The Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail Adoption project is currently among the most popular for Headwaters Chapter members. About 20 of our members are doing work as trail adopters, helping to monitor sites on two of the three loops in our region (The North River Trail and Forest Trail). The VBWT project is definitely high on my list of favorites for my own volunteer time—it’s like getting paid (in recordable volunteer hours) for what you’d be doing anyhow—hanging out in beautiful spots and looking at plants and animals. On the last Saturday in August, I made my summer season visit to my VBWT site, Silver Lake, just outside of Dayton, VA.
Silver Lake is a beautiful and extremely accessible gem of a spot just outside of Harrisonburg, and if you haven’t already been there, I highly recommend it for a quick stop to soak up some of the beauties of the natural world. There’s easy parking (just a matter of pulling off on a generous shoulder on Silver Lake Road, right on the shore of the lake) and a trip there is pretty much guaranteed to be rewarded with sighting something exciting. Usually, when I make my trail adoption visit, I’m focusing primarily on birds, but the summer season is special—that’s when the dragonflies are on the prowl.
There are dozens of species of dragonflies (like the female Eastern Pondhawk in the photo above) which can be found in Virginia, and I am most definitely a novice in learning how to identify them. One of the appealing things about learning dragonflies is how closely you have to look—sometimes a correct species identification is based on pretty small differences. At the same time, though, there are enough easy species to make you feel like you’re making progress, and they’re extremely fun to look at, even when you can’t tell exactly what you’re looking at. When I was there for my Summer VBWT visit in August, I was able to identify about 10 different kinds of dragonflies and damselflies (and I freely admit to having seen others that I just wasn’t sure about). It was a good day.
One of the things that DGIF asks of VBWT volunteers is that they post their observations on web sites like eBird or iNaturalist, helping to draw attention to the many great things you can see at these sites. eBird, as the name implies, is only for bird observations, but iNaturalist takes pretty much everything. Both of these sites are pretty accessible, and if you don’t already know how to use them, we can provide help with getting started.
Usually when I do my VBWT visits, I go armed with a camera, and last month’s visit was no different. While an interest in taking pictures is definitely not one of the requirements for volunteering on this project, it’s a part of the work that I personally enjoy. After a trail adoption visit to Silver Lake, I usually come home, take a look at my pictures, and see what I can identify (that I couldn’t do in the field). For photos posted on iNaturalist, you can also enlist the help of the excellent community there in making identifications—I’ve had many a stranger help me with identifying a critter that I saw at Silver Lake (and, admittedly, had many a stranger correct the mis-identification that I started off with!). I’ve learned a lot there.
In August, I spent a wonderful two hours walking the perimeter of Silver Lake, taking pictures of dragonflies, listening to cicadas, trying to catch sight of the painted turtles, and watching for movement in the willow trees that might indicate the presence of a big bird. In addition to all the dragonflies, I also saw a young black-crowned night heron (photo at right) on this visit, along with a spotted sandpiper (which I’d never seen before). I’m still regretting the frog that I missed—he jumped into the lake just as I was approaching, too quick for me to see what kind he might have been (I really like frogs and toads). There were butterflies (at least one monarch, some buckeyes, and a pearl crescent, among others), late summer wildflowers galore (ironweed, Queen Anne’s Lace), some cute little kids with fishing poles messing around with their parents on the shore, and the kind of general air of peace and righteousness that one always seems to find in such places. And I get to count that as volunteer hours. Almost doesn’t seem fair.
If you’re not already a part of the VBWT Adoption project, but would like to be, there are still lots of options to volunteer. We currently have 17 adoptable sites, but in the future would also like to take on the last of the three loops located in our region (Lost Shoe), so there are new adoption opportunities possible there. Site adopters are asked to visit four times a year (once per season) and make some reports on what they saw (on eBird and/or iNaturalist). I usually also pick up a little trash while I’m at Silver Lake, and DGIF also asks that volunteers report to them about problems with signage or other issues that you might find. But most of the work in volunteering for this project entails walking around in a beautiful place and looking at things. What could be better.
If you’re a little shy about taking a site on your own, it’s also possible to partner up. Lots of the current volunteers in the project share a site, and pretty much all of them have indicated that they’d be happy to have other HMNs join in on a visit. If you’re not an expert birder, that’s okay too—it’s fine to think of volunteering for this project as a way to increase and build your skills as much as it is a way to showcase your existing prowess. If you’d like an opportunity to be part of the project, Sandy Greene and Cheryl Shull are the project coordinators (with each of them taking charge of one of our existing loops). Either of them can have you out looking at dragonflies in no time!
– Peggy Plass, Cohort IV, Project Committee Chair, August 2017
Dragonfly and night heron photos by Peggy. Lake photos by Adrie.