Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail
- Site Contact: Ed Kinser (540) 330-7023
- Site Access: Daily; admission free
Site MRV11A: Poor Mountain Ridgeline Drive
Elevation: 3731-3370 ft. High above the Roanoke Valley, this 3.2 mile ridgeline drive along the northwestern terminus of the Blue Ridge Plateau traverses several distinct habitat types and is a favorite destination for local birders and nature enthusiasts. The trail begins at the site of a broadcasting tower, where many come to count migrating hawks each September. Over 2700 raptors were counted in a 2-day period in 2009. Cedar waxwings, juncos, towhees, blue-headed and red-eyed vireos and indigo buntings frequent the area, which in clear weather also affords spectacular views of the Peaks of Otter to the Northeast and the parallel ridges of the Allegheny Mountains to the Northwest. As one begins the drive, additional towers will be seen on the right and the grassy areas surrounding them afford good habitat for phoebes, chipping and field sparrows, bluebirds and robins. Watch for rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers and summering warblers in the woods on the left. Milkweeds grow in abundance along the roadsides in the first 0.6 mile, making an August trip, when they are in full flower, a must for butterfly aficionados. Between 0.6-0.9 miles, the woodland habitat below road level is a good place to look for migrating warblers. Summer species include the black and white warbler, ovenbird, wood thrush, downy, hairy and pileated woodpeckers and grouse. Brushy thickets on the right are home to chestnut-sided and Canada warblers. Winter residents include kinglets, yellow-rumped warblers, hermit thrushes, juncos, winter wrens, brown creepers and red-breasted nuthatches. Between 0.9-2.3 miles, the road descends into a different plant community with a thick understory of mountain laurel and rhododendron. Table mountain and white pines, sassafras, witch hazel, striped maple and even an occasional surviving American chestnut can be seen here. In addition to many of the previously listed birds, look for black-throated blue, hooded, and Kentucky warblers, redstart, and turkey in this diverse habitat. Mammals that may be seen along this stretch include deer, bear, red and gray squirrels, and eastern chipmunks. With richer soil and a further decrease in elevation, the final section of road, between 2.3 and 3.2 miles, features mixed stands of sugar maple, birch, black gum, tulip poplar, cucumber magnolia, hickory, and hemlock. New to this section are veeries, wood thrushes, cerulean and black-throated green warblers, Acadian flycatchers and white-breasted nuthatches. Be on the lookout for broad-winged hawks. The road ends at a gate, but there is enough room for a vehicle to carefully turn around.
From Bent Mountain Public Library (formerly Bent Mountain Elementary School), turn right onto Tinsley Lane/Rt. 711) and go 1.1 miles to Poor Mountain Road/Rt. 612. Turn left and follow Poor Mountain Rd. for 3.3 miles to Honeysuckle Road/Rt. 619. Turn left onto Honeysuckle Rd. and go 0.7 miles to Media Way, a private driveway on the right. The Ridgeline Drive begins here and continues for 3.2 miles to the end of Honeysuckle Road. To return to the interstate, return to Poor Mountain Rd./Rt. 612, turn right and travel 3.3 miles to Tinsley Lane/Rt. 711. Turn right on Tinsley Lane and travel 2.4 miles to US 221. Turn left and follow this back to Roanoke and SR 419. Turn Right on SR 419 and follow it for approximately 2.0 miles to I-581/U.S. 220 North. Continue to I-81 and travel north to begin the Star City Loop or south to begin the Eastern Continental Divide Loop.