February 20, 2020
A new project, Birds in the Battlefield, is underway in 2020 to improve bird habitat in preserved areas of the Battle of Shepherdstown, located along River and Trough Roads on the Potomac River below Shepherdstown. The Battle of Shepherdstown occurred on September 19 – 20, 1862 immediately following the Battle of Antietam with Union forces crossing the Potomac River in pursuit of a retreating Confederate army hindered by massive numbers of wounded. The battle spanned the Potomac River with intense artillery and rifle fire at Packhorse Ford, the Cement Mill, the C&O Canal and heights in Maryland, extending up Trough Road onto Engle-Mohler Road.
Since 2010, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission (JCHLC) and assisted by the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA) have succeeded in preserving 56 acres astride ½ miles of the Potomac River. The site includes the ruins of the historic Cement Mill and rugged cliffs above the river where brutal fighting occurred during the battle, as well as the ‘Trough’ (stream) juncture with the Potomac, riverside brush and downed trees, and upland forested areas. These areas represent valuable habitat for birds as well as native plants (birds and botany) that can be developed in conjunction with highlighting the historic significance of the site.
The project was initiated by Dr. Mike Nickerson, member of both the SBPA and the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS) and will be managed by the JCHLC, SBPA and PVAS. Members of the SBPA sponsored an initial walk-through of the battlefield by Dr. Nickerson, KC Walters PVAS Land and Conservation Manager, and Wil Hershberger, local bird expert. The evaluators were highly impressed with the habitat potential of the site including large dead trees suitable for several woodpecker species, the cement mill ruins for wrens, cavities in large riverside trees for wood ducks, and cliff ledges and seams for owls and bats. Mr. Hershberger was enthusiastic about the potential of rare plants in the cliffs, largely untouched for 150 years- adding a valuable botany component to the project’s efforts.
An initial property evaluation conducted in early 2020 described prioritized options for wildlife habitat enhancement and recommended the Battlefield property be enrolled in the Audubon Society’s Wildlife Habitat Program. Properties participating in this program provide sufficient food, water, and shelter to sustain wildlife. Once enrolled, the JCHLC and SBPA will be given sign to display. The evaluation will be reviewed by the JCHLC and interested volunteers. Volunteers willing to contribute to these efforts are encouraged to contact the JCHLC, SBPA or the PVAS. Priority action items such as birdhouse construction will be planned and distributed to volunteers before spring so be ready! Landowners in the area who wish to learn more about PVAS’s Habitat Stewardship Programs, including the Wildlife Habitat Program, can contact the PVAS to schedule a property evaluation.