Evening in Shenandoah National Park

October 31, 2008

Weekday evenings are usually a good time to scan for wildlife in Shenandoah National Park, simply because not as many people are in the park and many animals are most active.

Thursday I set out for Big Meadows, where I frequently visit, but since I enter from Route 33, in the middle of the park, I have a 15 mile drive north to the meadow. I love the drive up on Skyline Drive because I am able to go nice and slow and frequently find things to photograph without even having to hike.

At 4:15, shortly before the Hensley Hollow overlook, a bear crossed my path and I was able to make a few frames before he lumbered up the hill. I’ll write more in depth another time about my past experiences with bears, but I’ve seen several dozen in a variety of ways since starting this project.

Today’s bear was on the larger side. I don’t think he’ll make the cut for the book, but he’s still an interesting guy to look at. He was rather bulky and that should serve him well when hibernation rolls around.

The foliage in the park is significantly reduced along much of the drive, compared to a few weeks ago. The trees are mostly bare, and those that aren’t seem dull in appearance. Although the leaves are nice for good scenic photography, the barren branches really help to bring out increased visibility in the brush that will hopefully lead to more sightings this coming winter.

Certain portions of the drive have ice formations coming down from the rock walls, but the temperature is still comfortable enough for a walk or short hike.

At the overlooks the views are great right now in that most of the valley is currently brightly colored, following the leaves at higher elevations. That’s due to temperature. The mountains went first and now it’s the valley’s turn.

Making my way north, I saw a small family of deer at 4:45 off to the side of the road and what helped with that was simply listening for the leaves. The downed leaves are kind of a pain on the trails because they’ll crunch beneath your feet, but for that same reason you can hear animals really well. Driving slow with an open window and paying attention can pay off in that way.

At 5:15 at Tanner’s Ridge overlook, I took a few minutes to photograph deer in nice light. Evenings will often give you a nice golden glow and you should have no shortage of deer in the region around Big Meadows to practice with.

It was relatively uneventful today in terms of subjects. I gradually worked my way up to chipmunks milling about and was about to make some images, but that’s about it.

On my way back out of the park after dark, one small cub ran across the road in front of me just north of South River overlook. Catching eyes in my headlights, I couldn’t tell at first was I was seeing. It was only after the tiny black mass dashed over the hill that I put it together.

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