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U.S.A. -- VIRGINIA
5-7 June 1998
by Ron White
Virginia's Shenandoah River, South Fork, Page County & northward
Environment: River running between forests, fields, high hills &
This past weekend, June 5-7, the church group of which I am a member
canoed the South Fork of the Shenandoah River from Bixler's Bridge just
north of Luray, VA, to Compton's Rapids about half way between Luray
and Front Royal, VA.
The canoeing was marvelous, and I recommend it to anyone regardless of
experience. The only place at all risky is Compton Rapids, and
there are plenty of knowledgable people and a canoe outfitter there to
help should one tip over.
I always carry binoculars (Swarovski sealed 8x40's) while canoeing, and
this trip was no exception. The birding was diverse, and I was
pleasantly surprised several times and sorely disappointed once.
The South Fork of the Shenadoah River flows northard through Page
County, Virginia, and joins the North Fork at Front Royal, and from
there joins the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry. It is a wide
river along this stretch, frequently over 100 yards wide, with calm
areas where one can drift for long periods of time as well as small
rapids that require attention and a hand on the paddle. The river
wanders east towards Skyline Drive and west towards the Massannutten,
and this stretch is picturesque with 200' cliffs, farms in the bottoms
and draped across the high rolling hills, vacation get-aways hidden in
pines or vacatoin estates planted on 3 to 5 acre lots. Deciduous
trees are the rule, with stands of pines here and there, primarily of
the cedar variety. Frequently there are small islands in the
river containing low brush and cobble beaches. The long calm
areas occassinaly have small motorized fishing boats of the John boat
variety, but are typically too small for power boats & water
skiing. Canoes & kayaks are the order of the day, with
occassoinal rafts and inner tubes thrown in for fun.
All this diversity of field, deciduous forest, pine forest, underbrush
and hedgerow provides for very enjoyable birding in a pleasant
setting. The people in the vacation houses provided a number of
bird feeders which focused bird activity in hot spots.
The most unusual incident was seeing a Pileated Woodpecker fly up to a
14" tree and squeeze between it and a sliding glass door to get to a
The most exciting incident was seeing a Red-headed Woodpecker for the
first time since 1988. However, two male Prairie Warbles and a
female Common Loon made for a close contest.
The usual birds were also well represented: Baltimore Orioles by the
1000's (about every 30 yards on both banks), Canada Geese, Wood Ducks,
Mallards, Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, Belted
Kingfishers, Barn, Tree and Northern-rough winged Swallows, Carolina
and House Wrens, Blue Jays and American Crows (no Fish Crows or Ravens
this time), Eastern Meadowlarks and Bob Whites (no relation), Common
Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern
Flicker, Eastern Wood Pewee, Kingbird, Cedar Waxwings.
There were also two disappointments. I heard a lifer -- an
Eastern Screech Owl. Unfortunately I have not seen one so am
unable to count it. (heavy sigh) I had a minute to observe a
flycatcher of the frustrating variety, enough to see that it had a
light lower bill, but I did not have my flycatcher guide. But
that is all part of the game.
Takoma Park & Bethesda, MD