Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spruce Knob Sandpipers

For all the wild and wonderful natural beauty that West Virginia rightfully claims to have, there is one natural feature that is often glaringly absent: the ocean. Despite all of the fun to be had in our scenic mountain playground, it's still worth it every once in awhile to pack up the car and make the 6 or more hour drive to the coast. There just isn't anywhere in West Virginia that you can lie in the sand, stare out across a seemingly endless body of water, listen to the crescendo of ocean meeting land, and watch sandpipers frantically race acros the sand in search of tasty crustaceans. Nearby Spruce Knob Lake is about the closest thing we've got and it isn't enough to convince anyone - except maybe a few of those sandpipers. As we were loading canoes into the water for an afternoon of paddling with students from a visiting school, a lone sandpiper raced across the shore. What are you doing here? He was a long way from the coast.

A little research revealed that while most sandpipers spend their lives on the coast, some of them do frequent wetlands further inland. And sightings in West Virginia of Spotted, Semipalmated, and Least Sandpipers are not uncommon. Perhaps the birds are captivated by the Potomac Highlands from above and stop down for a visit along their migration routes. Some sandpipers fly from South America all the way to their breeding grounds in Northern Canada. According to the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, there are over 200 species of birds that visit the state during their migrations - this in addition to the over 75 species that live and breed here. In fact, this stretch of the Appalachians has the highest biodiversity of anyplace in the country that doesn't have a coastline.

We may be 4,000 feet above and 6 hours away from the salty edge of the continent, but perhaps we're not so far removed from the coastal environment after all. If the sandpipers appreciate West Virginia just fine without an ocean, maybe we can too. -JPD

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