Shenandoah Valley, VA, 12/3/15

All photos are Marshall Faintich

After three days of rain, Walt Childs and I were eager to get out and do some birding, but we hadn't decided where to go until Walt picked me up at my house. We choose to bird some of the farm roads between Battlefield Road and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport in Augusta County, as we hadn't been on these roads since last winter, and then head up toward Elkton, Virginia.

We made a quick stop on Strickley Road on the way there to look for Horned Larks and any pipits or longspurs that might be with the larks. There was a flock of 30 to 40 Horned Larks at their usual location, but they were quite skittish and took flight when any car passed by.


Horned Larks

We took Battlefield Road and turned northwest onto Cline River Road, and then turned north onto Craig Shop Road, planning on taking that road in a loop back to Battlefield Road. Along the way, we saw a couple of American Kestrels, and some Turkey and Black Vultures. We stopped when we saw a male Northern Harrier flying in the opposite direction. By the time I got out of the car to take some photos, the "Gray Ghost" was heading northwest away from us and behind a ridge line.


Northen Harrier

We decided to turn back and try to find the harrier, and went north on Little Run Road. We stopped at a small bridge over a creek, and saw a fair number of woodland species.


House Finch

And then we looked up and saw a distant, juvenile Bald Eagle.


Bald Eagle

The eagle flew out of sight, and some raptors flew back into our view, but they looked to be all Turkey Vultures. When I started processing the photos, I saw that one of the distant raptors was a Red-shouldered Hawk. We did not re-locate the Northern Harrier.


Red-shouldered Hawk

We continued on Little Run Road, and made our way to the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. There weren't very many birds there, but we did see a male American Kestrel on one powerline, and a female American Kestrel on the next powerline. I had hundreds of Kestrel photos from previous outings, so I just took a few photos of the male kestrel from the car, and then we drove a short distance and I starting taking some photos of the female, when all of a sudden, the male flew over to the female, and, well, the following pictures show what happened.


American Kestrels


American Kestrels


American Kestrels


American Kestrels


American Kestrels


American Kestrels

We drove over to Route 340, and headed north towards Elkton. Our first stop was at the boat ramp close to the traffic light a few miles south of the Merck Plant. We saw a few more species there, including a Fox Sparrow, and a White-breasted Nuthatch that was retrieving a corn kernal that had been stored in the bark of a tree.


Fox Sparrow


White-breasted Nuthatch

The large wetland area south of Elkton was visible from the road, but required looking through trees. There were quite a few Canada Geese there, and a few small ones that looked to me to be Cackling Geese. I saw only a few ducks, and they appeared to be American Black Ducks, but one of them looked unusual to me - perhaps a hybrid Mallard/Black Duck x Northern Pintail?


Canada and Cackling(?) Geese


American Black Duck


Hybrid Duck?

We decided to go back and make the Craig Shop Road loop again from the opposite direction, to see if we could re-locate the Northern Harrier, or see if there any new species. Soon after we got there, we saw our first warblers of the trip - Yellow-rumped, and our second Red-tailed Hawk of the day. As we made the last turn on Craig Shop Road before Cline River Road, we stopped when I spotted another raptor perched above a field. It was a Merlin! Our eighth raptor of the day in that small area of Augusta County.


Merlin


Merlin


Merlin


Merlin

A little farther down the road, we stopped to watch a pair of Red-tailed Hawks.


Red-tailed Hawk

How could this birding day get any better? We had seen almost 40 avian species for the day. After taking a few photos of the Red-tailed Hawk, I continued a short way on foot, turned the corner onto Cline River Road, and photographed a flock of Mallards that had just taken off from a pond below. There was some avian activity in the trees behind me, and I was surprised to see two Palm Warblers! This species is usually gone from the area by October 30th each year, and are rare here during the winter.


Palm Warbler


Palm Warbler


Palm Warbler



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