What you can't get this Winter in numbers, you can make up for with observations and diversions. When a contributor to OntarioBirds listserv reported nine Snowy Owls from Wolfe Island, Ontario on January 28th, well, I was already there... in spirit. Each leg of this last raptor roundup of the Winter of 2005-2006 had its moments, in between which were many miles of negative data collection. Good thing I like the terrain. Flat is beautiful. Treeless is a warm vole in somebody's talons and I'm just hoping for a glimpse.
While established pairs of Redtails and Roughlegs could be observed together throughout the late Fall and Winter, by February, courtship is underway even hundreds of miles away from home so the chances of seeing something interesting increases.The trip list overview: sixty plus Redtails including highway birds, twenty-two Roughlegs, eleven Harriers, four Kestrels, a Goshawk, and four Bald Eagles. Tack on seven Snowy Owls in Canada and I can't complain.
[right: Richly-colored adult Red-tailed Hawk flyby in Vermont on Groundhog Day. Move your mouse over the image for another shot of the same bird.]
Lake Champlain Lake Plain, VT
The Red-tailed Hawk saw her shadow on this Groundhog Day 2006, meaning six more weeks of some kind of raptor watching. The adult Roughlegs were replaced with immies indicating a northbound slide of birds. I did observe one adult Roughleg pair courting after hunting over two adjacent fields. The male flew to her, turned and hovering above. Then with the male leading, the pair glided slowly toward a tree and landed together. A fairly strong south wind with temps in the low thirties out ahead of the latest nor'easter caused the early sun to fade. Friday morning's drive to NY was pretty rainy and birdless.
24 Red-tailed Hawks [22 adults; 2 immatures]
15 Rough-legged Hawks [11 light morph; 4 dark]
7 Northern Harrier [4 adult males; 2 immatures; 1 undetermined]
4 Bald Eagles [all juvenile birds, together]
12 Horned Larks, 2 Snow Buntings, 6 Eastern Bluebirds.
Lake Ontario Lake Plain, NY
Rain -- heavy and light and heavier-- for the afternoon and still there were some hawks, including a very nice adult male Northern Goshawk on Pt. Peninsula. The outrageous sighting of this mild Winter was a pair of American Kestrels pair-sitting on a wire, flushing to hunt and then returning to sit together. From mid-December to mid-March this observation should not be possible in Northern NY.
11 Red-tailed Hawks [All adults]
3 Rough-legged Hawks [2 light; 1 dark; all immatures]
2 American Kestrels
1 Northern Goshawk [adult male]
2 Snow Buntings.
[right: This Snowy flew up from the ground -- from somewhere -- into view; image watercolored]
Wolfe Island, Ontario
Let's not bury the lead here: on Saturday, February 4, 2006 twelve Snowy Owls were counted on the island. On my own I encountered seven birds, many close, spending time looking at plumages and trying to get a couple of images. The careful survey of any island, requires driving out the best dead end roads to scan the shoreline for owls tucked in close and low.
The day started overcast from Friday's rainshield, but the sun broke out ahead of the next storm system by midday. I was also cruising for hawks, in addition to the Snowies, so I stayed on the interior roads, paved or not. I had one field with four Snowy Owls in view: one bird so sooty-black that I missed it with a binocular scan even though it was closer than a whiter bird. In another field I had male and female owls -- both adults, or nearly so -- within fifty meters of each other... a pair?
Norm Smith was also in the company of Snowy Owls on Saturday, the 4th, but at Plum Island back in Massachusetts. A Snowy fitted with a satilite transmitter was trapped/released there. While the news piece shows the '06 release, you can follow the travels of a young female from last Winter by clicking on the map. On another belated note Amherst Island, also in the Kingston area has had a catch of Snowies. Ten or so birds reported on the 4th.
6 Red-tailed Hawks [all adults]
2 Rough-legged Hawks [light and dark]
1 Northern Harrier [adult male]
2 American Kestrels
Also... 7 Snowy Owls & 1 Northern Shrike [adult].
Duck, ducks, & more ducks along the shore.
From the Thousand Islands I took a look at another field complex between the St. Lawrence River and Perch River. It is a wonderful shallow bowl of fields extending for six miles. The snow started squalling and it was all over until next Winter.
4 Red-tailed Hawks [all well-marked and even orangey adults]
2 Rough-legged Hawks [light/dark]
3 Northern Harriers [2 adult males;1 immature male]
[right: First Snowy Owl of the day. This young female was being harrassed by gulls while sitting just offshore on a natural limestone rock bar. The gulls lost interest after a few minutes.]
Ontarians & Cantonese* birders talk Snowy Owl locations on the Wolfe Island Ferry... like it was going to be hard to find one... when all was said and done! After reports of nine Snowies last weekend, there were lots of birders on board. The free ride takes twenty minutes from Kingston to Wolfe Island's lone village of Marysville. [*of or from Canton, NY]
Ontario & the Maritimes are speckled with humble, little Anglican churches [The Church of England]. While you might picture the surrounding streets and houses, there wasn't another dwelling in sight. Move your mouse over the image for close-up of the door.