Compared to all other major tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, the reach of the Rappahannock River between Tappahannock and Port Royal remains the most pristine. The waterway supports extensive forested wetlands and pristine shorelines embedded within a predominantly rural landscape. Uplands have a wide range of topographic features that result in a high diversity of habitats within a relatively small area. Several large farms and historic plantations remain intact. In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has made the area a focus for acquisition. Surrounding uplands are composed of rural farmlands that support some of the largest grassland bird populations in the Coastal Plain.

{link:For a fact sheet on this IBA, including a map, click here|http://www.audubon.org/bird/iba/virginia/Documents/Lower%20Rappahannock%...}

Ornithological Summary

The tidal fresh reach of the Rappahannock River supports the only known breeding population of Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrows in Virginia. The status and geographic extent of this population continues to be a topic of interest to the conservation community. The area supports the densest breeding population of Bald Eagles in Virginia and one of the largest summer and winter concentration areas in eastern North America. The waterway is a significant area for waterfowl during the winter months. Forested wetlands support breeding neotropical migrants such as the Prothonotary Warbler and Yellow-throated Vireo and winter roosts of blackbirds including the Rusty Blackbird. Surrounding agriculturallands support one of the largest grassland bird communities within coastal Virginia.

Conservation Issues

Four primary threats are currently of concern including 1) conversion of open land to residential, 2) expansion of recreational boating access to sensitive portions of the river, 3) contaminants within the fishery used by piscivorous birds, and 4) continued expansion of phragmites into sensitive marsh habitats. The urban centers of Fredericksburg and Tappahannock are expanding and expected to place pressure on the rural lands within this area in the future. Waterfront property is particularly vulnerable to future development. Since many of the species that depend on this area are sensitive to development, further development remains a concern. The reach of the river between Tappahannock and Port Royal supports one of the largest winter and summer concentrations of migrant Bald Eagles in eastern North America. These birds have been shown to be very sensitive to boating activity. Increases in boating activity and the number of boat access points within this stretch will negatively impact migrant eagles. Because of the position of these birds within the food web, they will always be vulnerable to new contaminants entering the system. Dispersal of the invasive plant phragmites from the large source population on Hoskins Creek threatens the integrity of pristine marshes throughout the system.

Ownership

A growing and important portion of the area is owned and managed for conservation purposes. In recent years the area has become an acquisition target for both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy. The relatively new Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge has been very successful in protecting strategically important tracts within the area. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages Lands End for wintering waterfowl. In addition, many private landowners are progressive in managing their lands for conservation benefit.

Habitat

The Rappahannock tributary supports extensive forested wetlands and pristine shorelines embedded within a predominantly rural landscape. Forested wetlands are composed predominantly of red maple while mixed forest uplands exist in a mix of loblolly pine, oaks, red maple, ashes, and hickories. Uplands have a wide range of topographic features that result in a high diversity of habitats within a relatively small area. These natural habitats are embedded in a rural landscape of row crops and idle grasslands. Tidal fresh marshes contain primarily Paltandra and wild rice.

Land Use

A growing and important portion of the IBA is managed to meet conservation objectives. These lands are embedded in a primarily rural landscape dominated by agriculture (corn, soy beans, cotton and pasture) and an increasing component of residential development.

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