The Say's Phoebe has been at the Restricted Area (yellow, with diagonal red) on the map. In the past, the breeding Henslow's Sparrows have essentially been limited to the eastern half of the game land. Until a few years ago, you could often hear them singing from Horse Pen Swamp Road, along the south border. But, with the game land now open to the public (at least, right now the paved entrance road from Cherry Run Road to the parking areas is open), you won't have to look for the birds from Horse Pen Swamp Road starting in 2018. You should be able to drive in and park at one or both parking lots. Note -- there is a gate at Cherry Run Road, which is open now. I hope it stays open next year so that folks don't have to park outside this gate.
Also, as Marty said, it is indeed a game land, and thus open to hunters. So, if you are planning to do some walking around, away from the abandoned buildings and fences at the Restricted Area, be prepared to wear blaze orange. The WRC staff have done some controlled burning of the habitat, and right now there are a variety of flowers in bloom, mostly composites. The site has a number of rare or uncommon "savanna" plants, and thus next year it might be worth poking around not only for Henslow's Sparrows but to look for and photograph wildflowers, herps, butterflies, etc. I have no idea how well the "trails" as shown on the map will be maintained by WRC. These were formerly dirt roads/tracks that led to a few dozen antennae, which have now been removed. Thus, the entire 2,818-acre site looks like a 4 square-mile expanse of shrubby grassland, early succession fields, and "savanna" -- managed mostly for the Henslow's Sparrows, but should also help Bobwhites and other early succession species.
There are Northern Harriers in the fall and winter -- Kent Fiala and I saw one yesterday -- and that means at night there ought to be a few Short-eared Owls out there. And, two decades ago (and perhaps still is) there was a group of Long-eared Owls that roosted in an adjacent pine forest, and fed (presumably) at these fields at the VOA site. So, it might behoove folks to visit the site at dusk as the weather gets colder to look and listen for owls -- now that access into the interior of the site is available, that wasn't in previous years. No telling what sparrows -- Lincoln's, Grasshopper, LeConte's?, Henslow's???, might winter here, as well.
I took part in a one-day bio-blitz in June a few years ago, and that was when the site was still in US Government ownership and had not had much or any recent burning. With the controlled burns to help create better Henslow's habitat, the diversity of plant and animal life should improve in upcoming years.
You should be aware that a number of outdoor activity groups have been interested in "using" much of the game land for their activities. This includes dog trial areas, firing range, fishing groups (such as adding a pond), horse trails, etc., etc. So, do not expect the entire 2,818 acres to stay undeveloped forever. WRC staff acquired the tract mainly for protection and management of the Henslow's Sparrow, which use mostly or nearly entirely the eastern half. Thus, the western half, which is a bit higher and drier, might be converted to other uses to accommodate other groups and activities. Enjoy the full VOA site for birding, botanizing, butterflying, herping, etc., while you can. And, again, as a reminder, it is a game land, so stay alert and be prepared to wear your blaze orange (or come back another time if there are too many hunters for your comfort and safety).
Harry LeGrand Raleigh
On Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 5:41 PM, Marty Wall <carolinabirds...> wrote: