The fall edition of the Blue Ridge Discovery Center Explorer features Dr. Hamed and his Biology students work with Unmanned Aircraft Systems to monitor Golden-Winged Warbler habitat. The full text is below.
During the last week in September, Blue Ridge Discovery Center teamed up with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Piedmont Appalachian Trail Hikers, AmeriCorps NCCC, the Quarter Way Inn, and the US Forest Service to maintain and enhance golden-winged warble habitat along the Appalachian Trail in northern Smyth County.
The ecologically valuable tract of old field and shrubby habitat that is currently found throughout the tract is in various stages of succession. If allowed to progress through succession, much of the area will revert back to forest and the diversity of wildlife that is found within the tract will decline.
Habitat loss through natural and unnatural means is thought to be one of the leading causes of the drastic decline in golden-winged warbler populations across their range, so maintaining known breeding habitat is critical for the species.
While the warblers are headed to Central and South America for the winter, this yearly maintenance of strategic brush hogging and non-native invasive plant control can safely be completed to maintain the correct ratio of structure across the tract. Not all of the work was done with machinery, AmeriCorps NCCC crew members and a few folds from Celanese Corporation provided much of the enthusiasm and energy to tackle the invasive plants across patches of the tract.
Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) students had a great experience learning how to utilize small Unmanned Aircraft Systems to collect real world data. A partnership with the Blue Ridge Discovery Center, US Forest Service, and VHCC allowed our students to map critical Golden-winged Warbler habitat. Audubon considers this bird to be the most imperiled species in North America that is not currently designated as “threatened” or “endangered.”
Golden-winged Warblers require a unique blend of habitat including grasses, small shrubs, large shrubs, and mature forest. Managers must constantly work to maintain the ideal states of succession that facilitate successful nesting. Aerial imagery collected will be used to measure and assess habitat.
In addition to learning about sUAS operations and autonomous flights, Jay Martin (Blue Ridge Discovery Center) and former USFS wildlife biologist) gave our students an incredible hands-on presentation focusing on habitat management for Golden-winged Warblers.
Today was a great learning experience for our students and an amazing opportunity to help our natural community. I am grateful to Jay Martin and the GeoTEd team members for their assistance and support to help enrich the education of our students.
GeoTEd-UAS faculty cohort members Kevin Hamed, Ph.D. and Tamara Lasley of Virginia Highlands Community College recently held a sUAS training session during VHCC’s faculty in-service.
The one hour session introduced faculty to the potential of sUAS and strategies to include sUAS in their courses. Interested faculty members were able to fly a Phantom-4 during the second half of the in-service.
Around 25 faculty members representing a diversity of departments including those from History, Chemistry, Music Psychology, Math and Precision Machining attended the event.
One of the first participants of the Mountain Empire Community College Unmanned Aerial Systems Program was recently honored by the Southwestern Virginia Technology Council.
Brad Deel, owner of Brad Deel Drone Photography & Videography, LLC, recently received the SWVTC High Tech Award in Small Business during the council’s annual gala, tech expo and awards ceremony held at Virginia Highlands Community College.
Deel completed his FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate in October of 2017 after completing courses at Mountain Empire Community College.
“As far as the training necessary to receive my FAA remote pilot certificate, MECC was paramount. They provided the training and knowledge needed to not only pass the test, but more importantly, to be a drone pilot who is cognizant of all the rules and guidelines needed to fly safely.”
Brad Deel Drone Photography & Videography, LLC, is a small business specializing in landscape art, commercial development, and tourism.
In September 2017, Deel created a Facebook page to share his photographs and videos. The site has nearly 7,000 followers. You can access (and like) his Facebook page here. The most recent video on the page has been viewed over 93,000 views in the past three days. That video can be found here.
His work has been featured on social media sites by The Weather Channel, Southern Living Magazine, Visit Virginia, The Heart of Appalachia and Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine.
Recently, one of Deel’s photographs earned the top spot in the Mountains and Valleys category of the 2018 Virginia Vistas photo contest, and the winning picture was featured in the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Other news outlets that frequently feature his work include the Coalfield Progress, the Dickenson Star and local news affiliates. Deel’s website can be found here.