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Raptors at Delaware Wildlife Area.

March 23, 2013

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

American Kestrel

Northern Shrike

A couple months ago I decided to make a trip up to the Delaware Wildlife Area north of Delaware Ohio to look for an interesting bird that had been wintering in the area.  There’s a lot to do for the outdoorsman there:

Delaware Reservoir was constructed from 1947 to 1950 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control. Most of the 8,301 acres are licensed to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for fish, wildlife, and general recreation purposes. Delaware State Park, on the southwest side of the reservoir, provides camping, picnicking, and boat launching facilities for the hunter and angler. The remaining 6,000 acres, including the 1,330-acre lake, are managed for fish and wildlife and are available for hunting and fishing.

The wildlife management plan for the area provides for a diversity of habitats for upland wildlife. Management techniques include sharecropping, planting of permanent nesting cover, manipulating timber stands, and periodic burning to control succession. Wetland wildlife habitat has been improved by the construction of 54 ponds and the flooding of 159 acres of seasonal wetlands.

You might think that winter is a strange time to go out to a wilderness area to do some birdwatching, but certain birds are prominent in winter- such as raptors.  And trees without leaves make it much easier to see birds perched in them.  The weather can be more challenging, but it’s good to get out of the house in winter so you don’t go stir-crazy!

Incidentally, raptors are birds of prey which hunt for animals while flying.  These birds include hawks, falcons, eagles and owls.

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I took some backroads north of Delaware to get to the area.  I was off the beaten path, which I like.

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The road I took ran alongside Delaware Reservoir for a while.

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I drove past the dyke that ran all the way from the dam at the reservoir.  This looked like a good place to hike someday.

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Finally, I got to my destination- Panhandle Road in the wildlife area.  Unfortunately the road was unpaved and pretty rough, so I decided to park my car at a pull-off and walk it.

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The weather was partly cloudy, cold and blustery.  Walking briskly kept me warm.

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Up above, soaring on the wind were a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, Ohio’s most common hawk.  They are typically seen circling in the sky or perched in trees, keeping an eye out for mice, voles and rabbits down below.

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The ice formed interesting patterns in puddles on the ground.

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This is a Red-Shouldered Hawk perched in the woods, keeping an eye out for any small furry things scurrying about.  This hawk is less common than the Red-Tail, usually seen in mature woodland near water.

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There were some shallow ponds in the fields, but I didn’t see any waterfowl this day.

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This little bird is an American Kestrel, sometimes called a Sparrowhawk.

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Kestrels are actually small brightly-colored falcons.

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This bird landed on several perches, intent on finding something to eat.

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They are quite acrobatic and able to perch on the tips of branches.

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Another Kestrel joined the first one- this is a very common way to see them, perched on telephone wires.

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I walked up and down the 2-mile stretch of road, looking for that rare visitor I mentioned.  Luckily I was out of my car, because I heard a faint cry in the distance…

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…sure enough, far off in the treeline, I spotted the bird I had come to see- a Northern Shrike.

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It was far away, so my photos weren’t great, but I was excited to see it.  Shrikes are:

A predatory songbird, the Northern Shrike breeds in taiga and tundra and winters in southern Canada and the northern United States.

It feeds on small birds, mammals, and insects, sometimes impaling them on spines or barbed wire fences.

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These unique birds are black, white and gray.  They might look like a Mockingbird from a distance, but they have wicked talons and a sharp beak.  Predatory songbird indeed!

I was very happy to spot this bird, a life list species for me.  I never would have heard or seen it from the car, so I’m glad I spent a couple hours tramping through damp cold windy weather.  It really paid off.

This is actually a good birding tip: there are birds to see year-round.  Don’t stop looking just because the weather isn’t great or it isn’t migration or nesting time.  You’d be surprised what you can find.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. March 23, 2013 11:57 pm

    A killer songbird! Always learning from your posts Tracy, thanks.

  2. March 24, 2013 12:45 am

    That was quite a day for seeing raptors!

  3. March 24, 2013 8:07 am

    Great post, Tracy! Hawks are much easier to see this time of year with all the foliage gone from the trees. I saw a Northern Shrike when I lived in Maryland. Might have been the same bird, but I saw one on a utility wire and another on a barbed wire fence. My vision was excellent back then – can’t say the same now. 🙂

  4. March 24, 2013 11:13 am

    Great post on raptors, Tracy! We have red tailed hawks on our property; I love seeing them, even when they are chasing the squirrels around the trees 🙂

  5. March 24, 2013 1:39 pm

    Hi. I love the coloring of the Kestrel. We have been driving along the St. John River lately to watch the Bald Eagles and Rough-Legged Hawks. I love raptors. Jane

  6. March 25, 2013 6:26 am

    I didn’t know there were predatory songbirds! That kind of takes the shine off the apple. I’m with you on getting out in all kinds of weather. If I waited for good weather I wouldn’t have any picture to post.

    • March 25, 2013 8:14 am

      I’d say that ‘perfect weather’ occurs a distinct minority of the time, and you’re right, my photo collection would be very small if limited to those perfect days. Shrikes are a category-blurring bird for sure, they’re fairly rare in these parts and always noteworthy when seen.

  7. March 25, 2013 9:28 am

    That must have been so exciting to see the Northern Shrike and add it to your life list! We do get to see so much more when we set out on foot!

    I’m pretty sure we see red-tailed hawks all the time when we’re out and about, but someone I know insists they are turkey vultures. I wonder if there is a way to tell the difference while they are flying at a distance…

    • March 25, 2013 11:45 am

      It was exciting indeed, Barbara!

      Here’s something from the useful All About Birds site that may help:

      ‘From a distance you might confuse a soaring Red-tail with a Turkey Vulture (also very common across North America in summer), but Turkey Vultures have longer, more rectangular wings, which the birds hold above horizontal, forming an easily visible V. Turkey Vultures are also much less steady when they soar.’

      ‘Red-tailed Hawks are so common over the range of the Turkey Vulture that you are bound to occasionally confuse the two when you see them at distance. Red-tailed Hawks are usually pale below, with shorter tails and shorter, broader wings that they hold flat as they soar.’

      Also, if you see them close enough, you can notice the pink featherless head of the Turkey Vulture drooping downwards from its shoulders as it looks for food below. Hope this helps!

  8. March 26, 2013 12:02 am

    I didn’t know that the Shrikes were predatory either. Interesting.

    I agree that it’s always worthwhile to be out in inclement weather. There seem to always be something going on.

  9. March 27, 2013 7:25 am

    We went snowshoeing a couple weeks ago and an eagle flew right over us. Totally regretted not bringing a camera but still a great sight!

  10. March 30, 2013 12:27 am

    The kestrel is really pretty. I’m glad you got to see the shrike, since you went all that distance! With those potholes, I’d have parked the car, too.

    • March 30, 2013 8:01 am

      It didn’t matter how slow you drove, those potholes were bad! Then again, I bet that meant less traffic and less bother for the raptors 🙂

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