Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shawangunk NWR

Shawangunk NWR is the old Galeville (Federal) Airport near Wallkill in Ulster County NY. In recent years they've been removing the old runways and re-seeding the grassland. While it's not a completed project it's destined to improve the habitat. Savannah Sparrows and Bobolinks breed there (amongst other birds). Henslow's Sparrows have also done so, historically. The project is taking a little time to complete, at least in part because the Shawangunk-Wallkill NWR pair don't have an infinite amount of manpower.

In winter, Shawangunk is a pretty reliable place for owls - perhaps the most reliable place in the region. This year I've seen reports of up to 15 so I made a little pilgrimage north to Newburgh. This was less of a drive when I used to live in NYC. En route I spied a probable Common Raven over the I-87 NY Thruway north of the Harriman tolls and an American Kestrel in the median strip of I-84 west of Newburgh. I also had a Pileated Woodpecker over I-287 in NJ.

The construction project means that you can't walk far into the NWR at present - just to the end of the entrance drive. Viewing is also possible from the north side at the local town park - perhaps with better views. But from where I was the views were just fine. Before sunset the prize was two perched pale morph Rough-legged Hawks and eventually one dark one. There were 5+ Northern Harriers around, mostly juveniles with one adult female and one adult male. The owls started to get up at 4:15pm, quite a bit before sunset. They were hunting, perching and vocalizing. One belligerent owl was dive-bombing a perched Rough-legged Hawk - at one point almost knocking it over and finally driving it from that area. Other owls were fighting with each other a little, as they seem to do when a bunch of them gather. I managed to see about 8 in one scope sweep at one time, so well short of the maximum number, but still a pretty satisfying total given that Pole Farm near me has precisely zero this year.

The bizarre part of the experience was that despite being in Shawangunk in early Feb there was absolutely no snow on the ground. Surely some sort of record.

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