By Heather Carey
To watch a broad-wing hawk soar over the Blue Ridge Mountains is magnificent. To watch a kettle (or group) of hawks catch a thermal (current of warm air) as they migrate south for the winter is a phenomenon that few get to witness because most people are not aware of the majestic beauty of the hawks and their migratory pattern. If you were a member of the Lynchburg Bird Club, however, you would know exactly where to go to watch them: Harvey’s Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Thelma Dalmas, a member and frequent officer of the Lynchburg Bird Club for more than 40 years, says that watching broad-wing hawks was one of the inspirations for her joining.
“If you haven’t seen 1,000 hawks fly in a thermal, you haven’t really lived,” Dalmas said.
One of the responsibilities of the club is to monitor hawk counts in the fall as they migrate. Many members volunteer one day a week to observe the hawks as they fly over strategic points on Candlers Mountain or Harvey’s Knob. The highest number of broad-wing hawks counted in Lynchburg in a season was in 2001 when 10,700 hawks flew over the area in their southerly migration pattern; Dalmas says this pattern is one of the reasons the hawks are so fascinating to observe.
“The hawks winter in South America, and, as they move south, they fly high to look for a lift,” Dalmas said. “If they can find a thermal, they don’t have to expend as much of their energy by flapping very much. One of them will lead and the others will follow once the leader has found the current of air.”
The Lynchburg Bird Club offers field trips to the hawk observation points every fall, as well as trips to lakes in Amherst County, Smith Mountain Lake, and various other lakes close to Lynchburg in the winter to monitor ducks. In summer, you can help the club count or monitor breeding bird activity in various parks in the Lynchburg area, and at well-known destinations like the Peaks of Otter, Red Hill and Poplar Forest.
In Lynchburg and the surrounding areas alone, 286 species of birds have been reported. One notable species of bird that began breeding in the area approximately 10 years ago is the bald eagle. A breeding pair built a nest just outside Lynchburg on the James River in March of 2001; since 2002, the pair has been breeding and raising young, which is significant because bald eagles were on the Endangered Species List from 1976-2007. The banning of the insecticide DDT has allowed the bald eagle population to recover. This is another reason the club monitors bird populations, so they are aware of the species being threatened. Currently, the northern bobwhite population is in steep decline.
“Twice each year, in the summer and during the winter, a census of the birdlife in the Lynchburg area is conducted by the Lynchburg Bird Club. Since 2000, the bobwhite numbers on some of these counts has been zero. That is a sharp decrease from 50 to 150 bobwhites that were reported during the 1970s,” Dalmas said. “We don’t know the reason for the decline, but it could be attributed to the bird’s loss of habitat.”
The Lynchburg Bird Club meets on the second Wednesday of the month from September through May at 7 p.m. in the Martin Science Hall at Randolph College. The meetings are free and open to the public. Many members consider themselves novices at bird watching, while others like Dalmas have been members for years.
The Club also sponsors a bird seed sale in the fall and publishes The Bluebird, a monthly newsletter. In 2003, they revised The Birds of Lynchburg, Virginia and Vicinity, for the fourth time. The book is an annotated checklist of all of the birds that have been recorded in Lynchburg and the surrounding counties, and monitors the bird population in Old City Cemetery.
The Lynchburg Bird Club is certainly comprised of mere bird lovers, but it also boasts those who love nature as a whole and the sciences that come with it. Joining the club not only offers a chance to see something spectacular in flight, but also an opportunity to record it for generations to come. After all, as Damas would tell you, it’s not every day that you see 1,000 hawks pass overhead—a flightful fancy that would boggle even the more experienced eye.
To learn more about the Lynchburg Bird Club, visit http://styrsky-j.web.lynchburg.edu/index.htm.
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