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5-7 June 1998

by Ron White

Virginia's Shenandoah River, South Fork, Page County & northward

Environment: River running between forests, fields, high hills & mountains

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 suet feeder.

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.

Ron White
Takoma Park & Bethesda, MD
New Market,Va