Q: Hello Ace. Every day that I drive to work, I see a sign that piques my curiosity. Coming from the south, driving north on Monticello Ave/20S after the 64W exit, there is a small sign on the right that says “Bird Sanctuary.” Where? How is this possible? Does it just mean the small clump of woods behind the sign or all of Charlottesville?—Feather Flockyear
A:The idea’s not so bird-brained, Feather. After some investigation, Ace figures the sign you spotted on Route 20 most likely refers to the Fernbrook Natural Area located off Route 784, on the North Fork of the Rivanna River. Ace found out that the site is affiliated with the Nature Conservancy. Its website, www.nature.org, lists Fernbrook as an “excellent example of a southern Piedmont forest in varying stages of successionhardwood forests, a successional oak-pine forest, as well as a small tract of southern pines.”
Hmmm, so there are a lot of trees, but what about the birds? Well, the Nature Conservancy lists a variety of birds that have been sighted in the natural area: pileated woodpeckers, ovenbirds, scarlet tanagers, ruby-throated hummingbirds and red-tailed hawks.
The flighty fellas stay around because it’s their natural habitat, currently in the process of being brought back to its prime. According to the website, the land was first acquired during the 1700s at a price of $45 and used for agriculture, cattle and timber production. That is, until 1963, when George and Jacintha Paschall donated the 63 acres with the intention of having it preserved in its natural state.
You can access Fernbrook by going north on Route 20 from Route 250 East for about nine or 10 miles. Turn left on State Route 600 at Stony Point, and then left on State Route 784, where you’ll find a trail entrance on the left.
But before you grab the binoculars, consider this: Daniel White, spokesperson for the Charlottesville branch of The Nature Conservancy, acknowledges that the area is largely unknown because of its small size. And they’d like to keep it that way since such a tiny ecosystem is susceptible to having its natural balance upset. “[Fernbrook] may not be able to withstand a lot of traffic. It’s basically just a nice walk in the woods alongside the river,” he says.
Instead, White recommends some other local nature destinations for birdwatching. “Fortune’s Cove in Nelson’s County is a much larger preserve about half an hour away. [There is also] Ivy Creek that the agency helped protect,” he says.
Finally, another reason to look elsewhere: Fernbrook has reportedly been home to bobcat sightings. “Along the river there’s no telling what might wander through there—foxes and deer, especially,” White says. Ace is happy to know that Charlottesville still hasn’t lost its wild side.