By Rachel Davis
The Fayette Tribune
OAK HILL, W.Va. — The forests in Fayette County and surrounding areas are rich in biodiversity. Birds, caterpillars, plants, insects and curious things abound. Nature enthusiasts from across North America take full advantage of this biodiversity during the all-inclusive week-long New River Birding & Nature Festival.
The annual event features daily excursions and takes place around the New River Gorge National River, in forests identified by Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Delaware as an important stopover habitat for the continued survival of many migratory bird species.
While many travel across the country to enjoy the festival, five local youth were granted $200 environmental scholarships by the Fayette County Education Fund to take part in a full-day field trip of nature hiking and bird watching during the festival.
“The scholarships were a great opportunity to get students outdoors, into environmental education, interested in habitat preservation, and engaged with world-class birding and nature experts, scientists, and authors,” said Dave Pollard, a coordinator of the Fayette County Education Fund and the New River Birding & Nature Festival.
Recipients Keagan Vickers, Jacob Pino, Cameron Heeter, Jonah Pezoldt and Ian Bibb enjoyed a day of exploration and learning on the High Country field trip with trip leaders Bill Thompson III, editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest; Ben Lizdas, sales manager for Eagle Optics; Wendy Clark, marketing manager for Bird Watcher’s Digest; and Rachel Davis and Dave Pollard, co-coordinators for the Fayette County Education Fund and New River Birding & Nature Festival.
The students were introduced to the festival as they joined nearly 100 attendees for dinner and a presentation by Julie Zickefoose, a renowned writer, artist, naturalist and trip leader. Their High Country field trip began the next morning at dawn. On the way, each participant received an autographed copy of Peterson Field Guides’ “The Young Birder’s Guide” by Bill Thompson III.
Among the numerous sightings for the group were Bobolinks, Chestnut-sided Warbler, White-eyed Vireo, Swainson’s Warbler, and a deer mouse whose curiosity and interest was equal to that of the students as they learned how to use binoculars, spotting scopes, field guides, to watch animal behavior and recognize various habitat and bird songs.
“It’s always a thrill to take young people out for their first birding experience and being in a bird-filled place like Fayette County, W.Va. ensures that we’ll see plenty of amazing birds. Watching the faces of our young participants go from dubious and ‘why are we awake and outside so early?’ to ‘OMG! LOOK at THAT!’ is something that is utterly priceless. The well-being of our planet will soon be in the hands of these future leaders and we need to be diligent in our efforts to share the wonders of birds and nature with them,” said Thompson.
This year’s environmental youth scholarship program was such a success that plans are already being made to involve interested local students again at the 2016 festival.
To learn more about the festival and Education Fund programs, see “Who We Support” at birding-wv.com.