Shenandoah Valley, VA, 1/4/16

All photos are Marshall Faintich

It was supposed to be cold, breezy, and partly sunny today, but when Walt Childs and I left Nellysford at 9:00 a.m. this morning, it was cold, breezy, and snowing. At least the snow wasn't too heavy, and by the time we reached the Shenandoah Valley, we encountered only periods of light snow showers. But it was dark and cloudy most of the day, and when part of the sky did turn blue, there were also very dark gray clouds as well. It seemed like the only times it was sunny was when we were looking at birds with the sun in our eyes!

We started off in the Elkton area, and stopped on Model Road when we saw a very distant hawk. It was probably a Red-tailed Hawk, but its bright white underside and dark tail tip made me think that it might have been a Rough-legged Hawk.


Red-tailed(?) Hawk

Moments after this hawk flew off, a Northern Harrier appeared in front of us.


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier


Northern Harrier

We turned north and then drove east and parallel to Route 33 when we saw another Northern Harrier, or perhaps the same one we had seen earlier.


Northern Harrier

We decided to head south, and then turned west towards the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. I suggested that we back-track a bit and go north on Crosskeys Road to see if any birds might be at Leonard's Pond. Along the way there, we stopped to look at a Red-tailed Hawk.


Red-tailed Hawk


Red-tailed Hawk

We stopped again a bit farther north, and just before the turn to Leonard's Pond, when an unusual bird flew over the car. At first, I thought it might have been an American Kestrel, as we had already seen a few of them on this outing. It had a pale, buffy underside with dark brown streaks, suggesting a female Kestrel, but it was too big, it didn't fly like a Kestrel, and its wing-tips were rounded instead of pointed. Walt and I were baffled at first, but then I suggested an owl, and we both agreed that it was probably a Short-eared Owl. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get any photos of it. We stopped at the airport, and saw 30 to 40 Horned Larks. The resident male and female American Kestrels were there as well.


Horned Larks


American Kestrels

From there, we decided to drive a loop off of Battlefield Road, where we had seen several raptors a few weeks ago. It was still quite windy, and most of the smaller birds were staying hunkered down. As soon as we turned south on Rockfish Road, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk.


Red-shouldered Hawk

Soon after turning onto Battlefield Road, we spotted another Red-tailed Hawk. This one was perched in some coniferous trees.


Red-tailed Hawk

It was easy to spot the white breast of the hawk against the dark trees. Nearby, we saw two more bright white spots - one was the breast of a Northern Mockingbird, and the other was a squirrel.


Squirrel

We turned onto Craig Shop Road, and immediately saw a Bald Eagle.


Bald Eagle


Bald Eagle

Our last stop was on Strickley Road where we saw another 15 Horned Larks. Along the way there, we saw a few more American Kestrels.


American Kestrel


American Kestrel


Horned Larks


Horned Lark



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