Wednesday in the park

December 5, 2008

This past Wednesday was very eventful in Shenandoah National Park. Three main stops and a lot of wildlife action.

Early in the morning, I set off for a new trail (for me), Bearfence Mountain. This is a nice 1.2 mile loop in the central section of the park. It features a few outstanding viewpoints from the rock scramble section and another from the mountain itself. Although it’s a short hike, there’s a moderate amount of effort involved in the scramble part.

On my way up, I found out I was in chipmunk country – they were everywhere. I managed to make a few images. At the 360 viewpoint from the rock scramble, I sat and soaked in the view for a while. And, of course, took the obligatory top-of-the-world picture.


At the top of the mountain, I paused for a few minutes and soon realized I wasn’t alone. Sitting a few feet to my right was a decent sized doe.

As the trail looped back along the Appalachian Trail, I took a few minutes to follow squirrels, woodpeckers and chipmunks.

After reaching my car after a leisurely 2 hours, I headed north. Around mile 53 I also had a hawk fly parallel to my truck for a while but I wasn’t able to make any photo opportunities. I also photographed a nice 8-point buck in this area.


I stopped at my usual stomping ground, Big Meadows. Wow, so many deer. There were 33 that I counted in a tight group wandering the area.

After photographing them for a little while, I made some observations. There was a small group of males, but only one had a decent set of antlers. One of the smaller bucks with twig-type antlers apparently got too close and the bigger buck butted heads. After the less dominant male backed off, the bigger buck started walking around. It was as if he was parting the red sea, everywhere he went the females scattered. He’s clearly the dominant one of the bunch and I suppose none of the females were quite in the mood to court.

Next I hit Limberlost Trail, where I’ve been a few times recently. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with sunny skies and pleasant temperatures. I stopped a few times along the way just to listen for wildlife and managed to track down a downy woodpecker that let me follow him around a bit. There were also a lot of chipmunks in the area and I was surprised to see more than a few of them stuffing leaves in their mouths. Not sure if it was for a bedding material or what…

Unfortunately, there were no large animals to be seen in this area, unless you count a fat squirrel.

Then around 3:45 I started heading south. Gates through Skyline Drive now shut at 5 through all sections, so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get stuck inside.

Shortly before the Old Rag Overlook, I had my scare of the day. Cruising slowly, I caught sight of something to my right, but it took a second for it to register. When it did, I was face to face with a red-tailed hawk immediately to the side of my passenger door. That’s not a great place for a subject to be. I attempted to back up and secure my vehicle, then grabbed my camera and took aim. But he was already out of the ditch and up to a tree. I took aim, pressed the shutter and SWOOSH, it moved to another tree. Aim again, snap snap snap. Gotcha.

Not the best image in the world, but I’ve been hunting for predatory birds for a while. Then, to my amazement, he moved to another tree only about five feet from the last. I aimed but couldn’t get much of a clearing. Still uncomfortable with me, he flew across the street and to a higher perch. That’s okay too, I thought, and made a few more frames. Taking a few steps, I spooked him again, and he went deeper into the woods. At this point, I could see him, but he was basically useless from a photo standpoint.

Itty bitty red-tailed hawk

Itty bitty red-tailed hawk

Then I tried to figure out why he had been interested in the area in the first place. That didn’t take long – roadkill. A raccoon to be specific.

Slowly, I got back in my car, cut the engine and sat. If the bird is hungry enough, maybe it will come back. I waited 10 minutes with no luck, so I continued the cruise south. Then, after passing Big Meadows, I caved in and doubled back to check on the bird again. Nothing. After reaching the next overlook, I turned south again and hit the bird site for a third time. Nothing. Oh well, I still made a few images, I thought.

By this point I had cut my chances of getting out of the park on time dangerously close, but somehow I still made it. And rangers were there to see that I did, apparently. One was waiting near the central section gate, and another near the south section.

All in all, I had a great outing.

I’ve also been doing a lot of the preparatory book work lately, but more on that later.

3 Responses to “Wednesday in the park”

  1. Jim T Says:

    Sounds like a great day. Hmmm. I think I was sitting in some very boring meetings all day while this was going on. I’ll have to try Bearfence Mountain soon.

  2. Brent Finnegan Says:


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