This morning I had a fabulous outing at Shawngunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge. I had a couple of reasons I wanted to get up there – the first was my target bird, the LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE which has been seen up there this fall. I caught up with (presumably) the same bird about a year ago, and I was hoping to get lucky again. The second was that I was due. It’s that time of year when raptors are flying over the refuges, so I was definitely feeling a visit to the Grasslands.
I arrived just after sunrise; it was a beautifully cold morning, just over 20 degrees Fahrenheit, with barely a whisper of a breeze. As the sun started to get a little higher, I paused to check my camera settings. Looking around for something to shoot, I was surprised to find a young Northern Harrier, just off the trail, peering out of the vegetation at me – I was floored that it hadn’t flushed.
I walked the trails for a while, just enjoying being out. There was a good number of songbirds present, at least for out in the middle of the refuge: Savannah Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, House Finches, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and absolutely loads of Eastern Bluebirds. At one point, I was pretty sure I heard an Eastern Meadowlark, however I wasn’t able to confirm it.
Then, in my binoculars, I saw a white dot in a distant tree. I knew it had to be the shrike, and sure enough it was. I was lucky enough to watch the bird for a good while – it was still perched in some small brush south of the trail when I finally tore myself away. What an excellent bird!
On my way back, I was hearing a Northern Harrier calling repeatedly. I eventually found, what I presume is the same young Northern Harrier, harassing a perched Red-tailed Hawk in the distance, on the tree line. As I worked my way along the trail, the harrier, maybe distracted by the presence of the Red-tail, flew directly at me, allowing for an excellent photo op.
Near the parking area, there was a very sharp-looking adult female Northern Harrier perched on a post, that was a nice way to end an excellent and exciting morning of birding.