Raptor’s Delight

A backlit light morph Rough-legged Hawk at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, 12/7/14.
A backlit light morph Rough-legged Hawk at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, 12/7/14.

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One thing I knew I wanted to do this weekend was to try to get out to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR. When Ken McDermott let me know on Friday evening that he had a Northern Shrike there that day, I knew for sure that’s where I was headed. Saturday was, unfortunately, a wash. Steady rains all day made for poor birding, though it was not for lack of trying. I went to the grasslands early in the day where I met up with John Haas and Ralph Tabor and we had no luck with the shrike. Sunday was a different story; it was a beautiful, sunny, cold, and crisp day which was very refreshing. No luck again with the Northern Shrike, but I did REALLY well with raptors. I spent a few hours in the morning in the new blind that Ralph placed pretty far into the eastern most portion of the refuge. The blind is well placed with several nearby trees for the birds to perch on, and it is in an area where the Rough-legged Hawks seem to spend a lot of time. By the time I headed back to my car in the early afternoon, I had put together what I consider a pretty good list of raptors:

Black Vulture (3)
Turkey Vulture (4)
Bald Eagle (2 adults)
Northern Harrier (4)
Red-tailed Hawk (5)
Rough-legged Hawk (5 – at least!)
American Kestrel (1)
Peregrine Falcon (1)

And, being in a blind, I had some very good opportunities for photos:

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This male American Kestrel could be seen working the grasslands all morning long, and then luckily stopped to perch in the tree right in front of the blind. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
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American Kestrel in flight, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
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xDark morph Rough-legged Hawk in flight over the blind at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
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This is the same bird pictured above, as it came in to perch. RLHA at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
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VERY distant shot of a Pergrine Falcon that seemed to just pass through. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.

In the parking lot of the refuge I ran into PJ Singh who decided to join me in looking for some waterfowl. At our first stop, Lippincott Road in Wallkill, we saw a half dozen Common Mergansers, but that’s it. We did much better at our second stop, Chadwick Lake. The highlight for me was five Common Goldeneyes, and we also had: Ruddy Duck (9), Ring-necked Duck (35), Hooded Merganser (6), Common Loon (1), and a single Mute Swan.

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Ruddy Duck at Chadwick Lake, 12/7/14. This is one of the few that were not tucked in.
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xThree of five Common Goldeneye at Chadwick Lake, 12/7/14.

Since it was such a gorgeous afternoon, I returned to the grasslands in the afternoon to try for photos of the Short-eared Owls. The light was a good as it could be, but unfortunately the owls did not cooperate and did not get up until after dark. It was tough to see, but when they did come up I counted at least three. I sat in the north blind until it was too dark for photos and did alright with Northern Harriers:

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The harriers seem to be eating well at the grasslands. Many of the birds I photographed had full crops like this bird. Northern Harrier at Shawangunk Grasslands, 12/7/14.
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NOHA at the grasslands, 12/7/14.
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Here’s another bird with a pretty full crop. Northern Harrier hunting at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
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And finally, the deer are plentiful at the refuge.

Sunday 12/7/14

Rough-legged Hawk through the branches at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.
Rough-legged Hawk through the branches at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 12/7/14.

QUICK POST: I birded from sunrise to sunset on this Sunday; the weather was perfect, I saw many good birds, and took a ton of photographs. I do not have time to complete a full post tonight, so here is the first bird I photographed this morning, taken from my car as I pulled into the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. Full post tomorrow!

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14

This Bobolink carried around these two worms for quite a while, perhaps a way to attract a mate?  Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
This Bobolink carried around these two worms for quite a while – perhaps a way to attract a mate? Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.

QUICK POST TODAY: I walked the trails out at Shawangunk Grasslands this morning with Karen Miller, Linda Scrima, Maria Loukeris, and Sharon Scavotto. We all did well with many photos of Bobolink and Savannah Sparrows. Grasshopper Sparrows were heard and seen, but with distant looks. Eastern Meadowlarks were mostly heard, though we did see a handful, but again nothing in close. No American Kestrels were seen by the group in the three hours we were there, and no Upland Sandpipers either. We did get an Upland Sandpiper on our way home – perched on a fence post. It was a distant but good look and I believe it was a life bird for everyone in the group except myself. It was a successful morning of birding and bird photography – I can’t wait to see everyone’s shots.

I was happy to get a little bit of a different look - Bobolink on the rocks, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
I was happy to get a little bit of a different look – Bobolink on the rocks, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
Savannah Sparrow on the trail, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
Savannah Sparrow on the trail, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
Savannah Sparrow, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
Savannah Sparrow, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
A more typical look at a male Bobolink, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.
A more typical look at a male Bobolink, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/8/14.

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/1/14

Grasshopper Sparrow out at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/1/14.
An early morning Grasshopper Sparrow out at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 6/1/14.

I finally made it out to one of my favorite places to bird this weekend – the Shawangunk Grasslands. On Saturday evening, Tricia and I met Karen Miller out there for a brief visit before going out to dinner. Then, I made it back out this morning and for over three hours, I walked the trails (which are now called the Tabor Trace – named for Ralph Tabor who does everything that needs to be done out there). It is a great time of year to be at the grasslands, the place is loaded with great birds: Bobolinks, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Savannah Sparrows are numerous and offer plenty of photo opportunities. There is also the possibility to see fantastic birds like Upland Sandpipers and Grasshopper Sparrows, and these two species were at the top of my list this morning. My best birds at the grasslands were by far the 4 GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS I had out there. The highlight of the day, however, did not occur at the grasslands. There is a spot, not far from the grasslands, that is good for getting Upland Sandpipers. I followed Ralph, Scotty Baldinger, and Gene McGarry over, and Ralph immediately located an UPLAND SANDPIPER! I jumped out of the car to see the bird and get some photos. Sadly, I am disappointed in my results, but still it was great to get such a good look at the bird. Shortly after that, Ralph and Scotty moved further up the road and located 2 more UPLAND SANDPIPERS! They were a bit distant for photos but still awesome to see.

Super bird, lousy photo. One of three UPLAND SANDPIPERS today in Ulster County - 6/1/14.
Super bird, lousy photo. One of three UPLAND SANDPIPERS today in Ulster County – 6/1/14.

I did better with photos while I was at the grasslands, so here they are, by species:

BOBOLINK – SHAWANGUNK GRASSLANDS 6/1/14

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SAVANNAH SPARROW – SHAWANGUNK GRASSLANDS 6/1/14

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EASTERN MEADOWLARK – SHAWANGUNK GRASSLANDS 6/1/14

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GRASSHOPPER SPARROW – SHAWANGUNK GRASSLANDS 6/1/14

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Short-eared Owls at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR

A Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
A Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.

Photographing the Short-eared Owls out at the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge is for me the most enjoyable way to shoot birds. Once you are tucked away in one of the photo blinds, the birds are not even aware of your presence. On good days, like today, when the owls get up early, this can result in many good photo opportunities. I love the fact that I can spend hours shooting away and I know that I am not bothering or stressing these birds out at all. All you have to do is be patient and be willing to deal with the cold temperatures. For me it is the perfect way to photograph birds; I only wish that there were more opportunities like this out there.

For the record I counted 6 Short-eared Owls at the refuge tonight, and amazingly, I did not see one Northern Harrier. This weekend is the first time I have ever been to the refuge in the winter and not seen at least one Northern Harrier.

I thought the SEOW on the post would flush, but it held its ground. Two SEOWs at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
I thought the SEOW on the post would flush, but it held its ground. Two SEOWs at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
Short-eared Owl hunting at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
Short-eared Owl hunting at the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
Thanks to Ralph for putting this post up in front of the blind - the owls love it. Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.
Thanks to Ralph for putting this post up in front of the blind – the owls love it. Short-eared Owl at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 2/9/14.

 

Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 11/16/13

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I went out to the Shawangunk Grasslands NWR this afternoon in hopes of getting some photos of Northern Harriers. I had seen reports that the Short-eared Owls were back, but only one report where they up up before dark. I walked out to the north blind without seeing much bird activity, just a couple of harriers in distance. I was not in the blind long when I had a Northern Harrier fly in close:

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Not much later, at 3:55 pm, I was pleasantly surprised to see a single Short-eared Owl come up from the grasses. I started to click away and more owls came up. The owls put on quite a show, flying all around the blind, tangling with each other and with the harriers too. The light was beautiful, and I clicked away trying not to miss any good opportunities.

I spoke to Scott Baldinger in the parking lot on my way back to my car and he gave a count for the night: He had 8 Short-eared Owls and 6 Northern Harriers in a single sweep, not too bad! What a great night of birding and bird photography!

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SATURDAY MORNING

With all the exitement of getting the Short-eared Owl photos on Saturday evening, I never got around to posting about the birding I did on Saturday morning. I made several quick stops just to see what was going on.

 

Glenmere Lake:

Canada Goose  25
Mute Swan  6
Mallard  1
Bufflehead  1
Common Merganser  1
Ruddy Duck  2
Pied-billed Grebe  5
Ring-billed Gull  1
Pileated Woodpecker  1
White-breasted Nuthatch  1

Lower Wisner Road:

Canada Goose  300

What a joy to see this Red-shouldered Hawk. Lower Wisner Road, 11/16/13.
What a joy to see this Red-shouldered Hawk. Lower Wisner Road, 11/16/13.

Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Harrier  1
Red-shouldered Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Rock Pigeon  20
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  2
Northern Shrike  1
Blue Jay  6
American Crow  35
Northern Mockingbird  5
European Starling  50
Field Sparrow  2
Song Sparrow  4
Dark-eyed Junco  1
Common Grackle  12

The Red-shouldered Hawk was eventually chase out of the area by what I am assuming was a local Red-tailed Hawk. Lower Wisner Road, 11/16/13.
The Red-shouldered Hawk was eventually chase out of the area by what I am assuming was a local Red-tailed Hawk. Lower Wisner Road, 11/16/13.
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One of my main goals for the morning was to try for a good photo of the Northern shrike on Lower Wisner Road. I did not succeed, but the bird continues. 

Warwick Town Hall Pond:

Canada Goose 10                                                                                                                     Gadwall 9                                                                                                                                  Northern Pintail 2

I just happened upon the little pond across from Warwick Town Hall. I was very happy with this photo!
I just happened upon the little pond across from Warwick Town Hall. I was very happy with this photo!

Skinner Lane:

Canada Goose  55
Red-tailed Hawk  3
Killdeer  1
American Crow  250
Horned Lark  40
American Goldfinch  1

Citgo Pond Trail (Goshen):

Canada Goose  10
Mallard  35
Northern Shoveler  2
Green-winged Teal  8
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Red-bellied Woodpecker  1
Downy Woodpecker  2
Blue Jay  2
American Crow  25
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Song Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  2
White-throated Sparrow  1
Dark-eyed Junco  4

One of several Mallards that I flushed on the trail to the pond.
One of several Mallards that I flushed on the trail to the pond.

 

 

Brown Thrasher 7/11/13

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I took this shot of a Brown Thrasher a week ago out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I didn’t really have much to say about that day, it was just a short visit, but I like this photo and wanted to post it. I have been hoping for a decent thrasher photo for a little while now, so I was excited when I saw a family of Brown Thrashers just off the entry road at the grasslands. They stayed mostly hidden, I have several obscured photos, but I did manage the above shot which was a bit distant but I still like it.

Shawangunk Grasslands 6/16/13

I finally managed to get some decent Killdeer flight photos this morning. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.
I finally managed to get some decent Killdeer flight photos this morning. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.

This morning at the Shawangunk Grasslands, I saw one Grasshopper Sparrow, but had no luck with photos. I took a nice long walk, saw many birds, and took a lot of photos. The trails at the grasslands are really starting to take shape. They were, of course, a little muddy and wet with all the rain we have had lately, but they are MUCH improved from when they were first developed. The mud doesn’t stick in your boots and the walk is much more even and smooth. Thanks Ralph for all the work you do out there – it was nice to see you and catch up a little this morning.

The grasslands have grown in pretty well, so there are many kinds of vegetation and wild flowers which really create a nice backgrounds for taking photos. I did not have any out of the ordinary birds this morning; all birds you would expect for this time of the year. My highlight would have to be the large number of Bobolinks present, which allowed for many photo opportunities.

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Bobolinks are certainly messy eaters. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.
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I was hoping to get a good shot of the beautiful markings on the back of the male Bobolink. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.

 

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I like the blurred flowers in the background of this one. Bobolink at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.

 

 

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A fluffed up male Bobolink, Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.

 

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This Killdeer made several passes, allowing me to get a few good shots.
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Pretty shot of a Killdeer in flight. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR 6/16/13.
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There were many Eastern Meadowlarks present but I never got very close. 
I focused more of my attention on the more dramatic looking male Bobolinks, but here is a nice look at a female.
I focused more of my attention on the more dramatic looking male Bobolinks, but here is a nice look at a female.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SMITH’S LONGSPUR at Shawangunk Grasslands NWR!!!

Smith's Longspur at Shawangunk Grasslands, 4/30/13.
Smith’s Longspur at Shawangunk Grasslands, 4/30/13.

What a spectacular little bird! Huge thanks to everyone (there were many!) involved in locating and re-locating this beautiful rarity, especially Rob Stone, Curt McDermott, John Haas and Ken McDermott. What a great day to be a birder!

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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.