Situated between Shenandoah National Park and the Washington and Jefferson National Forests, Staunton is a great place to view winter wildlife. Here are some local hot spots for when the chilly weather keeps you close to your hotel. If you’re looking for for a trip that takes you farther afield, see Winter Wildlife Hot Spots Part 2: Farther Afield.
Foxes, opossums, deer, raccoons, beavers, and rabbits stay active all year. You might encounter them at many of the locations on these lists. Hibernation patterns in other animals, such as Virginia black bear, can vary each year. Bears generally hibernate late in November or December, but they sometimes emerge during thaws to forage for food.
Montgomery Hall Park
Many birders visiting Montgomery Hall Park record seeing 20 or more of the 94 reported species in a single visit. According to ebird.com, winter birds seen here include red-bellied and downy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, rock pigeons, and golden-crowned kinglets. The 148-acre park boasts several miles of secluded hiking/biking trails winding through the wooded hills. It also has fields, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a rich history as an important African American park established in 1947.
Betsy Bell Park
Betsy Bell Park is a 63-acre pocket of wilderness rising 1,959 feet in the middle of the Queen City. The park has a network of solitary hiking trails and a scenic, east-facing overlook. Some of the land was given to Staunton in 1941 to be both recreational space and a memorial for veterans. Park to explore the trails on foot or carefully drive up the gravel road to the top. Birds spotted in December include woodpeckers, Carolina wrens, and white-breasted nuthatches.
Nature enthusiasts love Bells Lane, a quiet country road winding through picturesque farmland just a mile outside of downtown Staunton. Measuring nearly two miles each way, it offers runners and walkers a popular out-and-back route. Open meadows, woods, and marshy ground provide habitats for many species. E-birders report 199 total species, noting American kestrel, bald eagle, northern harrier, and short-eared owl activity in the winter. Birders record their discoveries on a chalkboard near the Rt. 11 end of the road. Between US 11 and Va. 262.
If feeding the birds is more your style, visit the duck and fish pond at Gypsy Hill Park. You can also feed the ducks at the Frontier Culture Museum. Don’t share bread or other human food, though – it’s detrimental to ducks’ health. Duck feed can be purchased at both locations.