Shenandoah Valley, VA 11/28/14

All photos are Marshall Faintich

There was a report yesterday of a Snow Bunting up in Rockingham County. Although I have seen this species before, I haven't been able to get a photograph of one, so I headed up to the report location this morning. Snow Buntings are rare here, and often are seen mixed in with flocks of Horned Larks, as are the Lapland Longspurs that are sometimes seen here. Reports of large flocks of Horned Larks and a few Lapland Longspurs were also made, so I hoped that finding a Snow Bunting today would be successful.

The entire area had been forecasted for 3 to 5 inches of snow on Wednesday. The Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains got the snow, but where I live in the Rockfish Valley saw only a few flurries that melted on contact. Snow in the Shenandoah Valley also meant that birds would be foraging along road shoulders and other fields where snow had melted. However, it was still 32 degrees when I arrived there this morning, and I saw very little snow melt, even along the road shoulders. On the way to the Snow Bunting location, I stopped to photograph a female American Kestrel looking for a meal.

American Kestrel

When I arrived at the location where the Snow Bunting had been seen on a fence, I didn't see any birds at all. And then a flock of Rock Pigeons took off, and were flying as if the birds were agitated. I noticed a red and white bird mixed in, and thought perhaps that a hawk was trying to catch one of the pigeons, but it turned out to be an oddly colored Rock Pigeon.

Rock Pigeons

Next stop was Leonard's Pond, but that was frozen and no birds were seen. I decided to drive around the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport - a good place to see some hawks as well as Horned Larks. On the drive in I saw a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk, and then a pair of Horned Larks.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

Horned Larks

Horned Lark

Before leaving the airport area, I also some a few Savannah Sparrows, a Red-tailed Hawk, and lots of Mourning Doves by the farm along the airport runway.

Red-tailed Hawk

Savannah Sparrow

My last stop in the Shenandoah Valley was along Strickley Road near New Hope. This is usually a good place to find Horned Larks, and there were 50+ of them in one of the fields along with a few Killdeers, and the fifth Kestrel I saw this morning.


Horned Larks

Horned Larks

American Kestrel

I did see an unusual looking bird across the road from the Horned Larks. It might have been a female Lapland Longspur, but it didn't look quite right for one. A Song or Savannah Sparrow was also a possibility, but the solid, reddish brown nape looks more like a Lapland Longpsur. Opinions welcomed on this one.

Lapland Longpsur or Sparrow or ??

In the mid-afternoon, I took a short hike on the Rockfish Valley Trail to see if any of the more western birds had crossed over the Blue Ridge to forage where there wasn't any snow. I saw 11 species on the trail, but all common winter birds for there.

Eastern Bluebird

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Dark-eyed Junco

Hermit Thrush

So no Snow Bunting today, but there's the rest of the winter to find one.

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