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Birding and Wildlife Viewing
Woodpecker Ridge Nature Center
The Woodpecker Ridge Nature Center offers birders and nature enthusiasts numerous opportunities for wildlife watching. Features of interest to most visitors include a hawk-watch platform, feeding stations for songbirds and hummingbirds, and butterfly gardens. Trails meander from butterfly gardens through hardwood forests, spruce and cedar stands, open fields, and pond habitats. Buddleia, echinacea, and other blooming flowers in the gardens attract large numbers of butterflies such as pearl crescent, monarch, meadow and great spangled fritillaries, eastern tiger swallowtail, sphinx moth, and various skippers. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found within these gardens, as well as at the various nectar feeders interspersed throughout this part of the complex. The woodlands and brushy areas hold year-round treasures such as pileated woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, great horned owl, song sparrow, red-tailed hawks and white-breasted nuthatch. Nesting residents include wood thrush, orioles, yellow-breasted chat, red-eyed vireo, white-eyed vireo, and scarlet tanager. Two ponds are easily accessible by trails. As its name suggests, the wood duck pond is home to nesting wood duck. The cattail pond is visited by red-winged blackbird, green heron and safely guarded by common yellowthroat. More open areas attract eastern bluebird, eastern kingbird, and American goldfinch. An occasional raptor, such as Cooper's hawk and American kestrel may be hunting these fields. In fall, the hawk-watch platform is a good spot for viewing migrant broad-winged hawks.
Directions: From I-81, take Exit #150. Go 0.1 miles on US 220A South to US 11. Turn left on US 11 North and follow it 2.6 miles to Rt. 651/Stoney Battery Road in Troutville. Turn right and follow 0.9 miles to Woodpecker Ridge Nature Center (#941) on the left.
Address: 941 Stoney Battery Road, Troutville
Craig's Creek Recreation Area at Oriskany
The drive into Craig's Creek Recreation Area provides a vista of meadows and woodlands that follow Craig's Creek. A splendid viewshed creates a prime opportunity for visitors to see the flora and fauna of this wildlife-rich habitat. After passing the signboard at the entrance look to the fields on the right. This area is specially managed for the northern bobwhite that can be heard giving their characteristic “bob-white” whistle at any time of the day. Although more elusive to the eye, a patient observer scanning the fields or prominent perches from where bobwhite males call can turn up a sighting. The mix of annual grain crops, native warm season grasses and native shrubs offer a rich habitat for all types of songbirds as well as birds of prey. Continue on to the parking area and wander downhill to Craig's Creek. This exquisite watercourse supports all sorts of wildlife. Area regulars, great blue and green herons, are occasionally joined by wood duck and belted kingfisher. Examine stream banks for roosting dragonflies such as black-shouldered spinylegs or roosting damselflies such as powdered dancer and American rubyspot. In the spring, the creek bank offers a spectacular vista of blooming blue bells, one of the best in the area. The area around the picnic area hosts both open country and woodland birds, with indigo buntings and chipping sparrows appearing side-by-side with Carolina wrens and tufted titmice.
Directions: From I-81 in Salem, take exit #140 for SR 311 north. Follow SR 311 for 22.0 miles to New Castle. In New Castle, turn right on Rt. 615 and follow it northeast 12.1 miles to Rt. 817. Turn right and go 0.5 miles. Veer right onto the gravel road and continue 1.3 miles to the parking area at the end of the road.
The hike out to Callie Furnace provides plenty of opportunities to view wildlife. The broad paths through this deciduous forest provide clear views of the flanking woodlands. Species to look for along the paths to the furnace include red-shouldered hawk, northern flicker, ruffed grouse, pileated woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch, red-eyed vireo, and ovenbird. The broad paths also host several species of dragonflies, with common whitetail and widow skimmer being especially dominant. Butterflies to look for include red-spotted purple, spicebush swallowtail, and eastern tailed-blue. Other possible encounters during a hike include white-tailed deer and the ornately patterned eastern box turtle.
Directions: From the Walton Tract on the Cowpasture River, return to SR 42 and continue south for 11.1 miles. Go west on I-64 for 1.5 miles to Exit 27. Travel south on US 220 and proceed 4.3 miles to Rt. 633. Go west on Rt. 633 for 2.4 miles to Rt. 622 in the Town of Glen Wilton. Turn right onto Rt. 622, cross the railroad tracks, and turn right at the stop sign. Follow Rt. 622 for 0.5 miles and bear left at Rt. 718/yield intersection. Follow Rt. 718 for 0.7 miles to the "End State Maintenance" sign, continue straight, and then bear right onto FR 1629 to a U.S. Forest Service gate (approximately 0.2 miles). Follow FR 1629 for 0.7 miles to the Callie Furnace parking lot. Callie Furnace is 0.3 miles up the trail. NOTE: FR 1629 is closed from Jan.-Mar. and July-Sept
Harvey's Knob Overlook
Harvey's Knob Overlook is a popular hawk-watch site along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Located at 2524 feet, this site is heavily visited in the fall by local birders enraptured by migratory raptors. In addition to large numbers of broad-winged hawks that are in greatest density during mid-September, look for osprey and bald eagle. Accipiters, such as sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks, peak in numbers during the month of October. Falcons such as peregrine falcon and merlin are seen in smaller numbers during this time. Later in October and into November, look for red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, with a possibility of seeing an occasional golden eagle or northern goshawk. Non-raptor species, such as common nighthawk, tundra swan, common loon, and several species of swallow can also be seen during fall migration. A trailhead into the surrounding woodlands can be productive for additional wildlife-viewing. Dark-eyed junco, indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, and wood thrush nest within these woods. During September and October, migrating passerines can sometimes be seen in spectacular numbers, especially warblers. White-tailed deer are abundant, some with little caution, approach strangers with curiosity. This site also offers interpretive signage on hawk-watching and provides identification tips to novice hawk-watchers.
Directions: Harvey's Knob Overlook is on the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 95.4.