The Big Month for Rockfish Birders


By Dr. Marshall Faintich

Blue-winged Warbler © Marshall Faintich 2012

You may have heard or seen the movie The Big Year, where birders travel all over the United States competing to see who can log sightings of the most avian species in one calendar year.

Birders on the Rockfish Valley Trail had a “big month” in September, logging 108 avian species in this one month, including 25 warbler species.

Included in this total were some rare to very rare species:  Olive-sided and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Connecticut, Mourning, and Blue-winged Warblers, and an extremely rare Lawrence’s Warbler that is the rarest of the possible hybrids resulting from cross-breeding between Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers. The rare Mourning and very rare Connecticut Warblers were seen on the same morning!

With all of this great avian activity on the trail, photos and reports were posted on the Monticello and Shenandoah Valley birding list-servers and on the Virginia-wide birding list-server. Visitors from all over Virginia came, many of whom had never been to the trail before, and some Virginia birders brought visiting friends from as far away as Seattle, Washington.

More than 185 species of birds have been seen on the Rockfish Valley Trail over the past five years, making it one of the best birding locations in central Virginia. In the October 2010 issue of Birder’s World (now called BirdWatching) magazine, the Rockfish Valley Trail was selected as one of their birding hotspots in the United States, and in September 2011, the Audubon Society of Virginia modified its Central Piedmont Important Bird Area boundary to include the Rockfish Valley Trail.

Merlin © Marshall Faintich 2012

Birders have to compete with other Rockfish Valley Trail activities, but it is mostly birding that draws people from outside the local area to visit. Volunteers have worked hard to maintain the trail for birding, to lead guided bird walks, and to promote birding as a reason for coming here.

The Rockfish Valley Trail has several environmentally sensitive areas that contain unique and rare plants and natural wetlands. The bog areas along the Rockfish River and Reid’s Creek contain several rare seeps and a very rare vernal pool. Because of the designated birding and environmentally sensitive areas, it is essential that everyone observe good trail etiquette while enjoying the trail system.



  1. Thank you Marshall, and all the volunteers who developed and maintain this central Virginia gem of a trail. RVT’s proximity to the mountain, the river, and various habitats attract and suport many interesting migrant and resident species of birds and butterflies. The trail is easily accessible, and is a wonderful place for quiet investigation and study. We are indeed lucky ducks to be so warmly welcomed into this terrific area!

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