In Pennsylvania, the birding is pretty slow this time of the year but raptors can help add some excitement. Winter Raptor Surveys are an excellent way to get out on a cold winter day and do some birding. Drew Weber, two of our friends, and I conducted our own Winter Raptor Survey in the strip-mined areas north of Snow Shoe, PA. Whenever Drew and I have visited this area in the spring, summer, and fall we have commented on how perfect the area looked for winter raptors, and today the birds didn’t let us down.
Last night, a solid six inches of snow fell on central PA, but we didn’t let that deter us from continuing with the raptor survey. We slowly made our way out to Snow Shoe in my Nissan Xterra, and began the survey at 9:30am. Within minutes of starting, I spotted a juvenile Northern Shrike perched at the top of a tree along the side of the road. We couldn’t believe it! We had hoped to find a shrike, but thought it would be a long shot. As we were standing next to my car, watching the shrike, our first official raptor of the day flew right over our heads – an adult male Northern Harrier.
A few miles further along on our route we spotted a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a tree, and two adult Red-tailed Hawks. We totally didn’t expect to find any Red-shouldered Hawks along this route and so were even more surprised when we ended up finding two more! Nearby, we spotted a juvenile dark type Rough-legged Hawk and when we jumped out to get better looks, spotted an adult male light type Rough-legged Hawk and then, just around the corner spotted an adult female light type Rough-leg. The adult female flew right over the car, offering a great photo opportunity. Below are a few photos I took during the day of the various raptors we saw.
Overall, the survey went great and we were able to find 9 raptors and the Northern Shrike in addition to about 20 other species of birds. Hopefully this new survey route can be repeated yearly, and we can get a better idea of what species are using the strip mines as wintering habitat. Here is a breakdown of our raptors:
Red-tailed Hawk – 2 adults
Red-shouldered Hawk – 2 adults, 1 juvenile
Rough-legged Hawk – 2 adults (both light), 1 juvenile (dark)
Northern Harrier – 1 adult male
Northern Shrike – 1 juvenile