2023-06-19 Harrisonburg VA Region

Black-and-White Warbler - Mniotilta varia
Before I pulled into Harrisonburg VA, I scouted the region for promising locations to find birds. There were three places that seemed worth visiting. The second was Riven Rock Park, twelve miles up US-33 heading into the Allegheny Mountains.
American Redstart - Setophaga ruticilla
The third was Switzer Lake, about twenty-one miles up US-33 heading into the Allegheny Mountains, and less than 2 miles from the West Virginia border.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch - Sitta canadensis

I pulled into Harrisonburg VA from Strasburg on Sunday. Before I hit the road, I scouted the region for promising locations to find birds. There were three places that seemed worth visiting. Without settling in anywhere first, I worked my way southeast of town to Shenandoah Lake. Having just arrived and much of my energy drained from the drive, I was not prepared for any deep-dive bird chasing. But then there didn’t seem to be a ton of bird species here either. The main human activity here seemed to be angling for swimming creatures with scales. But it being Sunday, young families out for a picnic rivaled the fishermen for sheer numbers.

After about an hour with my camera, and not much in the way of exceptional birds to show for it, I drove away from the lake to scout out a safe place to settle in. I had learned of two Walmarts in town, and I drove to the nearest one to determine if there were any restrictions for overnight parking. I found none, so I found a level parking space at the far end of the lot from the buildings, and settled in for the evening.

I had two more potential sites to explore west of Harrisonburg, but not enough pictures from the day to make a photo processing session worthwhile. So I kicked back and enjoyed some R&R for the night. Before retiring, I updated my Google navigation system and plotted the route for my Monday adventure.

I’d planned to have breakfast at a cafe in nearby Dayton called the Thomas House. But I learned that they are closed on Mondays. So I searched for an interesting alternative, and I learned of a place called The Little Grill in an older part of Harrisonburg. It was not quite what I expected here in the land of the former confederacy. There was a definite bohemian vibe to the place. I enjoyed it very much.

When I finished with breakfast, I filled up with fuel. With the warm weather here lately, I’ve been relying a lot on my generator and air conditioner for a measure of comfort. I seem to require about ⅛ of a tank of fuel to get me through the night. Not sure where I’d be camped on my next night, I like to top off my fuel more frequently of late, and keep my options maximized.

With my fueling chores sorted out, I launched my way to the first of two locations on my itinerary. I headed west out of the North Shenandoah Valley, and followed US-33 for about 12 miles up the slopes of the Alleghenies from Harrisonburg. The first stop I made was Riven Rock Park next to the Dry River. I found the park was open only during daylight hours. There were more of those 100 foot high broadleaf trees throughout the park, and many picnic sites. A few even had roofs covering multiple tables for parties and larger group gatherings. While I visited this park, I met Black-and-White Warblers, Black-Capped Chickadees, Gray Catbirds, Northern Cardinals, Northern Flickers, Ovenbirds, and Tufted Titmice. Pileated Woodpeckers teased me with their calls and drumming from unseen perches up-slope and up the canyon.

My next, and last stop in the region, was Switzer Lake, about eight miles further west and up-slope on US-33. Then I followed a primitive single lane dirt road for a mile down the canyon until I reached a stream crossing. When I saw a Cedar Waxwing, I knew I had found a spot where I would enjoy myself. I found a good place to park nearby, then grabbed my camera gear and walked back to the stream. After a few hours, I’d met American Redstarts, Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, a Louisiana Waterthrush, more Ovenbirds, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Red-Eyed Vireos, and a Song Sparrow.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoos have a well-earned reputation for shyness. During my visit to Switzer Lake, they lived up to that reputation. They stayed tantalizingly near, yet frustratingly high in the canopy. They teased me with their unmistakable calls and songs, and successfully prevented me from getting even the briefest of glimpses.

When I finished visiting the birds at Switzer Lake, I drove back to the valley below and parked for the night in Dayton. First thing Tuesday, I walked to the Thomas House and broke my fast in the company of what I believe were mostly Mennonites. I learned not all Mennonites dress in traditional garb. While at Riven Rock Park, I spoke with a man (Dennis) who enlightened me about the Mennonite culture. I know very little about these folks and had the mistaken conception that they all shunned technology. But that view is an over-simplification. While some folks in the community maintain a more traditional lifestyle, many others are more ‘flexible’ in their choices.

My time here in Virginia has rewarded me with some interesting adventures, birding and otherwise. But my travels keep me moving south, and soon I’ll be crossing into Kentucky. Who knows what adventures await?

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