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Perhaps because of their history of persecution, or perhaps because they are by nature generally wary birds, photographing most raptors is difficult. Most species seen at Woodruff are seen in flight, and unless they are soaring slowly against a headwind, framing and focusing on these swift birds requires finely-developed technical skills (or a good auto focus system) and a relatively large lens.
|Probably the most easily photographed raptor (loosely speaking) on the refuge is the Black Vulture. These birds winter on the refuge in large numbers, and a several hundred birds traditionally gather to roost on a palm hammock just west of the north end of the dike separating Pools 1 and 3. They begin flying in on sunny afternoons an hour or two before sunset, and don't leave the next morning until an hour or two after sunrise. Getting photos of perched individuals or even soaring ones is not too difficult. On sunny mornings, large numbers of vultures that have roosted on the ground can often be seen basking to warm up before the thermal updrafts allowing them to soar are well developed.|
|Turkey Vultures are also common on the refuge, especially in winter, and a few roost with the Black Vultures in the palm hammock roost. They are quite conspicuous and easy to find away from the roosts as well; look for them soaring on any clear sunny day. On windy days in fall and winter, they are often seen engaging in aerial "play", for lack of a better word, over Pools 1 and 3 and the dikes surrounding them. After refuge staff mow the dikes in summer and fall, flocks of Turkey and Black Vultures can be observed walking through the recently mowed areas for dead and dismembered vertebrates, especially leopard frogs.|
|Both Sharp-shinned (left) and the larger but otherwise similar Cooper's Hawks can be seen between fall and early spring on the refuge, but in my experience, Sharp-shinneds are more frequent. The Sharp-shinned is in adult plumage; the Cooper's is still in the streaked immature plumage. Telling the two apart without a good look can be tough. If crow-sized or larger, it's likely a Cooper's. If approximately jay or grackle-sized, it's a Sharp-shinned. Intermediate-sized birds are the tough ones to distinguish. Cooper's have a rounded outer tail margin, while in Sharp-shinneds, it appears more squared off at the edges. Both can be occasionally seen flying over the impoundments, and sometimes plunging into flocks of small passerines at the edges of hammocks or clumps of waxmyrtles in the marsh.|
|Northern Harriers (also called Marsh Hawks) are regular winter residents on the refuge, and usually are first seen around late September. They are easily observed when hunting, as they fly slowly back and forth only a few feet above grass level in the marshes or margins of the dikes. The interior of Pool 3 and the marshes south and west of that impoundment are good places to look for them, though they can be seen just over most any of the open, marshy habitats around the impoundments. The prominent white rump along with their unique hunting flight behavior make them easy to identify.|
|One of the more spectacular species on the refuge, Swallow-tailed Kites breed in small numbers, and begin to return from their wintering grounds in mid-late March. By mid-summer, breeding is over, and medium-large flocks of birds begin to congregate before migrating back to the tropics. Large overnight roosts (>500 birds) have been discovered on the refuge in the last couple of years; these roosts occur between mid-July and mid-August. Look for groups of birds leaving the roost anywhere over the refuge between 8:30 and 9:30. By late August, the kites are mostly gone. An occasional stray Snail Kite reportedly occurs on the refuge in late summer/early fall, but I've never seen one.|
Eagles and Ospreys
|Of these two fish-eaters, Osprey are by far more common. They are most abundant in fall-winter, when migrant birds from the north augment local populations. They can be seen soaring over any of the impoundments or canals of the refuge, and sometimes up to a dozen birds can be seen soaring over Spring Garden Lake, especially on clear, windy days in winter.|
|Less predictable than Ospreys, Bald Eagles are usually around nonetheless. One or two pairs nest on the refuge (one usually on Jones Island), but I usually see them flying over. Clumps of palms and dead palm trunks in Pool 3 are good places to look for perched individuals, but you'll usually need good binoculars or a spotting scope to see them well. Photographing perched birds will require long glass, as I rarely see them perched closer than 100 meters to any of the dikes.|
|Of these two species of soaring/perching hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks are more frequently seen in the public use areas and around the impoundments. They nest on the refuge, and can be seen year-round. The margin of hammock and marsh just as you leave the parking lot is a good place to see them, as is the corridor of red maples and brushy vegetation that separates Spring Garden Lake from the east side of Pool 1. The bird on the left is a relatively pale-colored adult, and on the right is an immature bird, still showing the blotchy patterning on the breast.|
|Red-tailed hawks, in my
experience, are more typical of upland habitats and mixtures of hammock and open fields.
When seen on the refuge, I usually see them soaring over the upland habitats or
over the area of the railroad tracks. The bird in this photo is an
immature individual that doesn't show the bright rusty tail from which their
name is derived.
Though not regular, a Short-tailed Hawk was seen for several weeks in the early spring of 1998 at several locations on the south and west sides of Pool 1.
|Falcons are never common, or even to be expected on any given trip to the refuge. Occasionally, though, in fall and winter, an American Kestrel or two can be seen hunting the marshes and dikes around Pool 1, and can be seen perched atop palms growing along the dikes or hovering over the more open habitats.|
|Peregrine Falcons (left) and Merlins (right) are to be considered a rare treat at Woodruff, in fall migration and occasionally in the winter when an individual bird may be seen for several days or even a week or two in a row. I've seen both species most frequently along the south and west sides of Pool 3 and the marshes to the south.|
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