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Saturday, January 15, 2005

Eagles and Owls

The Hudson looking south from Croton Point

(Photo credit - Rob J)

It's been a really peculiar month, weather-wise. The temperature has been swinging like a pendulum between 60 degrees on January 1st, blustery arctic days then back into the fifties. I wasn't sure what I would find on my annual winter trip to Croton Point Park with members of the New York City Audubon Society.

The trip is ostensible focused on locating over-wintering Bald Eagles but, of course, we look for any other winter bird-life. There hasn't been enough cold weather to form ice on the Hudson River so eagle numbers have been down from previous years.

We began our day at the Croton-Harmon train station where we immediately spotted an adult Bald Eagle flying in from the direction of the Croton Reservoir. A quick trip down the road to scan Croton Bay didn't reveal anything out of the ordinary; just the usual Mute Swans, Common Mergansers, Buffleheads and the expected triad of gulls. As we were getting ready to leave I spotted a young eagle near the train trestle plunging into the water like a kingfisher and emerging with a large, unidentified fish.

Canvasbacks (Aythya valisineria) at George's Island

(Photo credit - Rob J)

A steep bluff at George's Island, just north of Croton Point Park, is generally where we find eagles roosting in the early morning sun. Today there were none but we did see one first year bird circling the river and an adult near the opposite shore. One unexpected surprise at George's Island Park was a flock of over 150 Canvasbacks close to shore. This was the first time I've seen them here.

As we drove into Croton Point Park a Red-tailed Hawk flew down off of the grassland and perched above the road. A group of Northern Harriers were actively hunting over the former landfill. One textbook adult male flew close to our group affording excellent views of this slender, gray and white beauty.

Waterfowl numbers and diversity seemed down from previous January trips that I've lead. Flocks of Common Goldeneye were absent with only a single individual observed near George's Island. Common Merganser were not as numerous as I recall from past years. There was one good result from the milder weather, however.

We were told that a few Short-eared Owls have been seen regularly on the grasslands. We walked the loop but only found harriers, an assortment of sparrows and some distant eagles. One our way back to the cars from the Croton Bay trail someone pointed out one of the Short-eared Owls perched on a white, PVC marker. Everyone was very pleased with long looks at the resting owl, but it would get even better.

Turn around and say "cheese"

(Photo credit - Rob J)

After a leisurely lunch at the nature center we decided to wrap it up and call it a day. As we were driving passed the "mound" I spotted one, then two and, finally, a third owl perched on plastic markers. We pulled over and watched the owls take flight and playfully (I think, anyway) interact with each other. After parking the car we started a slow walk up the trail to the top of the hill. The owls were close enough to us that we could hear them vocalizing as their paths intersected. Sometimes it appeared as if they were trying to lock talons as they fluttered around each other. It was the first time I've heard a Short-eared Owl vocalizing and their hoarse, "barking" calls sounded more mammalian than avian. We counted the individuals whenever they were in close proximity and agreed that there were definitely five owls competing for prey. Edith began laughing when she observed one owl pulling his large foot forward and scratching his head as he was flying. Did he actually have an itch or was he just trying to figure out what we were up to?

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

(Photo credit - Rob J)

Back to the city

(Photo credit - Rob J)

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Croton Point Park & George’s Island, 1/15/2005
Double-crested Cormorant
Canada Goose
Mute Swan
American Wigeon (1, within a flock of coots.)
American Black Duck
Canvasback (~150, close to shore at George's Island.)
Redhead (1 male, 2 female, near end of trail to Croton Bay.)
Common Goldeneye (1, off George's Island.)
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Bald Eagle (8-10.)
Northern Harrier (Several.)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (1.)
Red-tailed Hawk (3 or 4.)
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl (5, Croton Point Park.)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Carolina Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Robin
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Northern Cardinal
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow (2, Croton Point Park.)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

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