Fleetwood Hill Battlefield: Hot Spot for Birds and History

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is a magnet for birds and Civil War buffs. During the American Civil War, The Battle of Brandy Station took place on June 9, 1863 when Union Calvary Major General Alfred Pleasanton launched a surprise attack against Major General J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate calvary.

Years ago, local citizens came together to save the battlefield from development. The National Park Service mapped the historic area and recommended preserving four separate areas. Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is one of the four that is preserved from development. American Battlefield Trust is the main organization behind the preservation.

American Battlefield owns this beautiful spot located in Culpeper County between the small towns of Elkwood and Brandy Station. The Trust purchased 61 acres area at Fleetwood Hill in 2013. Here you will find a free parking area that overlooks one of the most scenic views in the county. In one direction, is the grasslands of the battlefield that hosts a variety of grasslands birds. In the other direction, is a beautiful private farm with a pond popular with waterfowl in the winter.

Fleetwood Battlefield is a great year-round destination for birding. Trips to the battlefield in the winter surprise the visitor with unexpected visitors such as Tundra Swans. On December 18, 2017, I stopped by the battlefield to see what was in the Beauregard Farm pond. To my surprise, when I got out of my car, I flushed four Greater White-fronted Geese from the field across from the parking lot. They had been foraging for grain in the field. It was the first time I had spotted geese in the field directly across from the parking area. On the pond, I saw two Cackling Geese among around 50 Canada Geese, 12 Hooded Mergansers, three Tundra Swans, about 30 American Black Ducks and about 60 Mallards. It was a lucky day as some winter days the pond is deserted.

When Spring arrives, my attention shifts from the Beauregard pond to the battlefield. The field fills with thistle and other plants that provide food and cover for grassland birds. Soon Grasshopper Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Meadowlarks, and American Goldfinches make the battlefield home for the breeding season. I just spotted a Dickcissel yesterday who was singing vigorously from a tree-top. Native trees in the field provide home to other species such as Orchard Orioles. The battlefield is quite a “birdy”place.

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is also a great place to look for butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies.

Kudos to The American Battlefield Trust for doing a great job maintaining the battlefield, while providing breeding areas for grassland birds. Moreover, they have installed new interpretative signs in the battlefield providing the visitor with a wealth of information about the Civil War battlefield. The Grasshopper Sparrows like to come out and perch on the interpretative signs!

American Battlefield recently put in a stationary telescope that allows visitors to get a closer look at the area for free. I look forward to being able to use this scope during winter to look at the birds on the farm pond across the road! You can also see the mountains of the Shenandoah National Park from this spot.

Fleetwood Hill Battlefield happens to be located in a priority block for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020). The atlas is a project to map breeding birds throughout Virginia to inform conservation strategies. The priority block is known as Brandy Station SE. For more atlas information, I cover atlasing of this block in a separate blog post: Brandy Station SE (Priority Block) – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2.

American Battlefield is seeking to make Fleetwood Hill Battlefield and other historic areas into Brandy Station and Cedar Mountain State Park. They have been acquiring land in the Brandy Station area for this effort. You can learn more about the American Civil War sites in Culpepper and other battlefields from The American Battlefield Trust; the only national level organization working to save America’s historic battlefields. Consider making a donation to American Battlefield on this site. Battlefields are great for preserving our nations’ history while providing open space, which in turn provides wildlife habitat. A win-win!


Brandy Station SE (Priority Block) – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Brandy Station SE has only a few roads in it. The main road is James Madison Highway (Route 15/29) that crosses the bottom section of the block. The block includes part of the small town of Brandy Station. It also includes the Fleetwood Hill Battlefield along Fleetwood Heights Road. (Note: this block does NOT include Brandy Station Battlefield Park, which is located next to Culpeper Airport). Besides the battlefield, the only other public areas in this block are the brewery on Alanthus Road, the Graffiti House and commercial area of Brandy Station. Large areas of the block are private farms making birding challenging.

Ruffians Run, Flat Run and Jonas Run are waterways in this block. There are a few ponds on private land in this block. The pond at Beauregard Farm can be viewed from the Fleetwood Hill Battlefield parking lot. Fleetwood Hill Battlefield is the best spot for birding in this block. It consists of a grasslands, agricultural fields, and native trees. Flat Run passes through the battlefield.

So far, diurnal surveying of about twelve hours has resulted in 12 confirmations of breeding birds for this priority block. There were 15 confirmations for the first breeding atlas (1985-1989). The current atlas will probably exceed the first atlas for confirmations with additional day surveys and nocturnal surveys.

Found breeding between March 2016 to June 2018: Mourning Dove, Eastern Phoebe, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Grasshopper Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and House Sparrow. Red-winged Blackbirds are surely breeding here, though I have not been able to get a firm confirmation. There was a possible juvenile calling from the deep grass with an adult male hanging around nearby. Hopefully, a confirmation of this species is soon to come. Brown Thrashers and an Orchard Orioles are probably actively breeding as of June 2018. I just need a confirmation. The above lists of confirmed species contains species that were not confirmed during the first atlas.

The first breeding bird atlas confirmed 15 species: Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Chipping Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, and Orchard Oriole and Red-winged Blackbird. So, many of the same species are still breeding here. In remains to be determined if Chipping Sparrow, Killdeer, Eastern Kingbird, Blue Jay and Carolina Chickadee are still breeding in this block. Blue Jays, a pair of Chipping Sparrows and a Killdeer have both been observed in recent days.

Rockwater: A New Park, A New Place to Bird

In May 2018, the town of Culpeper debuted its newest park, Rockwater Park. Located on Route 29 just south of the town center, Rockwater is set on 32 acres. There is a mile of wide paved trails. This makes for a tick-free birding experience if you remain on the trail. It also means that the trails are handicapped accessible for wheelchairs or motorized scooters. So everyone can bird here.

Rockwater Park’s entrance is a steep incline one way into a paved parking lot with one sheltered picnic area and a building with bathrooms. From there you can choose to routes to start off though either way you will loop back around. No getting lost here. The trails are set back from the road and are relatively quiet. There are residential areas surrounding the park though they are mostly obscured from view.

This park has been nominated as an eBird hot spot. You can check what birds I found on my first birding trip there: Rockwater Park, June 14, 2018. I also spotted a groundhog and a doe with her fawn during my visit.

The park is in Culpeper West NE block for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 project. This block currently has about five hours of surveying done. Checkout what birds have been found in this block: Culpeper West NE. If you get to Culpeper, consider visiting Rockwater Park to do some atlasing!

Culpeper East NW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


The first breeding bird atlas does not have any breeding confirmations for this block. In fact, only one bird was observed during the first atlas (1985-1989): Turkey Vulture.

With only four hours completed so far for the current atlas period, confirmations have already been made. There are 13 breeding species so far. This number is expected to go up over the course of the next two years. This data will provide insight into birds breeding in an increasingly urbanized environment.

This block includes Yowell Meadow Park and a small corner park called Wine Street Memorial Park. Route 15/29 runs through this block. This block also has part of the city of Culpeper and residential areas of Culpeper. There are some agricultural areas in this block. Mountain Run passes through this block.

Eastern Meadowlarks have been observed in this block. This species is in decline in the Piedmont. A breeding confirmation has yet to be made. They are locate on residential private property. This presents an opportunity to develop partnerships with landowners to provide and protect habitat for grassland birds such as the meadowlark.

Midland NW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Midland NW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Midland Block 1 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 (1985-1989)

As of June 2018, there are 34 confirmed breeding bird species in Midland NW. This marks an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only 22 were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989.

Four species were identified during the first atlas that have not yet been observed breeding during the second atlas:

American Kestrel, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Acadian Flycatcher and Great-Crested Flycatcher. Of these, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Great-Crested Flycatcher are present and very active in the block. However, they possibly are breeding in the woods located on private property along Germantown Lake.

Of concern, American Kestrel has rarely been observed in the block and has not been observed for the atlas. Moreover, Acadian Flycatchers have not been observed in this block.

Priority database species have been observed in this block during prime breeding season though no breeding confirmations have yet been made: Dickcissel, Swamp Sparrow, and Spotted Sandpiper. Of interest, June 2018 is when the first Dickcissel was observed in this block!

Other priority database species have been observed stopping over in this block during migration season: Hooded Mergansers, Vesper Sparrow, Bobolinks, Common Ravens, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Nashville Warbler.

Midland NW Breeding Block is located in a rural area that is mainly agricultural. There are two eBird Birding hotspots in this block. Busy Route 28 cuts through this block and the noise from vehicles and planes makes it difficult to bird along the roads in this block (there are few places to pull over as most of the land is in private hands).

Midland is a scenic area, however, it is quite noisy often with constant plane and vehicle noise. Other sources of noise are farm equipment and lawn mowers and leaf blowers. Often biosolids are sprayed on the fields and the smell can be quite bad. Agricultural runoff can be detected in waterways.

The first eBird hotspot, C.M. Crockett Park, is located primarily in this block (note: most of the parks woodland trails fall under Catlett SW, which is reported on separately).

The park has a big man-made lake, grasslands, small woods, developed picnic area with lawn and trees, and a paved parking area with trees popular with many birds.

C.M. Crockett Park has a large grasslands area, which is a dam with a flood plain. Grassland birds are most probably negatively impacted by the mowing and bush-hogging done in the middle of the breeding season because of the dam.

This matter was brought up with the park. Park management replied that they are required to cut the field and slopes by Virginia law because of the dam. This will negatively impact a number of species this breeding season. The cutting of the fields and slopes has probably adversely impacted grassland birds for years!

This month, I observed a pair of Blue Grosbeaks nesting on a slope and I have seen fledgling Eastern Meadowlarks in the field. Red-winged Blackbirds probably already have a nest in the field also. There is at least one pair present. There are also Common Yellowthroats and Indigo Buntings probably breeding in the area. At least 10 Grasshopper Sparrows are in the grasses of the slopes. They probably have nests already too. A Dickcissel was observed at the park and could potentially breed in the grasslands.

Grassland birds have very limited undisturbed fields to use for breeding in this block. Eastern Meadowlarks are in notable decline in the Piedmont. Northern Bobwhite are absent from the park. Could policies be amended to promote bird conservation at the park? C.M. Crockett Park could provide a haven for grassland birds if mowing and bush-hogging were to be scheduled before and after breeding season.

The second eBird hotspot is John Marshall’s Birthplace (another birding hotspot). This is a short dirt trail through the trees between a creek next to a large cattle farm and on the other side is an agricultural field. It is noisy as the train runs north and south very close by. Also a cement factory site is near.

This block also contains most of Midland, VA, including the main area of the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport. The woods at the entrance to the airport have hosted Ovenbirds, Eastern Towees and other species. However, a development project that started during the second atlas has resulted in the loss of part of this woodland habitat. This will likely negatively impact Ovenbirds.

Catlett SW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Catlett SW Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020) (known as Catlett Block 5 during the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 1 1985-1989)

During the current Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas (2016-2020), nineteen breeding bird species have already been confirmed for Catlett SW. This already represents an increase from the first breeding bird atlas as only seven were reported to be breeding from 1985-1989.

Results so far:

• The only species that was found during the first atlas that has not been confirmed for the second atlas is: American Kestrel. All other species from the first atlas have been re-confirmed during 2016-2017.

• The current atlas has already identified seven newly observed breeding species: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Eastern Blue Bird, Great-Crested Flycatcher, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Phoebe, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Common Grackle, and Chipping Sparrow.

Remington CE – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Remington CE Breeding Block – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Remington Block 4 during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)
-Fauquier County.

This block is complete. As of June 2018, it has 24 confirmed breeding species!

Remington CE contains the center of Bealeton; a growing town. It is primarily residential and commercial with few remaining agricultural fields. Route 28 and 17 converge here, and the railroad runs through this block.

The first breeding bird atlas only had four species reported to be breeding from 1985-1989.

  •  Only three species so far have been found breeding during both atlas periods: American Robin, Common Grackle and Barn Swallow.
  •  The current atlas has already identified eleven new breeding species: Eastern Bluebird, Chipping Sparrow, Pine Warbler, Red-shouldered Hawk, Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, House Sparrow, European Starling, Brown-headed Cowbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Willow Flycatcher, Carolina Wren, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Song Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal and Mourning Dove.
  •  Only one species was identified to be breeding during the first atlas that was not found breeding during the first year of the second atlas (four years still remain to confirm this species): Yellow-throated Vireo. However, the Yellow-throated Vireo has not been observed in the breeding block yet.
  • During the first breeding atlas, Northern Bobwhite quail were observed. No breeding was confirmed.
  • During the second breeding atlas no Northern Bobwhite have been observed in this block. There has been significant development in the block since the first breeding atlas that probably has negatively impacted habitat for quail.

Remington NE Block – VA Breeding Atlas 2


Remington NE Block contains agricultural, commercial, industrial and residential areas. There are no public parks in this block. All land is in private hands. There are trails in residential areas, wooded and grassland areas abutting a couple of schools. Messick’s Farm market is in this block and they have agricultural fields with woodlands along the perimeter.

Route 15/29, Route 28 and Route 17 all run through this area. It extends from Opal down to the dangerous intersection of Route 17 and Route 28. One large area in Bealeton adjacent to this intersection is being rapidly developed. Former farmland has been developed into a senior apartment building and private homes called the Mintbrook community. Ryan Homes is the company building these new houses right now and additional homes and a planned shopping area are slated to replace an open grassland.

There are rumors that a Sheetz gas station is going in on the corner of 17 and 28. There are already three gas stations at this intersection (they are located in Remington CE block which starts right at the intersection).

Right in the middle of the Mintbrook development is Bowens Run. This area is popular with local and migratory birds. This spot remains one of the most important bird habitats in this block. The Mintbrook development could negatively impact breeding birds as habitat is removed and there is increased human activity in this area.

Surveyors for the Breeding Bird Atlas 1 confirmed only three species for Remington NE Block: American Robin, Northern Cardinal, and Northern Mockingbird. I am happy to report that I have already confirmed these three species for the second atlas and seven other species (I have noted which species were confirmed along Bowen Run (Mintbrook development):

Canada Goose
Barn Swallow
Carolina Wren – Mintbrook
American Robin – Mintbrook
Gray Catbird – Mintbrook
Northern Mockingbird – Mintbrook
European Starling – Mintbrook
Song Sparrow – Mintbrook
Northern Cardinal
Common Grackle – Mintbrook

Notably, a Willow Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Orchard Orioles have been observed in June at Mintbrook.

Unfortunately, the only owl found in the block was a deceased Great-horned Owl seen on Route 28 right at the first waterway in the block. This owl was documented in the iNaturalist dead bird project.

This block needs addition survey time. I have almost put in ten hours of survey time (diurnal and nocturnal surveys). With additional surveys, I am confident that more breeding species will be confirmed.

Catlett SE Block (Priority) – VA Breeding Atlas 2


Catlett SE Breeding Block (PRIORITY) – Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2 (2016-2020)
(known as Catlett, SE Block during the Virginia Breeding Atlas 1 1985-1989)

As of June 2018, 30 breeding bird species are confirmed for Catlett SE. Seven other atlasers have helped me cover this block. Almost 30 hours of diurnal surveys have been done along with .62 hours of nocturnal surveying.

So far the totals for the second atlas falls one confirmation short of the total from the first breeding bird atlas. The first atlas lists possible breeding at 27, probable breeding at 27, and confirmed breeding at 31 (1985-1989). There is quite a difference in the species found breeding during the first and second atlases (see below for details).

Catlett SE block consists almost entirely of private lands most of which are still being used for agricultural purposes. This makes surveying the block difficult as there are no public areas. Route 28 is the major road through this block. Important bird habitat is located on private wetlands in this block. Cedar Run and Turkey Run are waterways in this block. Catlett and Calverton are tiny town centers each with a post office and a few businesses.

Results so far for the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas 2:

The Following species have been confirmed between January 2016 and June 2018: Cedar Waxwing, Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Barn Swallow, Eastern Meadowlark, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Green Heron, Eastern Wood-pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Yellow-throated Vireo, American Crow, Fish Crow, Tree Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, European Starling, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Song Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Brown-headed Cowbird, Common Grackle, House Sparrow, and Red-bellied Woodpecker.

The following 15 species were identified breeding during the first atlas and have not yet been confirmed during the 2016-2020 atlas: American Kestrel, Wild Turkey, Kildeer, Carolina Wren, Purple Martin, Chimney Swift, Northern Flicker, House Wren, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Kingbird, Field Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Prairie Warbler, and Brown Thrasher. Some of these species were observed in this block during April-June 2018. Whereas, Wild Turkeys and House Wrens have not been observed by atlasers from 2016 to June 2018.

For the second atlas only one priority database bird has been confirmed breeding in this block: Hooded Merganser (observed by other birders). Two male singing Dickcissels were first observed in this block in June 2018. They are probable breeders as they have sung for over seven days at same location. American Black Ducks have stopped over during migration though have not been observed breeding in this block.

Townsend CW Block – VA Breeding Bird Atlas 2


Townsend CW Breeding Block in Northampton County, VA, is complete. This block is on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and includes Kiptopeke State Park. It was easy to surpass the data from the first breeding atlas as only two species were confirmed for the first atlas! When I signed up to cover this block, other birders (29 other birders!!) had already contributed many hours to the effort. What was missing was nocturnal hour surveys.

I spent April to May 2018 surveying this block. I completed the night-time surveys, and I added 14 breeding confirmations.

I think that many of the probable breeding species are breeding at Kiptopeke Park. I will update this article to list the confirmed species and the species that I think are breeding there and just need to be spotted!

The first breeding atlas confirmed the following species for Townsend CW: Osprey and Barn Owl. Unfortunately, no Barn Owls have been observed during the Breeding Bird Atlas 2. Great-horned Owls are confirmed in the block and Eastern Screech Owls are likely breeding in Kiptopeke Park where they are regularly observed.