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Top Atlas Locations: South-central and Western Piedmont

By Eric Wallace

Double-crested Cormorant on nest

Double-crested Cormorant on nest (CO Bob Schamerhorn)

For adventurous birders, Region 9 has mountains, rivers and a ton of history. In its northwestern-most regions, follow the Maury river from Lexington to downtown Buena Vista’s super-cool Glenn Maury Park by way of the 7-mile Chessie Nature Trail. From Main Street Lynchburg to the outskirts of Appomattox, the James River offers stellar birding-by-water — and passes by the beautiful wetland habitats and award-winning camping opportunities found in Buckingham’s 1,561-acre James River State Park.

In Bedford, there is the Blue Ridge Parkway and its gorgeous triple-crown, the Peaks of Otter, including Sharp Top, Flat Top and Harkening Hill. Traveling south, there is the recreational hotspot, Smith Mountain Lake. Also, the historical tobacco hubs of Martinsville, Danville and South Boston.

For VABBA2 participants and adventurous birders, Region 9 is a must visit — and we need your help to knock out important under-birded Priority Blocks! In case you need convincing, here, regional coordinator Paul Glass shares his list of favorite spots, as well as tips on where to eat, drink, and stay.

Devils Marble Yard, Glasgow

An image of a mountainous rock formation known as Devil's Marbleyard and the mountains visible in the background

Devil’s Marbleyard (CO Justin P –

Twenty miles north of Buena Vista, this roughly 3-mile out-and-back hike will carry you through the 8,907-acre James River Face Wilderness to a spectacular mountainside of gigantic boulders. Passing the ruins of an old Boy Scout camp, and following the Belfast Creek up a ravine, the trail is relatively undemanding. However, toward the top, you can choose to either scramble up the rocks directly or follow the steep route to the summit. While the views of the valley below are great, the real treat is playing in the ‘marble yard.’

For more details about the hike and general area, click HERE.

Flat Top Mountain, Botetourt

Part of the picturesque and extremely popular Peaks of Otter Recreation Area, Flat Top offers exemplary views of the valleys around Lynchburg and Roanoke, and more solitude than Sharp Top. The peak rises to an elevation of 4,004 feet and features views of Sharp Top and Harkening Hill. Scattered outcroppings of rock offer ample area to play and explore.

Speaking of the general area, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources says: “Birders will, perhaps, find the best birding on the Flat Top Mountain Trail, where high-elevation neotropical songbirds nest.”

In the summer, look for Black-throated Blue, Cerulean, Worm-eating, Canada, and Blackburnian warblers — the latter is the only warbler in North America to feature an orange throat! Also, “Blue-headed Vireo, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.”

For more, click HERE.

Paul C. Edmunds, Jr. Memorial Park, South Boston

“Though this park can be busy during nice weather, it’s always a productive birding spot,” says Region 9 coordinator Paul Glass. Open fields, mature hardwoods and several large ponds provide excellent habitat for an assortment of birds. Most recently, regional rarities like Black-bellied Whistling Duck and Greater White-fronted Goose have been spotted.

Worth mentioning are peripheral attractions like a disc-golf course, wildlife nature trail, excellent fishing and the super neat Southern Virginia Botanical Gardens.

For more on birding in the PCEMP, click HERE.

Banister River Wildlife Management Area, South Unit, South Boston

Includes 759 acres situated along Wolf Trap Road in the Banister River and Gibson Creek floodplains. “Most of the habitat is swampy and includes mature hardwood, pine and cypress stands with some successional areas,” says Glass.

Wild Turkey and American Woodcock are regulars, with American Bittern often heard during spring migration. “Mississippi Kites have been breeding in the bottomlands for at least 20 years and can often be seen soaring and feeding overhead in the summer months.”

For comprehensive WMA details and maps, click HERE.

Staunton River State Park, Scottsburg

Situated at the confluence of the Dan and Staunton rivers at the upper end of Kerr Lake, this 2,400-acre park offers extensive mature forests, fields, successional areas and river shorelines.

In the autumn, birders can expect a special treat: “Mudflats form in the Staunton River and are an important staging area for wading birds and shorebirds during the fall migration,” explains Glass. “This is one of the only areas in the southern Piedmont to reliably find species like White ibis, Little-Blue heron, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and American Golden Plover.”

To learn more about the park and/or camping opportunities, click HERE.

Staunton View WMA, Boydton

An image of some trees in front of a fence which borders a lake

Staunton River State Park (VA DCR)

Located directly across the river from the SRSP (see above), Staunton View offers exemplary viewing of the mudflat areas — “particularly in the morning when the sun can be quite difficult from the opposite shore,” says Glass.

Upping the area’s attractiveness is its adjacency to the 530-acre Hogan Creek WMA, “which provides excellent songbird breeding and stopover habitat throughout its riparian forests and open fields… Many fall migrants have been seen here recently, including Golden-winged Warbler and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.”

For comprehensive WMA details and maps, click HERE.

Tobacco Heritage Trail, South Boston

“This 2.6-mile trail follows an abandoned railroad bed along the edge of the Dan River floodplain and includes a large beaver pond,” says Glass. “The side of the trail facing the river includes marshy areas, open fields and bottomland forest, while the opposite side is mostly upland hardwoods with a few small areas of pines.”

The site has been extremely productive during recent migrations, providing glimpses of regional rarities like Philadelphia Vireo and Gray-cheeked Thrush.

TIP: Bringing your kids? There’s an active geocaching group in the area. If you haven’t tried it, a geocache treasure hunt is a cheap, readymade and engaging way to infuse your trip with additional elements of adventure.

To get trail DEETS, learn more about its history or geocaching opportunities, click HERE.

An image of an American bittern in the marsh grass

American Bittern (CO Ashley Peele)

Kerr Dam at Dick Cross WMA, Boydton

Throughout the winter, the broad open water along the dam at the lower end of the 5.275-square-mile Kerr Lake supports many species of waterfowl. “Ducks, loons, grebes and gulls can regularly be found in large numbers,” says Glass. “And in recent years, I’ve seen rarities like Brown Booby, Parasitic Jaeger and Pacific Loon.”

Several locations offer a variety of angles for viewing. There is “Palmer Point, two overlooks along Route 4 just south of the dam, the Visitor’s Center and Tailrace Park.”

Meanwhile, the Dick Cross WMA can be found just below the Kerr Dam. Its 1,400 acres of “upland habitat and shallow swamps host many species of songbirds, waders and ducks.” It has recently hosted both American & Least Bittern, as well as Sedge wren.

For comprehensive WMA details and maps, click HERE.


Dish, Lynchburg —Offers exquisite international small plates (tapas) in the heart of downtown Lynchburg. Housed in a historic building, this long slender eatery has a chic but laid-back vibe and (affordable) cuisine that is sure to please discerning foodies. Don’t miss the cheese bar. And try anything — it’s all delicious. Plates from $9.

Mountain Valley Brewing, Axton —This gem of a farm brewery delivers you to a 450-acre farm some 14 miles from Martinsville and 24 miles from Danville. “We use fresh hops from our on-site hop farm and turn to local farmers for raw ingredients like honey, fruit, grain and barley,” says owner Peggy Donivan. Try the “Choc Full of Cherries,” a sweet but tart porter imbued with cocoa, cherries, chocolate and caramel malts, and a hint of vanilla.


Craddock Terry Hotel, Lynchburg —Less than a block from the James River, this fabulously restored icon hails to the town’s booming “Tobacco City” days. With lux rooms, views of the James, and a very, very cool wood-fired pizza pub on the ground level, this is your Lynchburg outpost. TIP: Directly across the street, you’ll find the entrance to the Percival’s Island Natural Area. Stunningly gorgeous, the rail-to-trail route will carry you over the James River via a restored railroad bridge featuring awesome views of the city to a 1.5-mile-long island. Rooms from $119.

Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center, South Boston —Nestled within 650 wooded acres, this beautifully restored antebellum plantation estate was built in 1728 and is a national historic landmark. Furnished with a mix of modern luxury and antiques, rooms have an upscale B&B feel. Two restaurants and a pub on-site, including fine-dining in the mansion. From $125.

Interested in learning more about the VABBA2 and/or birding in Region 9?

On the weekend of June 15-17, renowned VSO Trip leaders, Meredith Bell and Lee Adams will lead the Virginia Society of Ornithology’s Summer Fieldtrip to South Boston. Learn to detect signs of breeding birds while exploring avian havens in Halifax and Mecklenburg counties.

To learn more or sign up, contact field trip coordinator Meredith Bell at (804) 824-4958, or email her at

~ Eric Wallace, VABBA2 Communications

  • June 5, 2018