American Kestrels – Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 4-5-13

Last Friday afternoon at the Shawangunk Grasslands, I had my first real experience trying to photograph American Kestrels for any extended amount of time. I was hidden in the blind closest to the pond where there is a new Kestrel box.

Both birds were perched in a tree near the box when I arrived at the blind. The male left shortly after my arrival and was gone for nearly an hour. During that time the female did not leave her perch, she faced into the strong gusts of wind and preened. When the male came back the two birds took turns going to the box. It is unclear to me what they were doing, maybe they were checking it out to see if it would make a suitable nesting site?  I thought maybe they were bringing in nesting materials, but I looked at my photos and I didn’t see either bird carrying any nesting materials. I have since read that American Kestrels do not use any nesting materials.

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The male American Kestrel pokes his head out of the nest.
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And here he is on the box.
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The female enters the box.

Between visits to the box the male made many visits to a patch of grass very close to the blind. Again, I’m not sure what he was doing; I have discovered in the past that photographing birds makes it much more difficult to observe their behavior. This seemed to be happening a lot on this day.

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I was given many good opportunities for flight photos as the male was flying between the tree, the box and the clump of grass right by the blind. I found out quickly that it was much more difficult than tracking Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls, both of which are much bigger birds. I was learning as I went, and did get a few decent flight photos.

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Both birds were perched once again in tree nearest to the blind. The male left again and I lost sight of him. He returned a couple of minutes later and I thought that they were mating as I took photos. What actually had happened was a food exchange, which you can see in the photos below. I read on Hawk Mountain’s website that the male American Kestrel will sometimes bring food the female, in an effort to entice her into a nesting site he has chosen. I could be wrong, but it looks to me like he brought her a bat. I have included a heavily cropped image to show the prey. The female took her meal to a shady branch and I watched her enjoy her meal.

This was all very interesting to witness, and I feel like I have some reading up to do regarding American Kestrels. If anyone has any insights, please comment.

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The female (above) is taking the prey from the male.
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Heavy crop showing what I think might be a bat in the female’s bill.
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The female flew off to find a shady branch where she could eat her meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing Catch Up

Derby Hill Bird Observatory 3-30-13

Tricia and I spent the holiday weekend with her family in Baldwinsville New York, which is just outside of Syracuse. Shortly after we arrived on Saturday we took a family excursion to Derby Hill Bird Observatory, which is a good hawk watch for spring raptor migration. Turkey Vultures and Red-tail Hawks were the most numerous migrants, but we saw a good variety of migrating raptors. Highlights included a young Bald Eagle that flew over soon after our arrival, and a low flying Merlin that we saw while we were exploring the shore of Lake Ontario.

An immature Bald Eagle flies over Derby Hill Hawk Watch in Mexico, NY 3-30-13.
An immature Bald Eagle flies over Derby Hill Hawk Watch in Mexico, NY 3-30-13.

Turkey Vulture – many

Bald Eagle – 1

Red-tailed Hawk – many

Red-shouldered Hawk – 1

Cooper’s Hawk – 1

Northern Harrier – 1

Merlin – 1

Canada Goose – many

Snow Goose – many

 

Later that evening we had a large skein of Canada Geese, a large skein of Snow Geese, and a smaller group of swans fly over the house at the same time. I went running for my camera and managed a shot of the swans:

Although I don't think there is any way to tell, I am thinking that these are Tundra Swans because of the number of birds. Apparently Trumpeter Swans tend to be in smaller groups.
Although I don’t think there is any way to tell, I am thinking that these are Tundra Swans because of the number of birds. Apparently Trumpeter Swans tend to be in smaller groups.

 

6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary

Song Sparrows were plentiful at 6 1/2 Station Road, 4-1-13.
Song Sparrows were plentiful at 6 1/2 Station Road, 4-1-13.

On Monday after work I stopped by 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary where it was pretty dead. I did not stay long as I was under-dressed for the cold; for some reason I thought it was much warmer out. Song Sparrow numbers were up, as were Green-winged Teal  numbers, and the Ring-necked Ducks are still hanging around.

I really enjoy the Killdeer. I've been trying to get a good flight photo of one, but no luck yet. Wallkill River NWR, 4-2-13.
I really enjoy the Killdeer. I’ve been trying to get a good flight photo of one, but no luck yet. Wallkill River NWR, 4-2-13.

Wallkill River NWR

I met Karen Miller out at Wallkill River NWR after work on Tuesday. We walked the Liberty Loop, it was cold but very enjoyable. We put together a respectable species list and took a lot of photos. _MG_4915

Canada Goose  X
Mute Swan  2 (photo right)
Wood Duck  17
American Black Duck  2
Mallard  X
Blue-winged Teal  4
Northern Pintail  8
Green-winged Teal  150
Great Blue Heron  2
Black Vulture  2
Turkey Vulture  3
Northern Harrier  3
Sharp-shinned Hawk  1_MG_5029
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Killdeer  2
Mourning Dove  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Eastern Phoebe  1 (photo right)
American Crow  X
Common Raven  1
Tree Swallow  3
Black-capped Chickadee  1
Tufted Titmouse  1
American Robin  6
Song Sparrow  X
Northern Cardinal  1

A couple of the many Mallards seen out at Wallkill River NWR, 4-2-13.
A couple of the many Mallards seen out at Wallkill River NWR, 4-2-13.
Green-winged Teals were easily the most numerous bird at Wallkill  River NWR 4-2-13.
Green-winged Teals were easily the most numerous bird at Wallkill River NWR 4-2-13.
A male American Kestrel shows off his "string of pearls". Wallkill River NWR 4-2-13.
A male American Kestrel shows off his “string of pearls”. Wallkill River NWR 4-2-13.
The Blue-winged Teal is a BEAUTIFUL bird. I can't wait to get a good photo...Wallkill River NWR 4-2-13.
The Blue-winged Teal is a BEAUTIFUL bird. I can’t wait to get a good photo…Wallkill River NWR 4-2-13.

 

 

 

 

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR

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I waited for a good while for this female American Kestrel to fly…
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…and finally she did. American Kestrel at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 3-21-13.

I went out to the grasslands yesterday after work in response to a post to the Mearns Bird Club by Ken McDermott. A couple of days earlier, he had eight Short-eared Owls at 3:00 in the afternoon. I was thinking that I had seen my last SEOW of the season before I read the post, though I am not sure when they actually head north. I figured I would give it a try and see if I would get lucky. I did not have any luck with the owls, but it was still a good visit with an interesting combination of what I consider winter birds and spring birds. The Common Redpolls and Horned Larks are still lingering, but I also had Red-winged Blackbirds and my first of season Eastern Meadowlark:

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Common Redpoll – Shawangunk Grasslands 3-21-13.

Turkey Vulture  4
Northern Harrier  5
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Killdeer  3
Ring-billed Gull  1
Rock Pigeon  8
American Kestrel  1
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  10
Horned Lark  1
Eastern Bluebird  3
Red-winged Blackbird  2
Eastern Meadowlark  1
Common Grackle  1
Common Redpoll  25

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The Common Redpolls were hanging around the parking lot for my entire visit. I was trying to get photos of them in flight (without any luck) and then they decided to line up for a photo. Common Redpolls at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 3-21-13.
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Of course the Northern Harriers were flying out at the Shawangunk Grasslands, 3-21-13.
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One more Marsh Hawk, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 3-21-13.

Today I did my usual brief visit to 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, where things were a little less birdy than my last visit, but I still had a good list:

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A beautiful Red-tailed Hawk at 6 1/2 Station Rd Sanctuary, 3-22-13.

Canada Goose  30
Mute Swan  2
American Black Duck  2
Green-winged Teal  15
Ring-necked Duck  8
Common Merganser  1
Turkey Vulture  2
Northern Harrier  1
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Ring-billed Gull  23
Rock Pigeon  2
American Kestrel  1
American Crow  6
Song Sparrow  3

6 1/2 Station Road

Bald Eagle at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 3-13-13.
Bald Eagle at 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 3-13-13.

I haven’t been feeling well and actually went to the doctor’s today. On my way back I made a short but, oh so sweet, stop at 6 1/2 Station Road. During my brief visit, I identified 17 species in addition to the adult Bald Eagle pictured above. A nice variety of waterfowl make up exactly half of my list:

This Canada Goose had some lighter markings on its upper neck.
This Canada Goose had some lighter markings on its upper neck. One of 27 Canada Geese at 6 1/2 Station Rd, 3-13-13.

Canada Goose  27
Mute Swan  2
American Wigeon  3
American Black Duck  3
Mallard  2
Ring-necked Duck  11
Bufflehead  1
Hooded Merganser  1
Common Merganser  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  4
Bald Eagle  1
Red-tailed Hawk  4
Ring-billed Gull  3
Blue Jay  1
American Crow  6
European Starling  8
Song Sparrow  2

Here's a long distance shot of a Bufflehead, heavily cropped. 6 1/2 Station Rd, 3-13-13.
Here’s a long distance shot of a Bufflehead, heavily cropped. 6 1/2 Station Rd, 3-13-13.
One more look at the Bald Eagle - 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 3-13-13.
One more look at the Bald Eagle – 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 3-13-13.

 

Two for Two on March 2

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Pink-footed Goose in Orange County NY, relocated by John Haas on 3-2-13.

What do a Pink-footed Goose and a Golden Eagle have in common? I saw both of them in Orange County on March 2, 2013.

Wednesday through Friday evenings after work, I tried for the Pink-footed Goose that has been seen in the black dirt region of Orange County with no luck. The bird had been relocated several times by Curt McDermott, Rob Stone, and John Haas, but each day by the time I got out of work it had moved on. On Saturday morning Tricia and I went out to try for the PFGO. We hit all of the spots where the bird had been seen in the past few days but did not locate it. We ran into John Haas on our second visit to the Camel Farm and he reassured us that the bird would be found. We moved on and while we were at the Wallkill Wildlife NWR, John called – he had relocated the bird! We rushed over to join him and let Karen Miller know so she could meet us there. We all had good looks at this beautiful bird on the ice, preening away. The photos are a bit distant, but I really like to see this bird among the Canada Geese. It’s interesting how easy it is to see how different the PFGO is from the Canadas, but how hard it is to initially pick it out from the crowd. Thank you to Rob Stone, Curt McDermott for keeping me posted of the birds whereabouts, and huge thanks to John Haas (The Bashakill Birder) for relocating the bird on this day, a life bird for both Karen and Tricia.

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One more of the PFGO, black dirt region, Orange County NY 3-2-13
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In our travels looking for the PFGO, Tricia and I had a dozen Common Mergansers at Wallkill River NWR, 3-2-13.

After the PFGO excitement, Tricia headed home and I headed out to the Basha Kill with Karen. We did well there, seeing many birds with the highlight being a pair of immature Bald Eagles flying over the kill, one of which was just a gorgeous bird.

We decided to take a drive and try for the Golden Eagle that has been seen at Storm King State Park. We were not entirely sure where the bird had been seen, so I was doing some research while Karen drove. We eventually found the correct parking area off of Route 9W and the task of finding the GOEA seemed overwhelming. We did not have much information to go by, just that a scope was necessary and that the bird had been seen in a pine tree between the parking area and the river. That is a lot of area to cover, it was really cold and windy, and it had started snowing. We were just about to give up on it when I located the bird in my scope. It was perched in a tree on the north ridge, pretty close to the river. It was a distant view, as expected, but what an incredible bird! This was my first time seeing a Golden Eagle perched and it was awesome.

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Can you find the Golden Eagle? Very distant and through the snow, this photo has been pretty heavily cropped. GOEA at Storm King State Park 3-2-13.

 

 

 

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 02-16-13

This Northern Harrier spent a lot of time near the blind I was in. I was clicking away and for the longest time the bird did not have any idea I was there.
This Northern Harrier spent a lot of time near the blind I was in. This might be my favorite photo of 2013 so far. NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

Today was a memorable day of bird photography for me out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. We received a heavy dusting of snow the night before and the grasslands looked beautiful. The light was not exceptional, but the birds were flying pretty good, mostly Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks. The highlight of the day for me was this Rough-legged Hawk that landed right next to the blind. The RLHAs are usually so aware of human presence and stay pretty far away so I was glad to get this photo:

Rough-legged Hawk at Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
Rough-legged Hawk at Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.

The Northern Harriers seemed to be exceptionally acrobatic on this day:

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NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
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NOHA at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13
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Look at the legs on this Marsh Hawk! NOHA all stretched out at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.
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NOHA going in for prey, Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.
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Cruising by but keeping an eye on me – N. Harrier at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

And I finally got a shot of an adult male that I like pretty well:

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Gray Ghost out at the Shawangunk Grasslands 2-16-13.

There are plenty of Red-tailed Hawks out at the grasslands, but they seem to spend the majority of their time along the perimeter of the reserve. This one perched temporarily in the tree right behind the blind.

A Red-tailed Hawk leaves its perch
A Red-tailed Hawk leaves its perch right behind the blind. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 2-16-13.

The Rough-legged Hawks were very active on this day. These two were mixing it up pretty good. One of them had a clump of grass that I assume contained some prey and the other wanted it pretty badly. They made their way across the grasslands chasing and tangling as they went.

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Two RLHA going at it pretty good at the grasslands 2-16-13
Here's one more of the two RLHAs. All of these photos were underexposed and/02 heavily backlit, so it took some post processing to get them to this point. They're not good photos, but it was interesting behavior to watch and document.
Here’s one more of the two RLHAs. All of these photos were underexposed and/or heavily backlit, so it took some post processing to get them to this point. They’re not good photos, but it was interesting behavior to watch and document.

And in case all of that was not exciting enough, at the end of the day a coyote made its way across the reserve…way out in the distance but still a joy to see. What a day!

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After Nemo

Today was the day after Winter Storm Nemo. Approximately 14 inches of snow fell here in Goshen, so I donned my snow shoes and hit the Heritage Trail that leads to 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary. It was a tough walk, but very enjoyable. I did not find any out of the ordinary birds, but many of the usual suspects made a good showing.

The most interesting aspect of the day for me was noticing how the snow lit the underside of the birds as they flew over. The amount of detail I could see on this Red-tailed Hawk was fascinating to me. And as the crows flew over I was seeing colors and highlights I never really noticed before. For both of these birds, what I was seeing came through in my photos. I also had several Black Vultures that looked SO different to me, it was amazing – unfortunately it did not come through in my photos. I also had several Ring-billed Gulls fly over that were the brightest, cleanest white I’ve ever seen; none were very close so I was unable to get any photos.

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A young Red-tailed Hawk with plenty of details showing. 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.
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One more of the same Red-tail, 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary 2-9-13.
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An American Crow flies over, well lit from the fresh snow fall. 6 1/2 Station Rd Sanctuary, 2-9-13.

I was interested in getting some photos of birds in the snow, but it never really panned out. Here are a couple decent shots from the day.

This is one of my best shots of a Downy Woodpecker. For some reason I just haven't gotten a good one yet...
This is one of my best shots of a Downy Woodpecker. For some reason I just haven’t gotten a good one yet…
Song Sparrow in the snow on the Heritage Trail near 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.
Song Sparrow in the snow on the Heritage Trail near 6 1/2 Station Road Sanctuary, 2-9-13.

Update: I was thinking today that I have not included many species lists in my posts lately. I think it’s probably because my lists have been pretty sparse. On this day I did pretty well, totaling 15 species for the day. I also used the app Birdlog on my iPhone for the first time. It is actually pretty cool and it allows you to easily keep track the species and their numbers while in the field. I enjoyed using it on this day, but I am interested to see if I start to use it all the time. Here’s my list for the day:

Black Vulture  5
Turkey Vulture  7
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Ring-billed Gull  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Downy Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  3
American Crow  38
Black-capped Chickadee  4
Tufted Titmouse  1
European Starling  12
American Tree Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
White-throated Sparrow  3
Dark-eyed Junco  1

 

 

 

Rough-legged Hawk At Skinner Lane

I made a quick stop by Skinner Lane today and got lucky with this beautiful Rough-legged Hawk.

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What a surprise to find this beautiful very dark Rough-legged Hawk today at Skinner Lane.
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Here’s a good look at the under wing pattern. RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13.

 

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From my car I watched this bird hunt over a small field for nearly 45 minutes and it did not seem bothered by my presence, but as you can see from this photo, the hawk definitely knew I was there. When I left the bird was in the same tree looking away from me and scanning the field below.

Here’s a couple more:

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RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13
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RLHA at Skinner Lane 2-3-13.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 1-27-13

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This was such a pretty bird to see – Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk in Warwick NY 1-27-13.

Sunday afternoon I had to resist the urge to go back to the Shawangunk Grasslands and sit in the blind. I decided instead check a few spots in Orange County and see what I could find. My first stop was in Warwick to look for a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk that my friend  and fellow hawk counter Carol Linguanti had recently told me about. I was thrilled just to  find the bird and see it, but what was really exciting was to be able to get some photos of this incredible bird. It was amazing to see this bird in flight; what a beauty. Huge thanks to Carol for helping me out with this one.

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It really was something to see this hawk in flight.

There was one Northern Harrier that was flying low and hunting and so many Red-tailed Hawks that this one had to find a perch on the top of a house:

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on the roof of a McMansion in Warwick, NY.
A Red-tailed Hawk perched on the roof of a McMansion in Warwick, NY.

My next stop was Missionland Road. I drove the length of the road and tallied 7 Red-tailed Hawks, 8 Black Vultures, many crows and one American Kestrel (which, of course, was on a wire).

I also got some photos of this bird in flight, but they were all silhouettes. Male American Kestrel at Missionland Rd.
I also got some photos of this bird in flight, but they were all silhouettes. Male American Kestrel at Missionland Road 1-27-13.
I really enjoyed seeing these Black Vultures at Missionland Rd.
I really enjoyed seeing these Black Vultures at Missionland Rd.

For my final stop I figured I would hit my favorite – Wallkill River NWR. I had an enjoyable walk around the Liberty Loop; I did not see anything out of the ordinary but I did get a good showing of “regulars” and took the opportunity to take some photos:

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One more Junco. They were kind enough to sit for some photos.
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I’m still in search of a good one of these – Downy Woodpecker at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.
These guys are never too shy. Song Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.
These guys are never too shy. Song Sparrow at Wallkill River NWR 1-27-13.

 

 

 

 

 

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR

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I made it out to the grasslands yesterday afternoon into the evening and spent some time in one of the blinds. I am finding it hard to resist going there when the light is good because you all but guaranteed to get some birds up close and plenty of good photo opportunities. I knew the day had some possibilities when I got this Merlin from the parking area.

This Merlin was preening in one of the trees closest to the parking area.
This Merlin was preening in one of the trees closest to the parking area.

And this Northern Harrier flew right over head as I made my way to the blind.

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I wasn’t in the blind for more than ten minutes when the Gray Ghost came pretty close  by. As both of these photos are a little soft, I feel like I still haven’t gotten a good photo of a male Northern Harrier.

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The Northern Harriers were really flying, at one point I counted eight that I could see in one sweep. Some where flying VERY close to the blind.

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Here’s a sequence of a NOHA chasing a Red-tailed Hawk that dared to perch in one of the trees near the blind.

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_MG_9699_MG_9700_MG_9701_MG_9702_MG_9703I was hoping the Short-eared Owls would come out early, but they did not. I spoke to Ralph, who opens and closes the gate there every day (among many other responsibilities), and he said they haven’t come up early in a couple of weeks. I’ve noticed the same thing with the SEOWs in Orange County as well. I’m not sure why this would be.