanding of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. On-line data entry forms are now live, so please register today at EarthTrek.

NOW is the time to report your RTHU fall departure dates from the U.S. & Canada, and fall arrival dates for Mexico & Central America. Please participate.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Oct 15 to Mar 15:
Please report
your sightings of
Vagrant & Winter

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including all articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.

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