Shawangunk

This was amazing! I’d heard about Shawangunk Grasslands NWR for years, but only made it up there for the first time last month. And we were lucky, since word had it that the previous two afternoon/evenings were not very active. Maybe it was the snow the night before we got there? The reserve is maintained for grassland species — generally the most threatened of birds because grasslands are seen as the most disposable of habitats. We came for the Northern Harriers and Rough-legged Hawks and we were not disappointed. There were at least three Grey Ghosts, the informal name for adult male Harriers, and easily twice as many adult females and juveniles. Interestingly, the five or so Rough-legged Hawks, winter visitors from further north, were all distantly perched when we first arrived in the late afternoon. But they got going. These hawks (Buteo lagopus) are bigger than Red-tailed Hawks, yet they hover like Kestrels with their eyes focused on the ground for prey. This is as remarkable as it sounds. Of course, we also came for the owls. There were at least ten Short-eared Owls flying, fussing with each other, and barking (!) about a hour before sunset. They just suddenly appeared as the diurnal raptors headed for their roosts. (Actually, the last bird we saw before leaving at 5:55pm was a Harrier; they’re known for hunting into the night.The light was going fast. That’s a Northern Harrier in the middle of the tree and a Short-eared Owl on the upper right. Another Shortie. There were also deer, Bluebirds, Tree Sparrows, a Raven, a banded male Kestrel…

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