West Virginia

Top Five Must-see Migrations in West Virginia

It's spring, and the animals of the world are in motion again — flying, swimming, running and crawling to their summer homes and breeding grounds.

“Seeing migration in action is thrilling; it can inspire a lifetime love for nature,” says Rodney Bartgis, state director for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia. “It also teaches us that it is not enough to just protect animals in your backyard, but all along their long journey.”

But what’s out there? Where – and when – should people head outside to spot them? We polled Conservancy scientists and compiled the top five “must see” migrations in West Virginia.

You can help support the long journey of these and other migrating species when you support our work. 

The Top Five Must-See Migrations for West Virginia
1. American eel
American eels come to West Virginia streams each year after swimming upstream from either the Gulf of Mexico to the Ohio River systems, or from the Chesapeake Bay to the Potomac and its tributaries. After spending years, sometimes decades, in freshwater streams, eels from throughout North America and Europe return to the Sargasso Sea in the east Atlantic to breed. Tan-yellow in color, the creatures prefer to hunt at night and hide under logs and rocks during the day. Though a feat to see, nighttime boaters along the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge (protected with the help of the Conservancy), may unwittingly have close encounters with these creatures.

2. Cerulean Warbler
Beginning in late March, cerulean warblers leave their wintering grounds in South America and arrive in West Virginia around the last week of April.  Although common in West Virginia—which supports some of the highest densities anywhere in the species’ breeding range—the bird generally is in decline elsewhere. To spot these migrants (look for blue males and light-blue to green-colored females), a great place to head is New River Gorge, where the Conservancy works to protect the type of forest these creatures need.

3. Green Darner Dragonfly
Migrating in a similar fashion as birds, green darner dragonflies begin migrating north in spring, finding their way by using landscape features such as seacoasts and large rivers. Green darners grow up to three inches in length and can have a three-inch wingspan, making them one of the largest dragonflies in existence. For a chance to see them on the move (migration often takes place in large swarms), Conservancy scientists recommend visiting Bear Rocks, a preserve that boasts a flat, windswept expanse atop a ridge—great for dragonfly (and bird!) watching.

4. Wood Frog
Embarking on a much shorter “migration,” than other migrants on this page, the seldom-seen—but often-heard—wood frog congregates by the hundreds or thousands each spring in seasonal woodland ponds, or vernal pools, to breed and lay their eggs. Heralding in spring, wood frogs emerge from hibernation in West Virginia beginning in February and March, usually during the first rainy night of the year, and can be heard (listen for a turkey-like clucking) throughout their breeding season. While West Virginia is full of productive vernal pools where these creatures lurk, the Conservancy suggests visiting its popular Cranesville Swamp—one of the state’s soggiest areas—in hopes of catching a glimpse. 

5. Indiana Bat
The endangered Indiana bat migrates between summer and winter habitats; during fall and winter months they hibernate in caves to avoid extreme temperature fluctuations, while in spring they head north to feed throughout the warm months. Light purple-brown in color, Indiana bats are about three and a half inches long with a wingspan of 10 inches and can be found in certain caves throughout the state—individuals tend to return to the same cave each year—including the Conservancy’s General Davis and Piercy’s Caves. Sadly, these and many other caves are now closed to visitation because bats are dying from white-nosed syndrome, a fungal disease that people may be helping to spread to caves.