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Warbler Road - Virginia

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 5-01-09


Worm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler, Warbler Rd
- Joe Kegley

Warbler Road in Virginia is actually not a single road, but a series of interconnected forest roads in the Appalachian Mountains (approximately 13 miles in length). The route has been named "Warbler Road" due to the diversity of Warblers found during the spring between the end points of the route. Starting on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Sunset Field overlook (milepost 78.4 at 3474 ft in elevation), the route descends about 2600 ft until you reach the Arcadia area at 853 ft.

The route lies within the boundaries of the Jefferson National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway. There are not many stores or gas stations on the Blue Ridge Parkway so I suggest you fill the tank up and bring food and water.

This is a great route for folks not wanting or able to walk any kind of distance, you can bird from your car. The only walking necessary is getting out of your vehicle for a better view.

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler, Warbler Rd
- Joe Kegley

There are two camping areas close to "Warbler Road", one near each entrance to the route.

The Peaks of Otter campground is located at Milepost 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The campground is approximately 7.5 miles from the upper elevation entrance to Warbler Road (milepost 78.4). The campground offers 144 sites (92 tents, 52 RVs). Amenities include restrooms with flushing toilets and cold running water, and a camp store. There are no showers at this campground. Call the campground ahead of your trip to make sure it is open.

The other is North Creek campground in the Jefferson National Forest. This campground is right off one of the forest roads (Forest Rt. 59) that make up the Warbler Road route. The campground is located at the lower elevations (approximately 1200 ft) and has 15 sites for tent or RV. There are a couple of water spigots but no flushing toilets, instead expect vault toilets.

If camping is not your cup or tea, there are also two formal lodgings close by.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler, Warbler Road
- Joe Kegley

The Peaks of Otter Lodge located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near the campground has 63 rooms and a restaurant. The rooms have no television or phone but are very roomy. All rooms have a porch or balcony overlooking Abbott Lake. This is where I stayed and I found it extremely pleasant.

Wattstull Court is the closest motel to Warbler Road. Actually the motel is located at the lower elevation entrance/exit to Warbler Road off the I-81 exit for Arcadia Rd (State Rd 614).

The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway for Warbler Road lies somewhat between Bedford City VA to the south and Natural Bridge VA to the North. Those are the largest towns nearby. If you can't get lodging at one of the campgrounds, Peaks of Otter Lodge, or Wattstull Court, then Bedford City to the south or Buckanan and Natural Bridge to the north are going to be your best bets.

The main "Warbler Road" route:

  1. Start on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Sunset Field Overlook , milepost 78.4 (near Apple Orchard Mountain and Apple Orchard Falls).

  2. Follow Rt. 812 for 5.8 miles down the mountain (Rt. 812 starts from the parking area of the Sunset Field Overlook. Note the unmarked dirt road immediately to the right once you start, this road somewhat parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway and leads up Apple Orchard Mountain toward the radar station, great birding here, especially for Canada Warblers).

  3. Turn left onto FR 768 and follow for 2.7 miles.

  4. Turn right onto FR 59 and follow for 2.9 miles.

  5. Turn right onto Rt. 614 and follow for 1.6 miles to the James River (Note Solitude Rd on the right when passing through Arcadia. Solitude Rd is a great place for Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles near and around the pastures. Prothonotary Warblers may be found near Solitude Swamp which is up Solitude Rd on the right).

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler, Warbler Road
- Joe Kegley

Nature Perspective

Probably one of the best viewing areas in the Southeast for warblers during the spring, the "Warbler Road" route is exceptionally beautiful as well. Habitat includes mixed hardwood\coniferous forest, hardwood forest, pine stands, meadows\clearings, and streams/rivers. The variation of elevation and habitat provide breeding grounds for 25 species of warblers. In addition there is the potential for sighting migrating warblers just passing through.

Pay special attention to trees with catkins. Many trees are devoid of leaves until mid-May, offering a good view of the birds that inhabit the high canopy.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a tour of Warbler Road by birder friend Ken Brooks. Ken's knowledge of the area was invaluable for a great first time experience.

The following is a list of warblers that either breed or migrate through the Warbler Road area during mid to late spring. Note the birds Ken and I personally encountered, or Ken has encounted in the past, are in bold.

Breed in the Warbler Road area:

Migrate through the Warbler Road area:

  • American Redstart
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Blue-winged Warbler
  • Canada Warbler
  • Cerulean Warbler
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Common Yellowthroat
  • Golden-winged Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Louisiana Waterthrush
  • Magnolia Warbler
  • Mourning Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Ovenbird
  • Pine Warbler (resident)
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler
  • Swainson's Warbler
  • Worm-eating Warbler
  • Yellow-breasted Chat
  • Yellow Warbler

  • Bay-breasted Warbler
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Nashville Warbler
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Palm Warbler
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Wilson's Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler, Warbler Rd
- Joe Kegley

Warbler Road Hot Spots and Tips by Ken Brooks:

  • The unmarked Road off of Sunset Field Overlook. Canada Warblers, Chestnut-sided Warblers, Black-throated Blue Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

  • Rt 812. Cerulean Warblers, Kentucky Warblers, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

  • Rt 768/FR 59. Black-throated Green Warblers and Northern Parulas. Bird for Louisiana Waterthrush near the streams.

  • Arcadia General Store Area (old store not open for business). Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, and Yellow Warblers.

  • Solitude Road. Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Vireos, and Flycatchers. Look for Baltimore Orioles and Orchard Orioles near the pasture-like open areas

  • Solitude Swamp (1.9 miles on Solitude Road from the Arcadia General Store). Prothonotary Warblers and Wood Ducks.

  • Parking Lot at the James River Bridge on 614. Baltimore Orioles, Orchard Orioles, Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warbler, and Prairie Warbler.

  • Everywhere Else. Don't bird in a box. You will find species where they are not expected.

  • Best Time to go - The first three weeks in May are prime. Mid-April to the end of May is the best time to catch the spring migrants. Mid-April will see migration activity at the lower levels, while May is prime for the upper elevations (Rt 812 and upper elevations of Rt 768).

Louisiana Waterthrush Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush (a warbler), Warbler Road
- Joe Kegley

In addition to the vast array of warbler species, the Warbler Road area also contains a large variety of other passerines.

We frequently observed Scarlet Tanagers, Dark-eyed Juncos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue-headed Vireos, and Common Ravens in the upper forested elevations.

In the lower half of the route we observed Indigo Buntings, Eastern Kingbird, Grey Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Baltimore Orioles, and Orchard Orioles.

During my tour with Ken, I heard, but did not see, Wild Turkeys, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and Wood Thrushes.

Other wildlife that might be encountered include white-tailed deer, especially in the open pull-off areas of the Blue Ridge Parkway during dusk and dawn.

The "Peaks of Otter" salamander is endemic to the Peaks of Otter region. Supposedly this salamander has one of the most restricted ranges in the United States, its entire range is in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Apple Orchard Mountain and Sharp Top Mountain. The creature is found under downed logs and among wet leaves.

Wilderness Experience Perspective

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Warbler Rd
- Joe Kegley

Traffic through the Warbler Road route was few and far between on this tour, even for a weekend visit. You will definitely have a fair amount of solitude when you stop your vehicle and bird the forest roads. If you require more alone time, you can pull off one of the spur roads on the route. There are many trails in the Blue Ridge Parkway area, including the Appalachian Trail, should you wish to explore and get away from automobile noise.

Photography Perspective

If you want to shoot warblers you are going to need a very long lens. Warblers are fairly small songbirds (excluding the Yellow-breasted Chat). I used a 500mm with a 1.4 telephoto extender, which gave me a focal length of 700mm. Rarely did 700mm feel like enough focal length. In addition to using the longest lens I had available, all photos on this web page were then cropped and enlarged to the point of losing data.

While birding is easy to enjoy using binoculars, getting a decent photo is fairly difficult. Don't set your expectations high if you try your luck with photography.

Gear/equipment Suggestions

  • Binoculars (8x42 or 10x42) - You will need these to locate the warblers.

  • Insect Repellent - Depending on the season you may need insect repellent. The gnats were terrible when I went and I thought much worse than mosquitoes.

Location and Points of Interest

Ken Brooks Warbler Rd Map (you will need Adobe Reader to view) : Warbler Road Map

Warbler Road Map (Google interactive map):

Note: you will definitely need to zoom in to get any value from the map. You may want to swap from satellite view to map view.

The section of the Blue Ridge Parkway for Warbler Road lies somewhat between Bedford City VA to the south and Natural Bridge VA to the North. Those are the largest towns nearby.

left double click to zoom in
right double click to zoom out
click and drag to move
hover over markers to see descriptions

Additional Information

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