rappahannock river

United Rappahannock Tribe


The Rappahannock are one of the eleven state-recognized Native American tribes in Virginia. They are made up of descendants of several small Algonquian-speaking tribes who merged in the 17th century.History 17th centuryIn 1607, the Rappahannock were the dominant tribe of the Rappahannock River valley, maintaining thirteen villages along the north and south banks of the river named after them.

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As we were reaching the end of our trip we spotted a great gathering of great blue herons (Ardea herodias) at the falls of the Rappahannock River, in Fredericksburg, Virginia. From Mayfield Bridge my sisters counted about thirty birds on the rocks at the fall line. I counted 25 from the shore, but never had a sight line that took in more than about ten birds at once.

In 1910 a small hydroelectric dam was constructed here, impeding the movement of anadromous fish - like herring, shad, and stripped bass - that historically swam from the ocean and bay to the Rappahannock headwaters to spawn. The dam was demolished in 2006, and these fish are now returning to their historical ranges in the river, though their populations are still in flux. Our guess is that the herons we saw were there to exploit a run of fish at the old Embry Dam site, where the river narrows and the falls slow (but no longer stop) the fishes’ progress.

Please click any photo in the set for full views.

Bonus trivia: the collective term for a group of herons is sedge, sege, or siege