The Grasslands Deliver, 11/26/23

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.

~A frosty perch for this bird. I would have another encounter later in the morning with this immature Northern Harrier. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

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.

~An Eastern Bluebird takes flight, SGNWR 11/26/23.~

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!

~Loggerhead Shrike at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
~Loggerhead Shrike on the tiniest of perches. When I saw this, I started to wonder if the Loggerhead was smaller than the Northern Shrike. I checked my Crossley Guide when I got home, and sure enough, LOSH is listed as 9″, versus the NSHR at 10″.~

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.

~This young NOHA flew directly towards me, only veering off at the last second. SGNWR, 11/26/23.~
~NOHA in flight at the Grasslands, 11/26/23.~
Loggerhead Shrike at SGNWR, 11/26/23.~

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.

~Adult female Northern Harrier perched not too far from the parking area, SGNWR 11/26/23.~
~One more of the young NOHA. Shawangunk Grasslands NWR, 11/26/23.~

Sunday Shots, 11/19/23

It was a relatively uneventful weekend of birding for me. There actually doesn’t seem to be all that much exciting going on in our area at the moment. I checked out a few lakes in southern Orange County on Saturday morning. Then, I spent this morning at the Hudson River. Both mornings were unproductive. The highlight of the weekend for me was in the black dirt later this morning, where, after weeks of trying, I was finally able to get my first Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting photos of the season.

~Always a favorite of mine, as readers of the blog know well – Lapland Longspur in the black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by American Crows in the Black Dirt Region, 11/19/23.~
~European Starling flock at the Camel Farm, 11/18/23.~
~Stupid heat shimmer from my car did a number on this photo. But, it’s my first Snow Bunting shot of the year, so I wanted to include it. Black dirt 11/19/23.~
~A Great Blue Heron stalks prey on Missionland Road, 11/19/23.~
~One more European Starling image – I was enjoying photographing this flock. Camel Farm 11/18/23.~

Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/11/23

I wrapped up my hawkwatching 2023 season on Saturday, and it ended on a good note. I had 83 migrating raptors, which included our best Red-tailed Hawk count for the year (45 birds), and additionally, I enjoyed a good variety of other migrants: Turkey Vulture (10), Bald Eagles (8), Northern Harrier (3), Sharp-shinned Hawk (7), Cooper’s Hawk (1), Red-shouldered Hawk (8), and Peregrine Falcon (1). I’ve included my report at the bottom of this post.

Unfortunately, it was a disappointing season at Mount Peter. We never had a big day for Broad-winged Hawks. The weather worked against us more than for us. And our total year count is way down with only 3,680 migrants tallied for the season as of this evening. Compare that to nearly 5,000 last year and over 10,000 in 2021.

~~A Purple Finch takes pause at Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/11/23.~

For me personally, it was mostly a subpar season. September was slow. October was basically a rainout; I was scheduled to count on three Saturdays, and between the three days the weather only allowed for a paltry 4 1/2 hours and 22 migrating raptors. I enjoyed my 2 Saturdays in November but they did not produce any special birds.

BUT, the few good days I did have at Mount Pete this season have somehow rejuvenated my love for hawkwatching. It’s been a few seasons since I’ve had that feeling – the joy and excitement of a day searching the skies for birds. Hawkwatching is how I started birding and it’s been nice getting back to it. I’m ending this season looking forward to next year; I didn’t see that coming.

~This Red-tailed Hawk perched on the cell tower in front of the platform for 15 minutes before zooming past us and into the valley. Mount Peter Hawkwatch, 11/12/23.~
~Female Purple Finch at Mt. Pete, 11/11/23.~

Sunday Shots, 11/05/23

My best birding of the weekend occurred first thing on Saturday morning. I stopped in the black dirt before heading up to Mount Peter Hawkwatch. I was pleased to find a nice sized flock of Horned Larks, and even more so to find a handful of Snow Buntings and a couple Lapland Longspurs. The buntings and longspurs wouldn’t cooperate for photos, so I had to settle for some Horned Lark shots. I went back on Sunday morning, and I don’t know if they moved on or were just laying low, but I had very few larks and no buntings or longspurs.

~Horned Lark in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~

Hawkwatch at Mount Peter was a bust for me. I counted a measly 10 migrating raptors in just over 5 hours. Songbirds were out in force, particularly American Robins, which were moving through in groups of 10-20 birds. I have only one day left in the hawk watching season, next Saturday; I’m hoping for something special to happen on that day.

~Dark-eyed Junco at Mt. Peter Hawkwatch 11/04/23.~
~American Crow just after Sunrise in the black dirt, 11/04/23.~d
~One of 4 White-tailed Deer bucks that I saw over the weekend. Black Dirt Region 11/05/23.~
~Horned Lark with what looks like a very short bill to me. BDR 11/04/23.~
~This might be the winner for the species which is heard WAY more than it is seen. Carolina Wren in the black dirt, 11/05/23.~