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From Fredericksburg to Tappahannock, Rappahannock seems a healthy, vibrant river
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By Rob Hedelt
FROM CITY DOCK IN
But by using our eyes, ears, backgrounds and equipment for measuring water quality, two experienced Chesapeake Bay Foundation hands and I sought to get a feel for the relative health of the river.
The informal verdict: Day one, from here to Tappahannock, displayed a vibrant, seemingly healthy river where fish had safe havens to swim and eagles and other graceful flyers filled the air.
Day two, from Tappahannock to the mouth of the bay, had a different feel.
There were long stretches where the water lacked enough oxygen for fish to breathe, algae blooms painted waves darker colors and crabbers already have pulled their pots, giving up on crustaceans that just aren't there.
The saddest commentary, from a Virginia Institute of Marine Science sampling team we ran into: Sections of the Potomac River and many of its creeks are worse.
A NATURAL WONDER
At city dock in downtown Fredericksburg Thursday morning, the river was flat and slow flowing, narrow enough to make everything feel intimate.
At the helm of a small Boston Whaler, CBF Senior Naturalist Bill Portlock was assisted by media relations specialist Chuck Epes. The pair kept a running tab of eagles, great blue herons and osprey.
Leaving the dock, it took only seconds for the boat to rouse a great blue heron from the Stafford County bank.
Pulling out the worn leather book he has used on decades of sampling and teaching trips, Portlock noted the birds' species and location.
By the time the river widened to more than a mile at the Downing Bridge in Tappahannock, there was an impressive tally. Our trek, including side trips into Occupacia and Cat Point creeks, covered 70 miles.
The numbers: 137 eagles, including 59 adults and 78 immature birds; 62 great blue herons, dozens of ospreys and several species of hawks.
In one stretch, along the cliffs near Horse Head Point, not far from Westmoreland Berry Farm, there were eight magnificent eagles in the sky, an inspiring sight.