We live in an era in which high quality videos and pictures of the world’s most fascinating sights are at our fingertips for most of our waking hours. Spending long periods of time outdoors peering through binoculars in the hopes of catching a (perhaps distant) sighting of an elusive bird may seem . . . a bit out of touch. But birdwatching is a pastime that grew in popularity throughout the twentieth century, and still commands a large number of devotees. If you’re in the Front Royal area, it may be time to discover (or continue enjoying) the thrills of birdwatching for yourself. The Shenandoah Valley is a great place to birdwatch. With habitat for some of America’s favorite birds, as well as rarer migratory species, the area draws birdwatchers every year. Read on to explore three reasons why birdwatching is still worthwhile in the smartphone era, and find our tips for great birding spots in and around Front Royal.
1. Birdwatching is Good for Your Health
Birdwatching requires slowing down, peace and quiet, and often a hike into less-frequented areas of nature. Research has shown the negative effects of the constant stimulation and instant gratification we get from our digital devices. It’s affecting our mental health, as well as our attention spans, and even brain function. Taking a break from the screen and focusing your attention on observing a bird at the slower pace of real life can provide a much needed change. Especially when combined with exercise such as walking, birdwatching can boost your mental, physical, and emotional health all at once!
2. You get to Search for an Answer
In the world of google and countless information apps, finding thousands of answers to any question can be as quick as typing it in and hitting go. All that information can be overwhelming, and it also takes away the unique satisfaction of figuring out a problem on your own. When you’re out in the field watching birds, identifying a species you haven’t seen before is the perfect opportunity to exercise your (perhaps neglected!) sleuthing skills! Flipping through a field guide, making comparisons, sometimes getting stumped, and finally arriving at an answer is a uniquely satisfying process, one many of us experience all too infrequently.
3. Birdwatching Brings Its own Thrills
Perhaps it’s partly because birdwatchers aren’t guaranteed success every time: birdwatching is full of thrills. Whether it’s spotting a new species for the first time, finally laying eyes on a bird you’ve been patiently awaiting, or sharing the joy of exploring nature’s wonders with friends and family, birdwatching has excitements all its own in store. It’s another great way to get outdoors and explore all the natural world has to offer.
If you’re considering a birding outing around Front Royal, you’ll find there are loads of great places in the area to explore. See our post here to learn more about birdwatching at Shenandoah National Park or the Virginia State Arboretum. Between these two locations there’s scope for almost unlimited birdwatching. For a lesser-known park with lots of birdwatching potential try Shenandoah River State Park. A thrilling local hike that’s name for the bird sightings it includes is the George Washington National Forest’s Buzzard Rock Hike. A fun climb up through the woods emerges onto an exposed rocky outcrop at the top, with thrilling scenes of buzzards wheeling through the skies and stunning views of the surrounding countryside. It’s a local favorite you’ll want to check out.
Whether you’ve never tried birding or you’re an experienced birdwatcher, let this spring be a time to get out there with your binoculars and field guide! Birdsong is one of spring’s most exciting sounds. It’s a great time of year to get out there and get to know the wonderful creatures that fill the air with song.
Welcome to Discover Front Royal’s “Discover-y” blog series! As spring weather begins to lift our spirits and tempt us outdoors, we’re turning the focus to the fantastic natural world around us. This series will feature a monthly post on the outdoor world around the Shenandoah Valley. Today’s topic: spring birds of the Shenandoah Valley!
Read on for some recommendations of birding spots in the Front Royal area. We’ve also included a list of five favorite birds that beginner and experienced birders alike will enjoy observing this spring (and even late winter if you are eager to get out there!).
Birding in the Front Royal Area
The Front Royal area is home to some fantastic spots for birding. An obvious place to start is the famed Shenandoah National Park. With its mountain-ridge location and plenteous forest habitat, the Shenandoah National Park is a magnet for migratory birds. The Dickey Ridge Visitor Center Area, just five miles from the Front Royal entrance station, is a top recommendation for bird-watching. Explore the trails in this part of the park if you’re in search of some spring bird sightings. See here for a further list of the park’s best hikes for birdwatching enthusiasts.
Another highly recommended spot for bird-watching around Front Royal is the Blandy Arboretum. The 700 acres of the arboretum include a variety of habitats, making it a great destination for wildlife enthusiasts of all kinds. Explore on your own, or consider checking out the arboretum’s educational programs. There are several birding offerings, which could be a great fit whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned birder looking for some company and fresh perspective on your birding adventures.
Finally, to view a diverse range of birds including waterfowl, don’t forget to check out some of the riverside locations around Front Royal. Shenandoah River State Park is a commonly recommended destination for bird enthusiasts. And if you head to Eastham Park you can take a birding walk along the Shenandoah River without even having to leave town.
1. Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebirds are one of the few brightly colored birds you may sight around the Front Royal area in the dead of winter. While many birds leave the area in the fall, Eastern Bluebirds can be seen all year long. If you head out birding before spring has really started, Eastern Bluebirds are a great species to look out for. The pop of blue and rusty red will brighten any late-winter’s landscape.
A late winter birdsong to listen for is the “FEE-BEE” mating call of the Black-Capped Chickadee. Male Chickadees can begin to make this call as soon as late January. You’ll start to hear it more and more often as spring approaches. The Shenandoah Valley area is home to two species of Chickadees: Carolina and Black-Capped. The two are so closely related that they can interbreed. When they do, the offspring have the fascinating ability to make the distinctive bird call of both species.
3. Black-and-white Warbler
The sound of birdsong is a well-known hallmark of the return of spring. But did you know that in the Shenandoah Valley, it’s often the Black-and-White Warbler who’s the first to announce the end of winter. This distinctive, black-and-white striped bird is one of the first migratory birds to arrive in Shenandoah National Park each year. Hearing or seeing this bird is a sure sign than spring has finally come. Black-and-white warblers are also known for their “creeping” movement as they explore tree trunks in search of food.
4. Cerulean Warbler
The Cerulean Warbler used to be one of the more common birds of the lower Mississippi valley. In recent years, numbers have declined, and Cerulean Warblers are now a much rarer sight. One of the best places to spy them is Shenandoah National Park. Every spring, birding enthusiasts head to the park from miles around in hopes of laying eyes on one of these cheerful, bright blue songbirds. You’ll need to look hard and upwards! Cerulean Warblers generally prefer the higher part of the forest canopy.
5. Baltimore Oriole
The riverside trail at Eastham Park is a great spot for spring sightings of plentiful Baltimore Orioles. These brilliantly colored song-birds love to make their spring nests in the sycamores by the Shenandoah River. Take a stroll on the walking trail and keep your eyes peeled for the Baltimore Oriole’s attention-grabbing flash of orange.
Exploring nature and birding is a great spring pursuit. Once you get hooked, you can even bring the birds to your own backyard, and watch them right out of your window.
Consider putting up a bird feeder or nesting box this spring for bird-watching fun that keeps on going even after you get home. You’ll be helping out the Shenandoah Valley’s feathered friends too!
Discover Front Royal