Winter Birding in the Shenandoah Valley

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Male Northern Cardinal in Shenandoah National Park

If you think bird watching is a spring or summer sport, please reconsider. Late winter birding in the Shenandoah Valley is one of our favorite pastimes, as the trees are bare making birds easier to spot. The more vibrantly colored birds are especially beautiful against the muted colors of the season.  They are light during a time when light is short.

The Shenandoah River

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Virginia’s north-flowing river is a hot spot for birders and fishermen alike. Where one is, there shall the other also be. The Daughter of the Stars Loop on the Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail includes Shenandoah River State Park and leads bird watchers to places like the Luray-Hawksbill Greenway, an urban destination where heron, kingfisher and more can be found.

Shenandoah National Park

An obvious go-to for birding in every season is the 197,000-acre Shenandoah National Park where roughly 190 species of birds can be found. Within the park is Skyline Drive, the 105-mile “main drag” leading to the various points of interest and a qualified destination unto itself. The Skyline Drive Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail is a bona fide treasure map for birders with each “X” nearly guaranteeing a gold-level sighting. From the open fields bustling with Eastern Bluebird, Carolina Chickadee, and various woodpeckers of Big Meadows to the Winter wren and Gold-crowned kinglet of Dark Hollow Falls, this park is a rewarding destination.

The internet-famous American Woodcock can be found in Big Meadows, but you’ll have to keep an eye to the ground to find him.

Thomas Jefferson Loop

Continuing south from Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park leads you to the Thomas Jefferson Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail, which includes stops along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rockfish Gap is one of 200 hawk watch sites in the in North America. Plan to take part in the fall migration count between August 15 and November 30 as 14 known raptor species typically migrate through the area.

Rockbridge River and Ridge

The Maury River is the centerpiece of the Rockbridge River and Ridge Virginia Birding and Wildlife Trail. Its pristine mountain water runs clear and cold and it is bordered by excellent birdwatching venues. Beginning in Goshen with the Goshen Wildlife Management Area, the rare Appalachian jewelwing damselfly is certainly something (if not a bird) to aspire to document. Additional points of interest include the Chessie Trail, a seven mile rail trail connecting Lexington and Buena Vista, and Glen Maury Park.

Lost Shoe Loop

White-breasted Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

The Lost Shoe Loop Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail includes New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in New Market, the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Grand Caverns Regional Park in Grottoes, and other destinations. Birds you may see along this loop are Cooper’s Hawk, Swamp Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Canada Goose, Belted Kingfisher, and Great Blue Heron.

Front Royal

The robust Front Royal Virginia Birding & Wildlife Trail is heavy on destinations you may already be familiar with. Surprise! They’re great for birding, too! Get started at Sky Meadows State Park and hope for a Tundra Swan within view. They’re known to visit between January and March along with the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, which sounds like an old western insult but actually looks like a woodpecker.

New to Birding?

If you’re new to birding, check out the Birding Basics tip sheet by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources to get started. This Field Checklist maintained by the Virginia Avian Records Committee will come in handy as well.

Local Birding Clubs:

Header and gallery images courtesy of Shenandoah National Park


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