Past Issues | WVDNR Home
West Virginia Wildlife Magazine
West Virginia Wildlife Magazine Past Issues WVDNR Home

Rare and Endangered Species Update

By Craig Stihler

Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon

Although the weather of spring 2003 resulted in poor nesting success for USFWS Photothe state’s bald eagles that year, they had a banner year in 2004. There were 16 nesting attempts in 2004, of which 14 were successful.

A total of 25 young eagles were fledged -- the most ever. Of note is the first confirmed nest in Jefferson County located, appropriately, on the campus of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown. A second nest believed to exist in the county has not been confirmed. Although eagles are doing well in the Potomac River drainage, no successful nests have been found in the remainder of the state.

Unfortunately, peregrine falcons are not faring well in the Mountain State. Cliffs, including all sites where peregrines have nested the past 13 years, were monitored in 2004, but no peregrine falcons were observed at any of these sites.

West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel
Biologists captured 44 northern flying squirrels during the past year (18 in fall 2003; 26 in spring 2004) including captures at three new localities for this squirrel.A recent capture by DNR biologists in Randolph County and a second capture by Dr. Ed Michael in Tucker County are low elevation records for this squirrel at just over 2,300 feet.

Flat-spired Three-toothed Land Snail
Photo by Craig StihlerIn 2004, approximately 1,100 acres of habitat for this threatened snail in Cheat Gorge were purchased by the DNR to be managed as part of the Snakehill WMA. Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Land Acquisition grants helped cover the cost of the property. Surveys conducted on this tract in 2004 located seven new sites for the snail.

Endangered Bats

Winter bat surveys were conducted at 27 caves last winter. Most of the caves surveyed were known to harbor small numbers of Indiana bats. A total of 704 Indiana bats were tallied. This represented an increase of 5.6 percent over the number seen in these caves two years earlier.

Ten summer colonies of Virginia big-eared bats are monitored annually by DNR biologists using infrared lights and nightvision equipment to count the bats as they emerge from their cave roosts in the evening. In June 2004, 6,238 big-eared bats were counted at these 10 colonies. This is 4.9 percent higher than the number tallied at these caves in June 2003.

Mist net surveys were conducted to obtain information on the summer distribution of bats, especially the Indiana bat. DNR biologists conducted surveys on Lewis Wetzel WMA, Morris Creek WMA, and Calvin Price and Seneca state forests. Nearly 200 bats of six species were netted, but no Indiana bats were captured. Other biologists in West Virginia did capture lactating female Indiana bats in Boone and Tucker counties. Using radio telemetry equipment, biologists tracked these bats to their roost trees and discovered the first recorded maternity colonies in West Virginia!

Endangered Mussels
Much effort was directed to establishing long-term monitoring sites to look at the condition of mussel beds. Although the techniques varied with the size of the stream, the goal was to delineate transects across the stream and survey each transect for mussels. The location of each mussel was marked with a flag. Biologists measured each mussel, marked them with numbered tags glued onto the shell, and returned them to the stream. One monitoring site was set up on the Elk River at a known location for the endangered clubshell. Of the 902 mussels processed at this site, 58 were clubshells. The remaining mussels represented 15 additional species.

Two monitoring sites on Hackers Creek in Lewis County had been planned at known locations for the clubshell. However, when the first site (located downstream of an I-79 bridge) was visited, 88 percent of the mussels found were dead. Only 18 live clubshells were located compared to 168 found at the same site in 1995. Most of the dead mussels had been dead for some time, probably a year or more in most cases. Our survey then became a salvage operation. The live clubshells were removed, tagged, and moved to a temporary holding area.

Biologists visited the second site and established a monitoring site. The clubshells removed from the first site were translocated to this site.
Mortality at the second site was relatively high, however, and a few species that were abundant in the past were almost absent this summer. It appears that chronic problems exist in the watershed. These need to be addressed to improve stream quality and allow the biological resources to recover. Similar monitoring sites are being established in other streams where significant mussel populations occur.

Allegheny Woodrat
Populations of the Allegheny woodrat seem to be declining in the Northeast. To assess population trends in West Virginia, several long-term monitoring sites have been established. Unfortunately, because of funding and time constraints, monitoring of these sites has been sporadic. Several sites were live-trapped again in 2004. Data suggest that populations at these sites are similar to those when the sites were trapped seven or more years ago. DNR biologists will continue to monitor woodrat populations to examine population trends and possible factors affecting woodrat populations.

Craig Stihler is project leader of the Endangered Species Program.