Located in the Greenbrier neighborhood on the north side of Charlottesville, Greenbrier Park has the fourth-most species of any eBird hotspot in the City of Charlottesville, and some of its best birding. Park entrances are located at the intersection of Greenbrier Drive and Kerry Lane, the end of Jamestown Road, and the Brandywine Drive bridge over Meadow Creek. There is street parking on Brandywine Drive, Greenbrier Drive, Jamestown Road, and Kerry Lane. The hotspot encompasses both Greenbrier Park itself, on the east side of the Brandywine bridge, and the section of the Rivanna Trail that runs through city property from the west side of the Brandywine bridge to Hydraulic Road. Habitats in the park include floodplain forest, upland forest, fields, swamp forest, and marsh.
From the Brandywine Drive bridge, you can walk east or west. The east side is generally better for warblers, while the west is better for sparrows. If you go east from the bridge along the trail that runs parallel to Meadow Creek, you will soon reach an intersection with a paved trail that leads across a wooden bridge over the creek. A left turn takes you up a hill to the Kerry Lane entrance, while a right turn over the bridge leads to another intersection. A left takes you on a trail that parallels the one opposite the creek, while continuing straight leads to the Jamestown Drive entrance. Past this point, trails run parallel on each side of the creek, and form a loop at the railroad track that makes the park’s eastern boundary. The section of trail that connects the two sides runs over a tunnel through which the creek passes under the tracks, and is steep, slippery, and overgrown, with a drop into the water below on one side. Fortunately, there is a rock crossing about three-quarters of the way down the trail that is much safer during low water. This entire east side of Greenbrier is very good during spring migration, with species such as both waterthrushes, prothonotary, worm-eating, black-throated blue, black-throated green, and yellow warblers, northern parula, scarlet tanager, Baltimore oriole, veery, and Lincoln’s sparrow recorded here.
A marsh on the south side of the creek, opposite the rock crossing, is good for migrant green herons and solitary sandpipers. Rusty blackbirds may also be here in the late winter, and the swampy woods on the north side can have wood ducks. Also on the north side of the creek, a backyard that runs down to the trail has feeders which can be good for finches and other songbirds, and a brush pile next to a boardwalk here is good for wrens and sparrows. A dead-end trail just past the marsh on the south side leads you through a moist wooded area with much undergrowth where I have seen American woodcock, white-eyed vireo and barred owl.
On the west side of the bridge, the trail runs along the creek for a short while before crossing it at some rocks where a cable has been put across the stream to hold on to. The woods just after you cross have lots of fallen logs and are great for winter wrens. In fact, Greenbrier is probably the most reliable place for that species that I have been.
A little farther down, you will reach a gas cut that comes down a steep slope on the left. If you climb the hill through the cut, there is a small trail that goes off to the right. This trail is very good for thrushes and ovenbird, the latter only in migration as far as I know. If instead of going left up the gas cut you take a right from the main trail, you will reach a large, weedy field on your left. This is a fantastic area in the fall and winter, with tons of sparrows. This spot is good for swamp and field sparrows, winter wren, red-shouldered hawk, common yellowthroat, and indigo bunting. I have found willow flycatcher, eastern meadowlark, and American tree sparrow in this field as well. If you continue straight on the trail past the gas cut, you will see upland, oak-dominated woods on your left and floodplain forest on the right all the way down to Hydraulic Road, with some small clearings and woodland trickles. This whole area is excellent for woodpeckers, kinglets, and songbirds in general. Don’t forget to look up every now and then on the trail, as hawks are frequently seen here, as well as the occasional common raven and bald eagle.
Greenbrier Park is one of the best hotspots in Charlottesville, but before I started birding it, I believe there were only about 70 species recorded there. Now at this time of writing, that number is up to 119, with plenty more new species to come. Spring migration is probably the best time to bird at Greenbrier, but winter is quite good as well, and fall migration has the possibility of turning up some good species. Summer is not as active, since most of the breeding birds are common species, but it’s not bad nonetheless. I would recommend Greenbrier to beginner birders looking to see a good diversity of species, and really any birder in Charlottesville looking for a new place to bird.
You can view the hotspot on eBird here: https://ebird.org/hotspot/L1543531?yr=all&m=&rank=mrec
Drew Chaney, a member of the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club, is writing posts about birding locations for this blog. In addition to birds, Drew is passionate about Plants and Odonata.