Shenandoah Valley 12/1/11

All photos are Marshall Faintich


I am always torn between birding here in the Rockfish Valley, or going elsewhere in nearby counties. Reports of a juvenile Goshawk and a Rough-legged Hawk in Stuart's Draft, VA, and American Pipits elsewhere in the Shenandoah Valley were enough of an enticement to lure me away from my usual birding locations.

I arrived at 9:45 a.m. near the intersection of Hall School and Lipscomb Roads in Stuart's Draft, precisely where I had photographed a Rough-legged Hawk on February 27, 2010, and where one has been reported this year. But after spending more than 1/2 hour in the area, I did not see it nor the Goshawk. I did see a couple of White-crowned Sparrows, an American Kestrel, some Carolina Chickadees, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, a Bluebird, Crows, some Canada geese in a nearby pond, and a huge flock of Starlings.


White-crowned Sparrow


American Kestrel


Starlings

Although somewhat disappointed, I decided to take advantage of the beautiful, crisp, and cold morning, and headed to other locations in the Shenandoah Valley. I next went to Lake Shenandoah near Harrisonburg, VA. As soon as I arrived, I saw several Mallards, a small flock of American Coots, and a male and a female Ruddy Duck. After walking a bit along the lake, I also saw a couple of Pied-billed Grebes.


Mallard


Male Ruddy Duck


Female Ruddy Duck


American Coot


Pied-billed Grebe

After walking one side of the lake and back, it was close to lunch time, so I decided to eat the two granola bars I had in my car. The Mallards must have been reading my mind. As I walked past the boat landing area and toward my car, six Mallards walked up the ramp and followed me to my car, and stood next to my feet begging for a handout. There was a sign to not feed the wildlife, but fortunately for the ducks a few crumbs of granola accidentally fell to the ground when I opened the package, and the ducks inhaled them before I could pick them up.

After saying good-bye to the Mallards at my feet, I went to Leonard's Pond, another good birding site not too far from the lake. Although very small in size, this pond is a great place for seeing water and shore birds. The pond had numerous Canada Geese in and next to it, a fair number of Mallards, and at least three Green-winged Teal. As I was photographing these birds, a huge flock of Killdeer, perhaps 30 to 50 of them, flew over the pond along with a couple of Starlings, and the Killdeer landed at the pond to feed.


Green-winged Teal


Green-winged Teal


Green-winged Teal


Killdeer


Killdeer

Well, I hadn't seen any of my target birds, but was happy with what I had seen today. I decided to stop at Stuart's Draft again on my way home. I saw another, or perhaps the same, male American Kestrel, a Northern Mockingbird, a Northern Cardinal, and another Red-bellied Woodpecker.


American Kestrel

Thinking that I would have to try again on another day, I got into my car and started to drive away when I noticed a Black Vulture and a Turkey Vulture circling above with a hawk - probably a Red-tailed from the glimpse I got of it while driving. I stopped my car and got out with my camera, and as soon as I focused on the hawk I saw that it was a juvenile, light-morph, Rough-legged Hawk! And almost directly above the intersection of Hall School and Lipscomb Roads.


Rough-legged Hawk and Black Vulture


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk


Rough-legged Hawk

Not only exciting, but also very interesting - all of the reports that I know of a Rough-legged Hawk over the past three years at this precise location have been a juvenile, light morph hawk. Is it the same bird? I don't know how many years this species has juvenile plumage. Is there a nest nearby?

The Rough-legged Hawk departed, but the vultures continued to circle. I headed down Lipscomb Road to see what was there, and almost all the way to the railroad tracks, on the left side of the road, I saw a hawk sitting on top of a tall dead tree trunk. My heart skipped a beat. Was it the Rough-legged? I got out of my car and walked slowly down the road towards the hawk, but when I raised the camera to my eye for a close look, I saw that it was a Red-tailed Hawk.


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

As I turned the corner back onto Hall School Road, I saw the male American Kestrel again, and it was soon joined by a female.


American Kestrels


American Kestrels


American Kestrels

I really enjoy birding here in the Rockfish Valley, but I have to admit that it was quite a birding day on the west side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.



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