Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial
Hotspots Near You

324. Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, Ulster County, New York

This refuge is a great place to watch owls, hawks, and harriers on the hunt in winter.

One of the first questions I’m asked about one of my favorite East Coast Short-eared Owl destinations is: How DO you pronounce Shawangunk? The name is a Dutch transliteration of a native Munsee Lenape word pronounced Sha-WAN-gunk, which means smokey air. In modern times, locals pronounce it SHONG-gum. One thing’s for sure: The air there is definitely not smokey now, but crisp, clean, and breezy — perfect for owls, hawks, and harriers on the hunt.

Located near the town of Wallkill, just over an hour’s drive up the New York Thruway from Manhattan, the grasslands is a wide-open 566-acre preserve that once was a World War II Army airfield, reclaimed and repurposed in 1999 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The concrete runways were removed and the acreage seeded with a variety of grasses that have matured over the years into a top-tier natural destination for all manner of migratory birds.

Winter is the season for Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers, and Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks. Spring and summer are perfect for Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper, Henslow’s, and Savannah Sparrow, Horned Lark, and Upland Sandpiper.

On two visits this winter, I had decidedly different, though worthy, experiences. The first, in mid-January, resulted in a day of seeing busy Short-eared Owls hunting and a spectacular display from a hovering Rough-legged Hawk. In mid-February, a Red-tailed Hawk provided a thrilling display to end the day when it leapt from a perch to hunt the nearby fields, capture prey, and return to a nearby tree.

324. Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge, Ulster County, New York

Directions

Enter the refuge from Hoagerburgh Rd. to the parking area.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
41°38’6.04″N 74°12’48.30″W

Habitat

Grassland surrounded by brushy patches and a variety of trees. Audubon New York has designated it an Important Bird Area and a Biodiversity Focus Area. 

Terrain

Mostly flat fields, with some small elevation dips and mounds. Trails are unimproved and of minimal difficulty, though they may be seasonally wet.

Birds

About 200 species. Short-eared Owl, Northern Harrier, Rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Shrike, American Kestrel, American Woodcock, Wilson’s Snipe, Eastern Kingbird, swallows, wrens, thrushes, vireos, Brown Thrasher, Bobolink, Eastern Meadowlark, Grasshopper, Vesper, Henslow’s, and Savannah Sparrows, Horned Lark, and Upland Sandpiper.

When to go

Year-round.

Amenities

Restrooms, ramped elevated viewing platform, trails, bird blinds, and benches strategically placed along trails.

Access

National wildlife refuge. No fees. Enter from Hoagerburgh Rd. to parking area. Open daily from half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset.

Tips

In winter, footwear spikes or crampons recommended for hiking on snow or ice-covered trails.

For more info

Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge

← Back to Hotspots

William Jobes

William Jobes

William Jobes is a print and broadcast journalist from Langhorne, Pennsylvania, whose experience includes news and sports photojournalism, as well as reporting and editing on staff at several major daily newspapers. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Star, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and USA Today, among others.  He is the recipient of numerous journalism and photography awards and honors, including several Emmys. He has written several articles for BirdWatching, including Hotspots Near You in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

William Jobes on social media