The Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area, or IBA, is "critical" to the survival of Short-eared Owls in New York State! These endearing medium-sized owls flock to the IBA in winter. They are active during daylight hours, primarily at dusk and dawn. They can be seen almost any evening, frequently greeting each other in swoops and dives before starting to hunt!
The IBA offers an "all you can eat" buffet for many other raptors and songbirds!
Friends of the Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area (Friends of the IBA, for short) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working with willing landowners to conserve critical habitat in this unique IBA! The group founded and organizes Winter Raptor Fest, a fun and educational event and fundraiser that draws thousands of people to the heart of the IBA in March.
Raptors like Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers (threatened) depend on the IBA’s vast, open expanses of grasslands to accommodate their low aerial hunting style. The IBA provides abundant populations of the small mammals (mice, shrews and voles) that are their primary prey.
The Washington County Grasslands IBA provides “exceptional” breeding and wintering habitat for these state endangered owls and almost a dozen threatened, at-risk and rapidly declining grassland bird species. The grasslands area encompasses hay fields, meadows, wetlands, streams and small woodlots. This rich and diverse habitat attracts over 200 bird species in all!
The 2,000 acre Important Bird Area (IBA) lies primarily within the town of Fort Edward, with portions in Argyle and Kingsbury. It is at the heart of the 13,000 acre Washington County Grasslands, a primarily agricultural complex extending from southern Washington County to the foothills of the Adirondacks in the north.
It received National Audubon's IBA designation in 1997. The designation identifies areas that support endangered bird species or "significant" populations of breeding and wintering birds, but comes with no protection. The Washington County Grasslands IBA does both.
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officially acquired almost 300 acres of critical habitat from The Nature Conservancy in October 2013. There is now a parking area and trail head, and half mile one way trail will maintained starting Spring of 2014.
Friends of the IBA is working with New York State D.E.C. and other nonprofits to conserve this vital habitat through conservation easements or land purchases from willing sellers. However, the remainder of this core area remains unprotected.