Nesting Bald Eagles, Lots of Kestrels, and Harriers
Joe just sent over the field trip report for last Sunday’s Birds of Prey trip – what a great adventure! Here’s his write-up:
From 2 pm to a little past 6 pm 13 people searched for birds of prey on a Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy field trip in central Loudoun County this past Sunday. Not including the many vultures, both Black & Turkey, kettling on a beautiful winter afternoon, we found 29 birds of prey, many of whom were close enough and perched long enough for us to get great views of them. In all we saw two Bald Eagles at & near their nest on the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, two Northern Harriers, one a subadult male and the other an adult male, one subadult Cooper’s Hawks, four Red-shouldered Hawks, 13 Red-tailed Hawks, 7 American Kestrels, the most any of us have seen in such a short time period in a long time, and an unidentified buteo. It is int’g to note that Phil Daley and Joe Coleman who did some scouting for the trip earlier in the week had a lot more Red-shouldered Hawks, mostly in pairs. Phil also watched one of the eagles adding a stick to its nest on Friday.
The first stop on Sunday was at the intersection of Tailrace Rd & Rte 15 where we hoped to re-locate the shrikes who have nested in that area for the past few years but haven’t been seen for several months. While we didn’t find the shrikes the first harrier, a subadult male, was sitting in a field a couple hundred yards down Tailrace, and the second harrier, the adult male crossed the road just a little further down Tailrace.
Our next stop was the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project where we immed. found a Bald Eagle sitting in the nest. Whenever it stuck its head up to look around we were able to see it but it was invisible the rest of the time. When its mate flew across the wetlands towards the nest a few minutes later all the waterfowl, mostly mallards but also a fair number of American Black Ducks and a few Green-winged Teal, rose in to the sky. The ducks settled down when the eagle perched in a dead tree in the middle of the wetlands providing all of us with great views. When the eagle in the nest flew across the wetlands the ducks rose up again. A few minutes later one of the eagles returned to the nest with a fairly good size fish in its talons. Both eagles ignored the two Red-tailed Hawks flying around in the immediate area. As we were leaving we found a perched Red-shouldered Hawk at the other end of the wetlands about 40 feet off the road that we were able to closely observe until we were ready to leave.
After turning on Evergreen Mill Rd, a heavily-traveled road that runs from the Dulles Airport to Leesburg, we found a male and a female American Kestrel in front of the Loudoun Country Day school campus. As a result we were able to get great views of them hunting, kiting, and perching on the utility lines.
Our next stop was a small wetlands along Evergreen about a 1/2 mile down the road. Here we saw two Red-shouldered Hawks, one with something in its talons fly in front of us and also a subadult Copper’s Hawk that obligingly perched for us so we could spend some time watching it and check off all the diagnostics for that species.
We next visited the Lucketts area where we found more Red-tail & Red-shouldered Hawks and Kestrels. We also found a Horned Lark at the same location, the alpaca farm across from the intersection of Culps Hill Ln & Rte 661, Limestone School Rd, where a flock of Horned Larks was found on the January Birds of Prey field trip led by Laura & Liam McGranaghan.
From there we headed to a spot where we thought we might find the Short-eared Owls who use to frequent the fields before the many large houses with expansive and finely manicured lawns were built. While we didn’t have any luck finding owls we did watch two more Red-tails head to their evening roost as well as a beautiful sunset over the Catoctin Ridge to our west.
On & off during the afternoon we also heard and saw several small flocks of Fish Crows, the most any of us have observed for a few months.
Our only disappointment, after having great looks at all the above species, was the lack of owl sightings.
Joe Coleman & Phil Daley