Andrew Rapp spent much of his childhood teasing his dad about birding. “My dad was a birdwatcher, and my family made so much fun of him,” the Charlottesville, Va., local laughs. “We thought it was the nerdiest thing to do.”
Then one day, about 12 years ago, Rapp and his dad were on a trip to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. In what can only be described as a total dad move, Rapp’s father bet him a hot fudge sundae that he couldn’t spot 30 different birds.[Text Wrapping Break][Text Wrapping Break]“I was all for that,” Rapp says. Then, near the end of the day, right as they were approaching 30, Rapp spotted a bird he’d seen in a hotel brochure’s glossy photos—one he was sure couldn’t possibly exist.
“It was an American oystercatcher, which is a beautiful bird with this long orange beak,” Rapp says. It’s big, and it has bright yellow eyes and a gorgeous swirl of white plumage that arcs over its shoulders. OK, Rapp remembers thinking. Maybe birding can be cool.
Fast-forward to today, and Rapp is somewhat of a birding prodigy. He’s worked at a number of state ornithological societies over the years, and even founded his own group, the Blue Ridge Young Birders’ Club, in 2012. He’s also worked as a field researcher, studying birds at various sites throughout Virginia, and graduated from William & Mary with degrees in environmental science and wildlife biology. All that to say: As far as birding goes, he’s got the state pretty much wired.
Here are Rapp’s tips for taking advantage of all the amazing birdwatching that Virginia has to offer.
Why Virginia Is a Birding Goldmine
“Virginia is an exceptional place for beginners, advanced birders, and really any level of birdwatcher because there’s so much diversity in the habitats here,” Rapp explains. From the eastern beaches, to wetlands in the coastal plain, to rocky outcroppings and deep forest in the Appalachians, there’s a different ecosystem practically everywhere you look.
Get bored of one ecosystem? No problem. “You can travel for an hour or two and immediately have a totally different habitat with different birds,” Rapp says.
Virginia is also positioned along migration routes, giving birders a front-row seat to a revolving door of international avian visitors. During his 12 years as a birder, Rapp has seen a number of rare birds in the state, from a white-cheeked pintail carried to Virginia from the Bahamas on a hurricane wind, to an albatross off the Virginian coast.