Yesterday, January 22, was our annual Birds of Prey field trip, and it did not disappoint! Laura McGranaghan wrote up a great account of our day to share with you here:
What a great day to Search for Birds of Prey. Despite the 100% cloud cover, temps in the low 30’s, snow and drizzle, we all had a great afternoon as we drove the back roads of Loudoun county in search of raptors.
Liam McGranaghan led the drive assisted by Laura McGranaghan, Joe Coleman, and Liz Dennison. The 12 participants were treated to a wonderful diversity of wintering Birds of Prey that Loudoun County offers during the winter months.
Our drive began at 1pm with light snow falling. As we headed south from Leesburg on Rt. 15, we couldn’t believe the number of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks we were seeing. Within the first 6 miles, we had already counted over 8 different hawks!
One of the first of many highlights we had was a pair of Barred Owls tucked into a cedar. They sat quietly until one of them decided we should be offered a better look. He flew to a nearby snag and posed for some photos, then flew off.
Next, we were able to view a pair of adult Bald Eagles working on their nest as they rearranged sticks for some “home renovations.” What a joy!
From there, we turned around and drove to an area north of Leesburg. We stopped at a field being hunted by a few Red-tailed hawks searching for their lunch.
At this point, Liam snuck off to do some “hunting” of his own. He returned shortly thereafter to show us just what the hawks are eating this time of year.
In hand, he had a live and healthy Meadow Vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. He explained how many of these rodents are in the fields which surrounded us and how they are such a critical food source this time of year for raptors as well as other animals like foxes. He then returned the Meadow Vole (unharmed) to the location he found it.
Next, with hopes of finding a field of Northern Harriers and dare we hope…… Short-eared owls, we headed on! With only a few reports of Northern Harriers this year, and no reports of Short-eared Owls, we weren’t sure what the late afternoon would have in store for us.
Then, there it was…a “Gray Ghost”, the adult male Northern Harrier flying HIGH above us! With excitement building, we continued to travel north to an area rich with tall grasses. Then another Northern Harrier….. then another, wait, another! How exciting and what a way to end the day!
It couldn’t get better than this ~ so we thought. As we were getting ready to leave, that’s when it happened.
Up flew a Short-eared Owl! (You’ve heard this before), then another, wait, another!
All told we had at least 5 Short-eared Owls!
We had great views of them through our spotting scopes as they sat on fence posts in the field in front of us. (Our photos are no comparison to what we saw through the scopes)
Now, that’s the way to end the day.
Here’s the list of raptors seen over the course of our afternoon:
Bald Eagle (adults) 2
Red-tailed Hawk 15
Red-shouldered Hawk 19
Coopers Hawk 2
Northern Harrier 6
Barred Owls 2
Short eared Owls 5
More photos can be seen on our facebook page. Thanks to all of you who came out and we look forward to seeing you soon!