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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Delco Winter Raptor Survey 2014

The Winter Raptor Survey (WRS) is a state-wide event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology where teams run preplanned routes through their counties by car and census raptors and vultures along the way. The rules require an automobile route with brief stops where the observers do not venture far from the car.  I believe the Pennsylvania Society of Ornithology started the WRS in 2000. The Delco routes were planned and first run by Jim Lockyer with the help of Dave Washabaugh. I'm not sure when the Delaware County routes started. I know I joined them in 2007. Jim devised two routes, an East & West route which are run on separate days within the predetermined survey period

The Delco East route was run this year on Saturday January 18. The team of Chris Pugliese, Bob Kelly and Al Guarente covered 84 miles in 4 hours and 45 minutes. The East route starts at Rose Tree Park and meanders past Hildacy, through Paxon Hollow, Broomall,  DCCC, Springton Reservoir, north to Radnor Twp then a nice long ride down the Blue Route & 95 to the airport counting red-tails & vultures along the way. After the airport the Commodore Barry Bridge Park is checked and the route then turns into the Aston/Chichester area and finally ends up back at Rose Tree Park by way of Middletown.

Highlights for the East team were 7  Bald Eagles including one on nest at Springton Reservoir and the usually reliable Peregrine Falcon on the Commodore Barry Bridge. A stop not to be missed is Bruce Childs' back yard which produced a Red-shouldered Hawk and Bald Eagle almost immediately upon the team's arrival.

The Delco West route was run on Saturday February 2nd. On this day Chris Pugliese and Bob Kelly were joined by Dave Eberly & WRS rookie Tom Bush. This route wanders roughly westward covering areas such as Episcopal Academy, Ridley Creek State Park, Glen Mills, Thornbury and Chadds Ford then works its way back to Rose Tree Park. Seventy-nine miles were covered in 5 hours and 45 minutes.

The sharp-eyed Bob Kelly spotted the first highlight of the day for the West team, a Red-Shouldered Hawk tucked into the woods near the covered bridge at Goshen Rd & Boot Rd in Newtown Square.

Shortly afterward we were entertained by a Red-tailed Hawk swooping across the road in front of the car and coming up with a squirrel which it then carried to a nearby sycamore tree. Fortunately we were able to pull off the road at that spot & get great views of the bird enjoying its mid-morning meal. It was almost immediately joined by another adult, presumably a mate, who perched on the limb above and called out repeatedly, red-tail style. It was unclear whether we or the greedy mate were the objects of the scolding.

A red-tail hawk munches on a squirrel while a mate scolds or guards from above (Tom Bush)
We ticked more red-tails and vultures until we found ourselves near the Glen Mills Quarry. Of course we had to check for the non-raptor ravens & were not disappointed. From our vantage point we quickly found two Common Ravens perched on different structures inside the quarry. As we were watching one flew off and disappeared but we almost immediately found a raven perched on another roof top in the same general vicinity. We felt there was a good chance this was a third raven but kept our count conservative at two.  We did pick up some vultures and another red-tail at the quarry so the stop was justified under WRS rules.

By this time we were feeling desperate for an accipiter.  Fortunately at the next stop, Barrett's Meadow at Creek & Tanguy Rd, our secret weapon, Bob Kelly, found us a Cooper's Hawk perched in the meadow. Just down the road over a parking lot at Cheyney University we spotted a mixed flock of circling raptors and vultures. In this "kettle" we picked out two circling Ravens right in there with the vultures and a couple red-tails. We also spotted a Cooper's Hawk near this group and decided to count it as a 2nd Coop for the day. The Cheyney parking lot is only 2.3 miles as the raven flies from the quarry so we decided we had to assume we were looking at the same two ravens we had seen at the quarry earlier but we entertained the possibility that although we only counted two we may have seen as many as 5 ravens in the area.

After a nice view of a Pileated Woodpecker flying across the parking lot at the Brandywine Museum we started heading back east. As we approached the more congested areas around 202 I suspect our expectations were flagging along with a little fatigue.  However we perked up when as we approached the intersection of 202 on Ridge Rd in Chadds Ford we spotted a pair of raptors on a utility wire right along the side of the road just yards from the busy intersection. They turned out to be a pair of beautiful adult  Red-shouldered Hawks. There is a large empty commercial lot for sale at this corner which was obviously the attraction.  We were able to pull into a parking lot and get excellent views and photos of both birds. One spent its time perched on the large For Lease sign at the corner. I wondered if it was eyeing the Starbucks across the street but couldn't figure out how to get through the traffic. After satisfying ourselves with excellent looks at the red-shoulders and taking zillions of photos we moved on.
                                                           (Tom Bush)
Red-shouldered Hawk enjoys the traffic on 202 (Dave Eberly)

While its mate watches from a utility line (Dave Eberly)

I can't help but quote from Crossley's intro to his Red-shouldered Hawk write-up in his new Raptor ID Guide:
"Along a damp trail draped in cathedral oaks and maples, streaks of light break through the canopy, dappling sun across hanging Spanish moss. The surrounding woods are alive with singing birds. Suddenly, a piercing scream - a repetitive, descending keeyar-keeyar-keeyar  echos through the swamp."
Well maybe not in Delco but this will do.

We picked up our last species of the day, thankfully another accipiter, a Sharp-shinned Hawk, at the Rachel Kohl Library Walking Trail near Garnet Valley Middle School. All in all a great way to spend a mid-winter's day!

Here are the totals for the east & west routes:

East (1/18) West (2/1) Delco Total
Turkey Vulture 10 47 57
Black Vulture 1 31 32
Red-tailed Hawk 20 (6 a, 6 i, 8 ND) 22 (10 a, 3 i, 9 ND) 42
Red-shouldered Hawk 2 (a) 3 (a) 5
Bald Eagle 7 (5 a, 2 i ) 7
Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 1
Cooper's Hawk 2 2
Peregrine Falcon 1 1

1 comment:

  1. @ 11:50 today, Wednesday, March 6, 2014, I was driving north on Route 202 just opposite the Glen Eagle Square Shopping Center in the Chadds Ford area. As I approached the intersection with Ridge Road, I noticed a buteo land on a telephone pole overlooking the large undeveloped tract of land to the west. Red-tail, I thought. As I passed by, I noticed that this particular raptor had a black & white striped tail and reddish barring on the breast. That's no Red-Tail, that's a Red-Shouldered Hawk! Your posting and photos confirm what I saw. I saw a pair in Westtown back in the late 1950's or early 60's. My only other sightings were at Hawk Mountain during fall migrations.

    Don K.
    West Chester, PA


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