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Sunday, February 08, 2004

Shawangunk NWR & Croton Pt. Park with Shane B. & Ron E.

After reading Chris Lyons' and others reports on Shawangunk NWR (formerly known as Galeville Airport) Shane, Ron and I decided to take a drive up on Sunday. Although the weather reports called for milder temperatures than we've been experiencing it was still pretty frigid most of the day. On the way up we also stopped at Croton Point Park and George's Island to look for Tundra Swan and to get a Bald Eagle fix.

At Croton Point we were unable to locate any Tundra Swans but the eagles were sure out in force. There were many more in the area than when I lead a trip on January 10th. At George's Island we counted at least 17, most of which were adults. Also, just as I observed on 1/10 Bald Eagles have a taste for waterfowl. We watched a juvenile hover momentarily above the water waiting for a diving Common Merganser to return to the surface. It made an impressive effort trying to chase down the merganser but, ultimately, the duck was much more agile and out maneuvered it.

We arrived at Shawangunk NWR between 2:30 and 3:00pm. There was little or no bird activity on the trail to the runways but when we got out to the grasslands we spotted a light morph Rough-legged Hawk standing on the ground at the north end. As we watched it hunting along that end of the refuge it was occasionally joined by a second rough-legged. The field guides always show how small their feet are but the point was driven home when one perched on the telephone line. It looked odd seeing such a large raptor easily doing what appeared to be a tightrope act.

When we didn't see any Short-eared Owls we walked back to the car to warm up for a little while. By about 3:30pm a lot of cars began arriving. I found out later that a local newpaper published a story about the owls and over 20 locals came out to take a look. There was also a small group of birders with a leader from The John Burroughs Natural History Society. The leader was very knowledgeable and told us that the owls came out before dusk.

We joined the rest of the people and, while waiting for some activity, we spotted an Iceland Gull flying low above us. There is a dump nearby that attracts lots of gulls to the area so it's a good idea to check them out if you go to Shawangunk NWR. Anyway, by about 4:10pm, while the sun was still bright, Ron spotted the first owl flying in from the southwest corner of the field. A moment later another one, then a few minutes passed and I spotted four more in close formation. We ultimately counted 8 Short-eared Owls and all of them flew in from the same direction. The gentleman from John Burroughs said that they roost at the Blue Chip Farms down the road.

For the next 30 minutes we were mesmerized by all the owls coursing back and forth above the grass. Sometimes they'd perch on the small, bare shrubs that dot the field or the small trees at the south end near where they'd entered. The rough-leggeds seemed to peacefully coexist with the owls but when a harrier arrived near dusk they reacted very differently. Two of the owls immediately went after the harrier at the south end of the grassland and tried to drive it off. Just as a side note, I'd never observed Short-eared Owls in such intense sunlight and was surprised at how bright white the undersides of the males appeared.

As evening approached one of the female owls perched in a tree at the end of the trail giving us all great looks. The setting sun gave her tawny plumage a soft warm glow and her black, triangular eye patches set off a pair of brilliant, yellow eyes that looked like two searchlights in the fading light. It was an incredible experience that I highly recommend.

For more information:
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Shawangunk NWR & Croton Pt./George's Is. - 2/8/2004
Great Cormorant (Croton)
Turkey Vulture (Shawangunk)
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
Gadwall (1, Croton)
American Black Duck
Bufflehead (Croton)
Common Merganser (Croton/George's)
Bald Eagle (25-30, Croton; 1, Shawangunk)
Northern Harrier (1, Shawangunk)
Red-tailed Hawk (both)
Rough-legged Hawk (2 light morph, Shawangunk)
American Coot (Croton)
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Iceland Gull (Shawangunk)
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl (8, Shawangunk)
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (Shawangunk)
Blue Jay
American Crow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (George's Is.)
Eastern Bluebird (near Walden)
Hermit Thrush (Shawangunk)
European Starling
Northern Mockingbird
American Tree Sparrow (many, Croton)
Song Sparrow (Croton)
Dark-eyed Junco (Croton)
Northern Cardinal
blackbird sp. (flock, Shawangunk)
House Sparrow

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