With 497 life birds on my list, I read with great interest, a posting by Derek Courtney on June 3rd, where he described birds that he had seen on the Middle Valley trail of the Canaan Valley (West Virginia) National Wildlife Refuge. His posting listed three potential life birds for me that I wanted to see: Clay-colored Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Alder Flycatcher. I had previous read about the Canaan Valley and that Henslow's Sparrows bred there, but the drive there was a bit out of my range for a day trip.
However, the opportunity to reach the 500 life bird point prompted me to see if Walt Childs wanted to go along, and Walt hadn't been to the Canaan Valley for quite a few years, so he agreed to go. We left my house at 6:45 a.m., and with a couple of brief stops, reached Davis, WVA in a little more than 3 hours, but the last 15 miles to the start of the Middle Valley trail took almost another hour because of poor road conditions on the last 7.5 miles. The forecast was for 40 percent chance of rain east of the Allegheny Mountains, but only 10 percent chance in the Canaan Valley early in the morning, and then no rain. It was drizzling when we left my house, stopped raining when we entered West Virginia, and then started to rain again when we entered the Canaan Valley. But the rain stopped when we reached the trail head on A-Frame Road at 11:00, and after about an hour, the sun came out.
Some of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service maps, and the kiosk at the trail start, list trail #12 as the Middle Ridge trail, while other maps and a wooden sign near the beginning of the trail reads Middle Valley Trail. This NWR was very different from other sites where I have birded. The roads were at 3400+ foot elevation, and the trail hike down through the woods took us to about a 3200 foot elevation and a very large and fairly level meadow.
Derek had e-mailed directions to the trail head and information as to where he had seen these three avian species. He also warned me that we would need to ford a small stream, Glade Run, that varied in depth from a few inches to more than a foot, depending on the recent rainfall. With that knowledge, I packed my Wellies in a small back pack that I wore during the entire hike, changing between my boots and my Wellies as required.
Middle Valley (Ridge) trail and our route
We hiked about 1.65 miles of this trail during the first three hours, stopping frequently to check every sparrow and small bird that we saw. We saw Least Flycatchers and Alder Flycatchers (life bird #498) as soon as we entered the meadow, and saw a couple of Clay-colored Sparrows (life bird #499) after the trail turned to the south. We also saw lots of Song, Savannah, and Field Sparrows, but the Henlow's Sparrow was not seen, and I didn't get my 500th life bird this day. We only saw 15 avian species on this trail. In addition to the above species, we logged Common Yellowthroat, Cowbird, Catbird, Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Broad-winged Hawk, Eastern Towhee, American Goldfinch, and Eastern Bluebird. The return hike took only two hours, as we didn't stop as often to check out distant birds. The last quarter mile took us about 1/2 hour as we had to hike up about 200 feet in elevation, which was the equivalent of climbing the stairs of a 20 story building after hiking 4-1/2 hours under the hot sun.
This Song Sparrow had unusually light-colored wing primaries
As we were leaving the trail head, I notice an orange-sized and orange-colored mushroom. Although this trail wasn't very "birdy," both Walt and I agreed that it was worth the eight-hour round trip.