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Birders take notice of stork's stop in Woodstock

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A wood stork walks along a pond on the Bushong Farm off Fravel Road west of Woodstock on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

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A wood stork flies over a pond on the Bushong Farm on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- Its name would make you think otherwise, but the wood stork actually does not belong here.

Shenandoah County, though, is credited for its kind, welcoming population, so when the southeastern stork met the 'stock for possibly the first time ever recently, the bird found itself comfortably at home.

And "home" is oftentimes around a pond on George and Barbara Hawkins' property on Patmos Road, which has become a tourist attraction of late as people from as far away as New York and New Jersey have descended on it to catch a glimpse of a bird rarely found north of southern North Carolina.

"It must be a big thing," Mrs. Hawkins said. "I guess I take that stuff for granted. They're real excited about the woodpeckers, too. I don't know why."

Birders are a dedicated, Internet-savvy breed of people. An active blog that details different sightings throughout Virginia has several entries about Woodstock's stork. Local resident Ed Trelawny first posted the sighting on Aug. 22, and Fravel and Patmos roads have not been the same since.

"I read the note on Sunday morning early and within a half hour I had called several friends and then we were on our way," Bridgewater resident William Leigh said in an e-mail. "When chasing a rarity it is always good to head out as soon as possible. A bird may hang around for a month or it might be gone in a day.

"Birders love birds that are navigationally challenged and any bird that is this far from its normal range is by definition navigationally challenged. ... [Wood storks] are incredible birds seen anywhere as they are very large and somewhat comic looking."

Birders estimate the local stork to be about 18 months old because its beak is still a light color. Leigh, who has traveled as far as New Jersey to chase a rare bird, said it has a "yellow/pinkish flesh colored bill."

Mrs. Hawkins contacted family friend Fred Frenzel, the district wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, upon seeing the wood stork. He was so excited about it that the family decided to name the bird Fred or Freda, she said, as they don't know its gender.

Frenzel said in his nearly 20 years of working for the state, this is the first wood stork he has seen.

"It's caused quite a stir in the birding community," he said. "It's an opportunity to see something that, ordinarily, you would have to travel to Florida or the Gulf Coast to see outside of captivity."

The stork's stay in Woodstock will be dependent on the weather, which, when it cools, means the bird will likely head back south, Frenzel said.

Mrs. Hawkins said she would not miss the bird, calling its arrival a "nature thing." However, she does admit it has had an impact on her life.

"I always said it'd be big news if I got a grandchild, and this stork showed up," said Hawkins, a grandmother-to-be in February. "I just think it's hilarious."

Frenzel notes that people who want to view the bird must respect private property and not park in landowners' driveways or climb fences. Mrs. Hawkins said she has not had any issues with visitors.



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