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From the Nongame & Endangered Species Program

Nongame Program Organization:  Over the past year, as Amy Martin assumed the Program Manager position and we hired a new Environmental Services Manager, some changes have been made to personnel within the Nongame Program. Susan Watson and Tim Owen, who have historically resided within the Aquatic Resources Division (WIES), have moved into the Nongame Program. This change was made to provide consistency and retain institutional knowledge within our wildlife information program which oversees data management and data project development. Tim and Susan will still work state and agency-wide, so please continue to coordinate with them as you always have.

Richmond Peregrine Falcons: Did you know that downtown Richmond supports a nesting pair of Peregrine Falcons, a state threatened species? While their native habitat is found in the high cliffs of western Virginia, conservation efforts decades ago resulted in an eastern population of the species, often located on bridges or high-rises in urban settings. These eastern birds have supported the falcon population, provided incredible outreach opportunities, and have allowed us to learn about them up close and personal.  The Richmond Peregrine Falcon pair, located on the west James River Tower, successfully hatched 4 young again this year! DWR staff and partners spent a couple days downtown during Fledgewatch 2024 to monitor the chicks as they fledged. DWR staff not only monitored the fledging falcons, but also spend considerable time answering questions from invested, interested citizens who wanted to learn more not only about the falcons, but about the other work we do at DWR. You can see updates on the falcons and access the FalconCam here: . In addition to this nest success, our nongame bird conservation biologist, Sergio Harding, has located a new eyrie (natural cliff nest site) on the New River and has documented activity in an eyrie that had been inactive for more than a decade.

Shorebirds at Fort Wool and Barges:  Virginia’s largest seabird colony was displaced by the expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel. While this critical infrastructure is vital to the movement of people, goods and services into and out of the Tidewater region, one of the anchoring islands had come to support this colony. In a groundbreaking conservation success story, DWR and our partners have been able to provide alternative nesting habitat at Ft. Wool and nearby barges to the thousands of birds that were displaced by this construction. DWR and our partners routinely monitor this alternative nesting site while working with our partners on the development of a long-term nesting site. This year we have documented the successful hatching of thousands of chicks at Ft. Wool and the barges. These chicks include various species including royal terns, sandwich terns, snowy egrets, laughing gulls, American oystercatchers and others. DWR staff and our partners will band the Ft. Wool chicks in early July.  Learn more about this project here:

Allegheny Woodrat transfers:  Alleghany woodrats are a Tier IVa Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in Virginia’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan. There are a few places in Virginia where Rick Reynolds, DWR Mammalogist, has identified that this imperiled rodent is being a “nuisance,” getting into farmers’ grain storage and such. At those locations, we and our partners are trapping them, giving them medical workups, marking them, and then transferring them to Pennsylvania Game Commission where the animals will be included within captive breeding and population augmentation projects in Pennsylvania and back here in Virginia, where needed.

Blackbanded Sunfish surveys: Blackbanded sunfish are a state endangered species, known from swampy, acidic waters of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.  Up until not too long ago, we knew this animal only from 2 sites. Through extensive landowner outreach by Mike Pinder, Susan Watson, Maddie Cogar and our partners, allowing staff access to additional sampling sites, we know have confirmed this species in as many as 18 places on the landscape. We have recently employed technologies such as eDNA (environmental DNA) to identify waters in which they are located and during our most recent surveys (June 3 – 7, 2024) collected tissue samples that will be used to determine the genetics of each population to inform any future reintroduction efforts.

Big Sandy Crayfish release: Big Sandy Crayfish is a federally threatened species known from the Big Sandy drainage in western Virginia. DWR is engaged in a project, funded by the USFWS (Section 6 funding), to propagate and release these animals to augment known populations. The crayfish are propagated at White Sulphur Springs Hatchery by a team from West Liberty University.  On May 14th, 2024, Brian Watson, DWR’s Freshwater Invertebrate expert (Malacologist), his team, and our partners released Big Sandy Crayfish into the McClure River. Learn more about our efforts to recover this species here:

Chicken Turtle Surveys:  Have you ever heard of a chicken turtle? This state endangered species inhabits freshwater ponds in southeastern Virginia and is currently only known from two locations! JD Kleopfer, DWR Herpetologist, has been monitoring this species for many years. This year, his surveys at one of the known sites was very successful as he located 6 adults, 5 of which were recaptures, and 1 hatchling. This is only the second hatchling JD has found in all these years.  It’s good to know there is recruitment into these populations.

Imperiled Mussel Release Site Monitoring: On June 10th, Tim Lane, Freshwater Mussel Recover Coordinator at the Aquatic Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Marion, Brian Watson and their teams, including two interns, visited a long-term freshwater mussel monitoring site located in the Clinch River. According to Sarah Colletti, one of our Freshwater Mussel Recover Specialists, “Since 2016 over 500 juveniles of 21 species have been affixed with passive transmitter tags and released at this site. Much like you might chip your cat or dog, these “PIT” tags allow biologists to use an antenna and reader to locate the freshwater mussels in the stream bed.  During this survey occasion, representatives of all 21 species were found as well as other wild individuals. This site is the first place Appalachian and Cumberland Monkeyface mussels were reintroduced with 50% and 100% recovered respectively this year.” This represents a great success for this dedicated team and a huge win for mussel conservation in Virginia!

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  • July 1, 2024