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.

The Generosity of Birders

I ran into John Haas and Scotty Baldinger out at the Basha Kill this morning. They were on the trail of a suspected King Rail, which turned out to be this very accommodating Virginia Rail. I'm sure John and Scotty were disappointed but I sure wasn't - it was a life bird for both myself and Joyce D. who had joined us along with Mary B. in the search.
I ran into John Haas and Scotty Baldinger out at the Basha Kill this morning. I joined them in search of  a suspected King Rail. We were joined shortly after by fellow Mearns Bird Club members Joyce D and Mary B. The King Rail turned out to be this very accommodating Virginia Rail. I’m sure John and Scotty were disappointed but I sure wasn’t – it was a life bird for both myself and Joyce D.
Here's one more of the Virginia Rail, Basha Kill 6/22/13.
Here’s one more of the Virginia Rail, Basha Kill 6/22/13.

This post includes three birds that I enjoyed watching an photographing this week. They are also birds that I would not have been nearly as likely to find without the generosity of my fellow birders. I have wanted to write a post about this for a while now, when I think back on all the posts I have made over the last year or so, how often am I thanking another birder? Very often! I am continually impressed by how kind and giving birders are; my experiences with other birders here in Orange County and the surrounding areas have been overwhelmingly positive. I have yet to come across a birder that is secretive or keeping any sort of “birding hotspot” to themselves. Rather, it is much more common to run into other birders out in the field, where they will give me the most detailed directions to get a good look or photograph of the latest bird that I am seeking.

Additionally, birders will  take the time and energy to share their observations by texting, emailing or posting online. Again, this usually includes accurate and very detailed descriptions of where and when the bird had been seen.

The birding community is an extremely nice group of people, one that I feel I have slowly become a part of over the past couple of years. I want to take this opportunity to thank all the generous birders out there – I hope I can repay you all at one time or another.

Karen Miller and I ran into Curt McDermott out at Stewart Forest on Wednesday evening. On Thursday evening I was taking photos of Bank Swallow in Wallkill thanks to a hot tip and perfect directions from Curt.
Karen Miller and I ran into Curt McDermott out at Stewart Forest on Wednesday evening. On Thursday evening I was taking photos of Bank Swallows in Wallkill thanks to a hot tip and perfect directions from Curt. Btw, this is a difficult bird to photograph. I realize this is not a great photo but it was the best I could do! I plan give it another go sometime soon…
Ken McDermott and Ajit both posted on the Mearns Bird Club that there were Purple Martins out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I got out there this morning and managed to get some flight photos.
Earlier this week, I received an email from Ken McDermott and Ajit Antony posted on the Mearns Bird Club that there were Purple Martins out at the Shawangunk Grasslands. I got out there this morning and managed to get some flight photos.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Short-eared Owls 4-5-13

I hit the Shawangunk Grasslands Friday evening and sat in one of the blinds for a few hours. I finally got lucky with the Short-eared Owls. It is always such a rush to shoot these birds, especially when they come up right before sunset and the light is changing very quickly. I was happy to get one more chance to get some SEOW photos this year.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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