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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Red-shouldered Hawks Nesting in Chester Co

Red-shouldered Hawk nest under construction
March 8, 2011~Uwchlan Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania

Back on March 8, 2011, I was walking my dog when I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling from behind a neighbor's house. This wasn't terribly surprising, as I'd been seeing and hearing an adult Red-shouldered much of the winter in my neighborhood. What was surprising is what I noticed next... I looked over towards the noisy calls, and noticed a hawk fly into a prominent crotch in a mature tree in my neighbors yard. Upon a closer look, I could see there was what appeared to be a nest under construction. Within minutes, I ran into the owner of the property, Catharine, and she had exciting news to share with me: "some hawks are building a nest in our tree!"
Later that day, I went down with my camera, binoculars, and spotting scope in tow in order to give Catharine closer looks at the amazing event that was taking place in her yard. She reported that the hawks were most active when the sun was rising and setting, but not too much during the day. From the literature I have read since, this is typical of their behavior while building the nest.
As we were standing there talking about how special it was to have Red-shouldereds nesting in Chester County, an adult flew over our heads, offering great looks at the classic translucent
"crescents" at the ends of the wings.

Adult Red-shouldered in flight near the nest site in Uwchlan Twp, March 8, 2011

To give you an idea of the history of this species in Chester County, it is not one that is commonly found, and breeding records are few. The Annotated List of Chester County Birds, published by the West Chester Bird Club in 1999, states this of Red-shouldered Hawk: "Uncommon migrant, uncommon winter and rare summer resident".
The Birds of Pennsylvania, by Jerry McWilliams and Daniel Brauning, 2000, wrote on the status of Red-shouldered Hawk in Pennsylvania:" Breeding Red-shouldered Hawks are uncommon statewide. They were most frequently reported during the BBA project in the northwestern counties and least frequently in the southeastern (Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia cos) and southwestern (Washington and Greene Cos)." The authors also state: "They are rather secretive during the breeding season".
During the first Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas, only one confirmed record of breeding was noted in Chester Co.. During the second BBA (recently conducted 2004-2008) there were few reports of this species, and while I don't have access to those records, I can say that in those four years I only entered Red-shouldered Hawk once with a flyover observation denoting "possible" breeding species in the county.
What is more interesting and exciting is that within the last year, two separate nests were discovered and monitored right here in Uwchlan Twp, just a few miles from one another.
Josh, a local birder that discovered and monitored one of those nests, which that fledged two young in early summer, reports that this spring the Red-shouldereds in his neighborhood are once again getting vocal, and hanging around last year's nest site.
So, why are these uncommon breeders adopting nesting sites in a suburban township, choosing tree hosts all viewable from the street, and with a moderate amount of foot and car traffic? It's a good question. What I can say is that all of these sites fall within the Brandywine Creek watershed, and all boast small second and third order streams within a few hundred yards of the nest. It's an area rich in riparian habitat and mixed woodlands, which is favored by this buteo that specializes in a diet of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, crayfish, and insects.
With good habitat available, and potentially lots of food on the menu here in Uwchlan Township, it's no wonder they are choosing to make it home.
Adult Red-shouldered Hawk sits in the nest, March 20, 2011

As time went forward after March 8, I continued to notice more activity around the nest site when I would pass by. On March 20, I noticed one of the adults sitting in the nest. The posture was a bit too elevated to suggest incubation, but hinted that egg laying may occur soon.
On March 23, I noticed what I thought was the top of a head peeking above the rim of the nest. Drenching rain that afternoon and evening prevented me from using the optics, and checking to confirm. On March 24, I was finally able to check the nest with my scope, and sure enough, the bird appeared to be postured low enough in the nest to suggest incubation had begun!
Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Birds of North America Online", an online subscription database of all current species accounts of North American birds, states : "Incubation usually starts before clutch is complete, so eggs hatch asynchronously" and eggs are listed as having a 33 day incubation. This puts the possible hatching of the first eggs in this nest somewhere around April 24-26. Something very special to look forward to in the coming weeks.
Hopefully, my next blog entry on this topic will be news to share of hatchlings!

A Red-shouldered Hawk sitting low in the nest suggests incubation is underway. March 24, 2011. Chester Co., PA

BCDC & American Woodcocks at Marsh Creek

This year, the BCDC joined the West Chester Bird Club in their annual Woodcock Walk at Marsh Creek State Park in Chester County on Sunday, March 13, 2011. This event offered birders the chance to catch a glimpse of the spectacular courtship rituals of American Woodcocks.
The twenty-nine eager birders, that patiently waited for the show to begin, were not disappointed.
At approximately 7:29pm, the first "peent" was heard. Shortly afterwards, a woodcock silhouetted in flight against the warmly lit western sky, gave us hope that the "sky dance" would soon begin. We had to wait a few minutes more, but eventually did get to see and hear the male woodcock's courtship flight and accompanying whirs, chirps, and peents. It was agreed among participants that up to four birds were present. Though the show didn't last very long on this cold evening, birders seemed pleased and satisfied to have witnessed such a special spring ritual in the world of the American Woodcock.
Photograph courtesy of Mary Bleecker

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Trip Home from Florida

Epcot (Click on any picture to enlarge)
   Sharon and I had a wonderful time at Disney World with our Daughter-in-law and Grandson but it was time to leave and start our drive home. We decided to drive through the center of Florida as we never visited that area before. So we headed to Osceola State Forest near Lake City. Our objective there was to find the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. We lucked out and managed to find two of them along with Brown-headed Nuthatches and Chuck-Wills-Widow calling at evening. Among the mammals that we found was this lonely Armadillo scouring through the leaf litter. From here we headed north to the Okefenokee Swamp.

     Next stop was at Harris Neck NWR in Georgia. This was a real gem of at refuge where we found a nesting colony of Herons, Egrets, Ibis, Anhinga and Wood Storks. It was fun to watch the Wood Storks as they plucked sticks from dead trees and carried them to their nest sites.
Wood Stork gathering nesting material

White Ibis

Wood Stork

      After the refuges, we stopped in Savannah and took the Paula Dean tour. It was quite interesting, even though I don't watch the show. We had lunch at Uncle Bubba's (Paula Dean's brother) restaurant. Along the river, behind the restaurant, we found some Brown Pelicans and in the parking lot were Summer Tanagers.
Uncle Bubba's Restaurant
Brown Pelican

        Farther along on the way home we visited the town of Charleston, SC. It had a lot of nice southern homes and plantations but I actually preferred Savannah over Charleston. In Charleston bay we found American Oystercatchers as we were viewing Fort Sumter across the bay. This is where the first battle of the Civil War began and this April is the 150th anniversary of the start of that war.
       Leaving Charleston, we headed to Congaree National Park on central South Carolina. There is not much to do there except walk around a 2 1/2 mile boardwalk through the swamps. But we did that and even though the walk was through the swamps we didn't encounter any mosquitoes as the sign below indicates.
Mosquito Meter
        We did encounter other wildlife as seen below.
Carolina Anole

      We finally arrived home safely and were greeted by snow flurries and cold rain. Not what we were used to after being in 80 degree weather.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Florida Trip - March 2011

Sharon and I decided to take a trip to Florida to visit the keys and southern Florida. Well, plans changed, and we are now going to meet our daughter-in-law and grandson and spend time at Disney World. But at least we can bird on the drive down and back. Our first stop was at Santee NWR in South Carolina. Already we are finding reptilians giants as pictured below.
American Alligator at Santee NWR

We managed to get to St Augustine the second night just after sunset, and as we were watching Black Skimmers and Great Egrets flying up the channel at Velenzo Beach we noticed a strange light in the southern sky. As pictured below you can see a Delta Rocket which was launch from Kennedy Space Center about 100 miles south.
Delta Rocket launch

The third day found us at Lake Woodruff NWR north of Orlando. What a great place to bird. I never saw so many Blue-winged Teals in one place. Coots and Common Moorhens were everywhere also. Large waders were present in large numbers also including Herons, Egrets, Sandhill Cranes and Wood Storks.
Snowy Egret, White and Glossy Ibis
Wood Stork (Click on images to enlarge)

As we were walking around the dikes the local Black Vultures were acting like toll collectors and we were having trouble trying to pass them.

 Black Vultures
Other birds seen at the refuge were Sora Rail, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Caspian Terns. Tomorrow we head for Disney so that's all for now. Good birding.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Woodcock at Darlington

Good morning,

I made my annual visit to the Darlington Tract this morning to make sure that the American Woodcock were displaying and therefore ensure all will be right with the world for another year. It will be.

I arrived at the parking area around 5:35 am and walked Darlington Road to the large field on the right most recently of LeConte's sparrow fame. My favorite spot for listening is directly across the road from the large house on the hill. I got there at 5:45 just about at the recommended time of 45 minutes before the 6:24 sunrise. Peenting seemed to be coming from everywhere. I very conservatively estimated 4 displaying birds but I suspect there were more. Two were very close and I got a couple nice looks at the displaying birds fluttering high above in the early morning light. Fifteen minutes later the sky was getting brighter and the morning chorus and the geese had started up and woodcock were no longer apparent. This is the third year in a row I have found woodcock at this spot.

I have always done this here in the early morning. I have never tried it in the evening. I'm sure they are there although traffic on Darlington Rd would be more of an issue. Win Schaefer has reported to me that he heard 5-6 woodcock on the Episcopal Academy grounds 3/4. Unfortunately there is no public access to the spot.

I would appreciate hearing from others where they find displaying woodcock especially in Delaware County.

I'm ready for spring now.