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A Little History of the Festival

Ospreys are so plentiful they tended to be taken for granted by residents. Then some bird lovers collaborated with Downtown Colonial Beach Inc. to showcase the town’s signature bird by holding an Osprey Festival in their honor the weekend of April 12-14, 2019. 

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The festival’s core focus was on sharing in-depth information on the ospreys and introducing people to the fascinating pastime of bird watching. Bird experts delivered presentations at the Potomac River Fisheries Commission, Audubon Chapter guides led bird walks, and an osprey expert spoke about the ospreys on a trolley tour around town to see the nests. The town’s museum curator recounted the history of Colonial Beach. Visitors also had the chance to view the nests by taking a golf cart ride around the town’s “Point” with community hosts who provided their own personal take on the ospreys and town history. There was also an osprey story-hour for the children and bird-related arts and crafts.

As a harbinger of spring, the ospreys’ March arrival lifts spirits. As the ospreys sailed in to start building their nests, townspeople and visitors alike kicked up their heels last year with entertainment and other ways to enjoy themselves. Restaurants featured Featherweight, Early Bird and Osprey dining specials. Pubs and clubs held “Cock-tail” Hours. Music filled the air at multiple venues and a “Grand Ole O’spry Concert” was inaugurated.

The monthly second Friday Art Walk featured bird-themed art and a juried show of bird art was held at the Artists’ Alliance, the town’s main art gallery. Local retailers, the Colonial Beach Museum and art galleries participated in a “Find the Bird” scavenger hunt with prizes of a night at the art deco style period Riverview Inn and dinner at Denson’s, the Northern Neck’s premier oyster restaurant. 

The festival partnered with nearby state parks to “make it a weekend” of bird watching activities. An eagle tour was held at Caledon State Park, and Westmoreland State Park provided a checklist for a scavenger hunt to identify birds. Visitors were also directed to the three nearby presidential birthplaces – George Washington’s, James Monroe’s and James Madison’s—as well as to the ancestral home of the Lee family, all of which are highly regarded bird watching locations.

This “Virtual Osprey Festival of the Potomac/Chesapeake Watershed” is replacing the live festival cancelled this year due to the Covid-19 virus. We are seeking to simulate the live festival as much as possible, the main difference being that presentations will take place over time rather than all on one day.  Notices will appear on the town’s website about a phased reopening and we ask that all prospective visitors respect those guidelinesso check back for new features. See for the latest updates.

In the meantime, we hope you all enjoy this virtual journey to Colonial Beach to see and learn about its ospreys And we hope you’ll come for the live festival next year to celebrate the beacon of hope that is the osprey.



The first Osprey Festival and this year’s as well is dedicated to Shirl Rush.  Shirl was a leader in the Colonial Beach arts community.  She excelled at wildlife art including paintings of the ospreys and other birds, displaying her work and that of other artists in her gallery, Visions by Shirl.  Everyone who entered her doors was met with the warmest of welcomes.  She was deeply committed to promoting the arts in Colonial Beach and actively participated in many Artists’ Guild projects, including the creation of colorfully painted bikes that now brighten businesses throughout the town.  Even while terminally ill with cancer, she insisted that her gallery be open to exhibit bird-themed art for the first Osprey Festival and to also participate in the “Find the Bird” scavenger hunt.  It was her next to last artistic contribution to the community.  She passed away the day after the festival.  Instead of a funeral, she had arranged that her gallery be open so her paintings could be sold to friends and admirers at a fraction of their selling price.  Especially for those who know of her commitment to the first Osprey Festival, her spirit will forever be associated with the beautiful soaring ospreys that she painted.

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