Winter Raptor Surveys are very popular in Pennsylvania, and I am always excited for this time of the year to finally get out and see what raptors and other winter birds are around the northern portion of Centre County, PA. Last year was the first year that I ran a WRS route in Centre County, and we tried to plan it out to cover as much of the strip-mined areas as we could. These vast, open areas with scattered small trees and shrubs create ideal winter raptor habitat. On last year’s survey, we were able to find 9 individual raptors plus a 1 Northern Shrike (3 Red-shouldered Hawks, 2 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Northern Harrier).
This year we had similar weather conditions, but we ran in to a closed bridge and it prevented us from completing the last third of our route which, sadly, would have been through some really nice habitat. Nonetheless, we did have a very productive survey and interestingly, we once again found 9 individual raptors and 1 Northern Shrike! Plus this was without going in to the final third of the route, which was bound to have a bunch more raptors (based on our observations from last year). This year we found 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 3 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Red-shouldered Hawk, 1 American Kestrel, and 1 Cooper’s Hawk! Seven of those 9 raptors plus the shrike were all found within 1 mile of each other, on Rusnak Hill Rd! We also saw a herd of 57 elk!
The Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, and the Cooper’s Hawk did not offer a decent photo opportunity but the Red-shouldered Hawk, two of the Rough-legged Hawks, and the Northern Shrike sat still long enough for me to get some photos. The last raptor we saw for the route was a gorgeous light type immature Rough-legged Hawk that actually flew over closer to us and landed in a small tree right along the road!