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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge Annual Winter Raptor Program

Region 5, January 4, 2014
Introduction to Raptors
Introduction to Raptors - Photo Credit: n/a
Giselle Smisko begins the raptor presentation to a captive audience
Giselle Smisko begins the raptor presentation to a captive audience - Photo Credit: n/a
Giselle Smisko with a Barred Owl
Giselle Smisko with a Barred Owl - Photo Credit: n/a
Field trip participants scanning the marshes for raptors
Field trip participants scanning the marshes for raptors - Photo Credit: n/a

The annual winter raptor program which is co-sponsored by the refuge, Friends of Wallkill River and the Avian Wildlife Center (a local avian rehabilitation center) was held on Saturday January 4, 2014. Giselle Smisko who runs the Avian Center and is the program chair for the Friends Group, was the main presenter for the indoor portion of the program but the real stars were the several species of birds of prey that Giselle brought with her. The first guest was an eastern screech owl who entertained the audience with a constant bill clicking vocalization, followed by a barred owl, a hooting great-horned owl, an American kestrel and a red-tailed hawk. All of these birds received injuries that make it impossible for them to survive in the wild or in the case of the great-horned owl imprinted on a human and could not fend for itself.  But these birds still serve an important function as they are used as educational tools for programs that the Avian Center presents throughout the year. For each bird, Giselle gave a natural history lesson as to their habitat requirements, hunting techniques and survival challenges. Nearly 100 adults and children attended the event.
After the live bird presentation, refuge biological technician Ken Witkowski led a field trip to the Liberty Loop section of the refuge. The area encompasses more than 300 acres of managed impoundments and many raptor species overwinter there. Nearly 25 people joined the outdoor adventure and spotted several northern harrier hawks hunting in the marsh and an American kestrel on a utility pole. Another suprise attraction was seeing 8 short-eared owls actively flying in the distance in full daylight.

Contact Info: Ken Witkowski, 973-702-7266 ext. 14, kenneth_witkowski@fws.gov