Charlottesville bird club gears up for fall migrations

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Members of the Monticello Bird Club spot species on a recent summer weekend. Photo by Andrea Dailey.

As summer winds down, Charlottesville bird-lover Peggy Cornett gears up for the fall birding season, a rush of avian activity after the relative lull of June and July. Our sky will fill with migrating birds heading for warmer climates, and Cornett will be here, binoculars in hand, to count their numbers.

“There are some good areas [for bird watching] around Charlottesville and in Crozet and Ivy,” Cornett said. The local birding scene features a diverse range of species, she said, though there’s some concern about habitat degradation.

Even in the city, bird life is fairly abundant. Cornett said she once looked out the window of her Belmont home to see 16 goldfinches by the feeder on her back porch. It’s easy to attract a lot of visitors, she said, “if you provide the right conditions for them.”

Cornett is a board member for the Monticello Bird Club, a “friendly, informal gathering of people who like birds.” The group takes weekend trips to view birds in a variety of habitats—Afton Mountain, the Rivanna River, local farms and forests. Sometimes Monticello birders will take over-
night trips as far as the Bay Bridge Tunnel or the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Next on the schedule: they’ll head to Afton at the end of the month to observe the aerial acrobatics of migrating nighthawks, bug-eaters that often put on spectacular shows as they hunt.

“They fly around, towards dusk, scooping up insects,” said Stauffer Miller, one of the group’s veterans, who often leads expeditions. As program director, he regularly lines up guest speakers for organized meetings. On the second Thursday of each month, speakers lecture on anything from barn owls to butterflies, giving members a broader perspective on local avian life and ecosystems. The meetings, which often draw 60 to 70 people, are set to start up again in September.

Presenters and attendees include a number of experts—professional and amateur —from a professor of field ornithology at Piedmont Virginia Community College to a 17-year-old student who competed in the informal “big year” bird identification contest, plus plenty of hard-core watchers who have traveled around the globe to birding hotspots like Belize.

There are also lots of beginners, said Cornett. The club is novice-friendly, hosting “First Saturday” walks at the beginning of each month for those who just want to enjoy some wildlife.

“We always have newcomers introduce themselves,” she said. “It’s a very welcoming group.”

Cornett doesn’t even consider herself an expert. She was more of a “plant person,” she said, until she looked up from her garden one day and saw a robin flying by.

“Something struck me,” she said, laughing. “I just looked at it in a different way. There was this whole other dimension that captivated me.”

Dave Hogg, a former board member for the club, said birding is a way to “get away and shed the concerns of the busy world where you spend most of your life.”

“It’s a chance to be out in a natural area,” he said. “You get some exercise and you have a peaceful time.

And with over 250 local bird species, Hogg said, Charlottesville is a fine place to do it.

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