Starling Murmuration Comes With a Falcon or Two on Raptor Field Trip
A winter raptor trip led by Allison Gallo, Bryan Henson and Gerco Hoogeweg on January 28 yielded many raptors including a pair of Peregrine Falcons. Unfavorable weather forced the trip to be postponed from the previous week and reduced the number of birders to nine.
Our first stop was on Montressor Road, which is often a good spot to see raptors. Along the road we find an interesting mix of habitat including open areas, a large neighborhood, a nice pond, some forest and a large swath of rangeland. As soon as we turned onto Montressor, we found a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks sitting on the wires. These slender-looking raptors get their name from the reddish-brown breast and shoulders. This was clearly visible because the birds were very close to the cars. In the rangelands were saw a distant Bald Eagle and a Red-shouldered Hawk. The best bird was an American Kestrel. Although far out, the bird was hovering or “kiting” for a while. Eventually the bird landed in a tree, and we got nice views of it with the spotting scope.
The area east of Lucketts is traditionally a great location to find a good diversity of raptors. Unfortunately, urbanization and landscape fragmentation are having an adverse impact. Along Lucketts Road we did see two more American Kestrels and a Red-tailed Hawk. The corner of Lucketts and Evans Pond Roads often has a nice surprise, and this year was not any different. While watching a group of European Starlings in a murmuration, not one but two Peregrine Falcons appeared and were hunting the starlings. One of the Peregrine Falcons was much smaller, and we initially thought it was a different falcon. But no, it was likely a male. Seeing this pair of Peregrines, which are considered rare in the county, was a treat. We are fortunate that several pairs are breeding in, or just outside of, Loudoun County. This gives birders a better chance to see these powerful falcons.
Limestone School Road, usually a great spot to see many raptors, was a disappointment. Many of the fields had short grass, and more houses are being built. We only managed to find a single Red-tailed Hawk.
Piscataway Crossing (formerly White’s Ford) Regional Park, with access to the Potomac River is a great spot for Bald Eagles. For several years now a pair of Bald Eagle have nested in one of the large Sycamore trees. Each year the nest is getting bigger. We’d hoped to see an eagle in the nest, but this was not the case. However, one of the participants quickly found a Bald Eagle perched atop a tree not far from the nest. It was a beautiful adult. Minutes later a second Eagle was spotted taking a bath in what we must be frigid water in the river. After taking a bath the bird stepped on the shore, and the other eagle flew down for a bath. Wow, what a treat it was to see two adult Bald Eagles taking a bath. Eventually both eagles were sitting in the trees and preening, largely hidden from view.
Just after the end of the trip, a Sharp-shinned Hawk made a brief appearance near Temple Hall Park when it flew in front of Gerco’s car, missing it by a few feet.
We ended up seeing nine different raptor species, which is on par for most trips. Finding five American Kestrels was very nice. The complete list of raptors includes:
1. Black Vulture
2. Turkey Vulture
3. Red-shouldered Hawk
4. Red-tailed Hawk
5. Northern Harrier (1)
6. Bald Eagle (3)
7. American Kestrel (5)
8. Peregrine Falcon (2)
9. Sharp-shinned Hawk (1)
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