Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Montauk and EPCAL

It's been awhile since I've updated and in the interim have started a new blog for all things natural and non-avian. That blog can be accessed here: Wild Long Island or by clicking "View Complete Profile" on the right hand side.  Over the weekend I was able to visit Montauk at sunrise for some seal photos I've been waiting to get all winter (and now into spring).  While there I was able to take in some Common Eiders and a cooperative Song Sparrow:

After leaving Montauk Point, I noticed some crows acting odd and had a hunch they were harassing a hawk.  I pulled over and sure enough a Red-Tailed Hawk was perched on a telephone pole with Crows dive bombing it until it finally flew off.  Accidentally took these at ISO 1000 so they are extra sharp!

After hearing reports about Eastern Meadowlarks (which I've never seen nor photographed before) being present at EPCAL (Enterprise Park at Calverton) I decided to swing by after work since it's not too far out of my way and the lighting and temps were good.  As soon as I approached the former runway a Meadowlark shot across the road and hovered like a Kestrel letting me rip off quite a few photographs.  I have seen quite a few photos of this species on Nature Photographers Net (NPN) and was under the impression they allowed close approach - well the ones at EPCAL certainly can't be categorized as such as they spooked as soon as my car would come anywhere near them.  Maybe I'll have better luck if I go in the morning.

A little later in the evening I spotted this beautiful Eastern Meadowlark in full breeding plumage on a stand of Common Mullein:

Soon after this sighting I was cruising down the Western runway for the first time (I believe it has recently been "opened" to the public) and spotted a Female Northern Harrier who seemed to be cleaning her talons getting ready to catch her next meal:

It then flew in front of the sun for some nice backlighting on the feathers:

After this I spotted an adult Red-Tailed Hawk:

Next up was a pleasant surprise - an American Kestrel.  Have only had a few experiences with this species and this was certainly the best.  It paid no attention to my presence and let me get out of the car and approach a little closer on the grasslands.  It appears that it was hunting (successfully) some early insects - most likely grasshoppers.  Unfortunately for me however, this bird is really quite small (compared to other raptors especially) and even though I was "close" it still was small in the frame which results in lots of cropping and lower image quality.  The Kestrel was partaking in a distinct behavior called hovering where it abruptly stops in midair and quickly beats its wings like a hummingbird or steadies itself in a strong headwind peering down below waiting for the right moment to make its move: 

The American Kestrel blends in well to its preferred habitat: 

While the plant known as Common Mullein is invasive and not desirable in a "healthy" grasslands, it is a good perch for small falcons like Peregrines and Kestrels as this individual demonstrates:

I found another Red-Tailed Hawk which let me get 1 great shot before it flew off.  This is a rather unusual perch for a Red-Tailed Hawk as they prefer to be higher off the ground - but in a grasslands those types of perches are few and far between.  Unfortunately my AF didn't want to stay locked on the bird and ruined 3 potentially amazing flight shots.  Better luck next time.

I left for a bit to check on a reported Seal in the Peconic River not too far away and after striking out I thought I'd head back to the grasslands in hopes of seeing some Short Eared Owls which in past years have been regularly reported but only sporadically seen this year for unknown reasons (though sightings of irruptive species, such as Snowy Owls have been way down on Long Island).  There were no owls to be seen, but I did get another nice surprise, a male Northern Harrier, also known as a "grey ghost".  These are rarely seen because there are far fewer males than females of this species.  My last sighting of a grey ghost was about 2 years ago in a field in Sagaponack just north of Billy Joel's ocean front estates.  It's a shame the sun had just about set as my shutter speed was awfully low and the quality of the image isn't what I'd hope for but I'm still happy seeing and photographing this male hawk.

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