Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail
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- Site Access: Free
Site PCU10: Culpeper Birding Route
This tour involves a series of gravel back roads along the border of Culpeper and Orange counties that weave through several productive habitats along both sides of the Rapidan River. This provides approximately 20 miles of wildlife watching opportunities with very little traffic. This driving trail has even produced several rare and unusual sightings over the years, like nesting scissor-tailed flycatchers. A prominent feature of the drive is the open brushy fields, which attract a variety of raptors that feed on the rodents and insects that hide within. Search for red-tailed hawks, American kestrels and northern harriers either perched sedately on a fence post or diligently cruising over the fields. At dawn and dusk, short-eared owls have been seen and American woodcock should be listened for as their display calls ring in the distance. As you pass the farm ponds along the route, check the resident Canada geese for winter additions such as snow geese or tundra swans. Look for a different set of waterfowl with hooded and common mergansers joining the resident wood ducks. Common goldeneyes have also been known to drop by. The river has its own set of raptors, too, so be on the lookout for bald eagles and ospreys flying overhead or perched on a riverside snag. Smaller birds to search for include eastern kingbirds in spring and summer, joined irregularly by some of the few scissor-tailed flycatchers seen in Virginia. Killdeer, horned larks, and other birds may nest in the pastures and bare fields. During the winter months, check the hedgerows for white-crowned and white-throated sparrows and eastern towhees. The taller trees along the river should be checked for warblers in migration as well as nesting yellow-throated and warbling vireos. This driving excursion offers a pleasant drive in the country during any time of the year and, with careful inspection, is sure to turn up a few surprises.
From Mt. Run Lake Park, go north on JB Carpenter Jr. Drive for 0.2 miles to Rt. 719. Go right (southeast) on Rt. 719/Mountain Run Lake Road for 2.2 miles to US 29/James Monroe Highway. Turn left (north) for 1.8 miles to the US 29/US 15 Exit. Go right (southwest) on US 15/James Madison Highway for 9.7 miles to Rt. 614. Turn left (east) on Rt. 614; this is the beginning of the trail. Go southeast on Rt. 614 for 3.9 miles to the Town of Rapidan. Turn left and go north on Rt. 615 for 0.7 miles to Rt. 647; then northeast on Rt. 647 along the Rapidan River for 5.3 miles to US 522. Cross the Rapidan River going southeast on US 522 for 1.0 miles. Turn right and follow Rt. 636 southwest for 6.4 miles to Rt. 627. Turn right and go 0.3 miles back to Rt. 615. From this point, turn right and go 1.2 miles back to the Town of Rapidan and the intersection of Rt. 615 with Rt. 614. From here, follow Rt. 614 back to US 15 South. Follow this a short way to the Town of Orange where you can begin the Green Springs Loop.