Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail
- Site Contact: (276) 676-5673 Claiborne.Woodall@dcr.virginia.gov
- Site Access: Free, Daily
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Site MSL04: Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve
Elevation: 3090 ft. Buffalo Mountain Natural Area Preserve encircles Buffalo Mountain, a knob within the Smith Mountains whose shape resembles the head of a Buffalo. A steep but moderately graded one-mile trail leads explorers to a peak of 3971 feet. This area is unique in that it offers sub-alpine vegetation, magnesium-rich soils, and windswept balds along the summit. Surrounding woodlands along the trail are by and large maturing second-growth forests. Listen for scarlet tanager, black-throated blue and black-throated green warblers, veery and rose-breasted grosbeak. The summit and exposed areas along the ridge are unique to mountaintops within this area. The combination of magnesium-enriched soils and sub-alpine winds and temperature provide microclimates ideal for specialized and unusual vegetation. Timber rattlesnake inhabit crevices within metamorphic boulders along the mountain sandwort, plains frostweed, and mountain rattlesnake root. This is also the only site in the world where the Kosztarab's giant mealybug can be found. Virginia's largest population of the globally-rare large-leaved grass-of-parnassus is found at the base of the southern flanks of the mountain. The summit clearings are vegetated with blazing star, sensitive grasses such as bog bluegrass, and midwestern prairie grasses, including big bluestem. These areas can be good spots to watch hawk migration in the fall. Red cedars border the fringes of this bald, and are frequently visited by nesting eastern towhee, dark-eyed junco, and brown thrasher. Woodland butterflies, such as common wood-nymph and northern pearly-eye flit about forest edges. Red fox, black bear, white-tailed deer, and ruffed grouse are local denizens of the mountainsides.
From Yarrow Hill, return to the intersection of US 221 and Rt. 750 and turn right (west). Drive 2.4 miles to Rt. 727 and turn left (south). Follow Rt. 727 for 4.7 miles to Rt. 799; turn right and then immediately left back onto Rt. 727. Continue for 1.0 mile on Rt. 727 to the end of state maintenance sign at the end of the road. Veer right and uphill along this old logging road a short distance to the parking area on the right.