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the opposite of a hawk watch | this count is one where the hawkwatchers are on the move and hawks -- more or less -- aren't. These "Winter Counts" are now conducted around Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Groundhog Day in two locations with similar open, flat terrain and of approximately the same square miles. As long as this Winter is already a mess, protocol-wise for me, why not keep up the chaos with a delayed visit to VT and a really delayed trip to NY [due to an extended period of lake effect snow banding making it treacherous to get to the NY count area... for three weeks].And, as it turned out, there was Winter enough for trips to both Ontario islands -- for hawks and Snowy Owls.

Welcome to the "Better Late than Never Tour" [as it's being put online in June, 2007].
[above: Immie Rougleg in Vermont.]


'06-'07 Winter Raptor Counts:
ThanksgivingChristmas Eve • Groundhog Day

So, for more odd science, let's break the pattern that I've used fairly successfully for ten years. For a "Groundhog Day Raptor Count" let's have a run on January 21st, then cover Vermont on February 7th. In past years, I've managed to conduct the counts as a snapshot, one site right after the other, and almost always without the passage of a frontal system that might move birds.
[right: Adult female Red-tailed Hawk contemplates photographer... predator or prey?]

Through early January 2007, there was a lull in the wintering numbers of Roughlegs -- not many birds, and a near absence of adults. There was an abundance of Harriers -- immatures, although there was a shift in sex ratios between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Redtails were interesting too, when you looked at both the ages and the plumages -- not until the very cold conditions, did the last of the juvenile birds that dispersed northward in late summer finally abanbon the North Country. For juvs from the northern end of the Redtail range and adults of maritime plumages, they showed up as the sub-zero temps really took hold and ulitmately change the bioenergetic equations. For some CBCs, this interim period before the cold snap [see Christmas Eve Count page], left a donut hole of low Redtail numbers. Two ways to look at the donut hole: that it represents something like zero RTs and it also means that there were Redtails -- the donut -- both north and south of the hole.

Champlain Lake Plain VT
Got in one good day, weatherwise. In between the snow events.
Temps ranged up to a balmy 15F [starting at 5F] with about one inch of snow on the ground, although it had been windblown and finished off with a hard refrozen surface. The day started off clear but deteriorating to partly cloudy conditions with virga portending a messy end and bad driving.

Hours and days and years and decades of cruising for raptors puts the observer in the right place at the right time, once in a while. I came across an adult Redtail on the ground with prey being harrassed by a diving raven. The raven broke off its undulations suddenly when a second Redtail with a good head of steam comes in talons first and grabs hold of the prey item, wresting it away from the first bird. Now in the air, the first was now in pursuit of an airborne mammal: still dead. Within fifty meters, two sets of talons have ahold of the vole and the Redtails tumble to the ground within a half dozen sets of wingbeats. I was able to keep track of the two hawks... the original RT began mantling the shared prey item with hackles raised. The second bird, on its side, had to let go in order to get upright. Without a physical claim to the food anymore, it takes its leave. Where's the raven?! Nowhere to be found.

This sort of confrontation happens of course [see the Discovery Channel and PBS], but for every incident presented on "film" there is the rest of day when birds with prey are merely observed by the others.

7 February '07:
34 Rough-legged Hawks [28 light morph, 6 dark; 16 adults]
25 Red-tailed Hawks [all adults]
1 Northern Harrier
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk

Hawk food:
173 Snow Buntings, 63 Horned Larks, 7 Lapland Longspurs, 1 Northern Flicker.

Lake Ontario Lake Plain NY
Had a chance to run up to the North Country to catch the influx of Roughlegs due to the colder weather. The area had a nice supply of voles, as immie Roughlegs were everywhere. The harsher conditions also appeared to push the meek and the Harriers southward.
[left: Another northern Redtail type stands out against the treeline: hooded bird with essentially no belly band.]

The first day -- 21 January -- started at six below zero (F) and soared to the low twenties; with no winds, that's not so bad. And on calm winds, birds were sitting out, some perched high, others on soar.
One hundred and thirty-three hawks is also not so bad. It's pretty good, especially when there's a nice mix of species.
[right: Adult male Roughleg with a gray-flecked back and nice bib.]

21 January 2007:
69 Rough-legged Hawks [53 light morph, 14 dark; 14 adults]
42 Red-tailed Hawks [32 adults]
20 Northern Harriers [7 adult males]
2 American Kestrels
And:
12 Short-eared Owls and 1 Northern Shrike.

Hawk food:
263 Snow Buntings, 36 Horned Larks, 28 Mourning Doves, 4 Lapland Longspurs.
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The second run to the North Country followed a mid-March Nor'easter so, on the backside, the winds turned on the lake effect machinery. Three inches of new snow was on the ground with the band of snow tickling the count area as it oscillated north-south through the day. With the Spring migration underway, I caught an increase in the adult Roughleg numbers, with a notable shift in adult Redtails too... probably all card-carrying members of SOSPR [Southern Ontario Society of Professional Redtails]. Family membership level.

In addition to pair-sitting Redtails -- a not uncommon sight if you're paying attention -- I also had one pair of Roughegs sitting side-by -side. Nice find. An adult female Snowy Owl that was had perched on a wooden hay wagon literally disappeared into a squall line without leaving her feet late in the afternoon. Based on the location of my bird, there were at least three birds in the within the count area [Gerry Smith had two others: a ways away from this bird and of two other plumages a couple of days earlier.].

17 March 2007:
65 Rough-legged Hawks [47 light morph, 18 dark; 26 adults]
16 Red-tailed Hawks [all adults]
14 Northern Harriers [7 adult males]
6 American Kestrels
And:
1 Snowy Ow1 and 1 Northern Shrike [adult].

Hawk food:
30 American Robins and a meadowlark.

Amherst & Wolfe Islands, Ontario
Oh Canada... I visited both Amherst and Wolfe Islands on two successive weekend days -- the 4th and 10th of March, respectively. More importantly, this means 2x visits to Pan Chancho for cResonates and bread before, and finishing off each day at the Kingston Brewing for cask conditioned celebrations.
[right: Short-eared Owl out at noon in late January, Northern NY; a common occurrence.]

Amherst Island will soon be choked to death by wind turbines, but hey, I had hawks on my visit. I had a nice kettle of fourteen Roughlegs progressing from their roosting site on one end of the island and spreading out over to the prime field complexes.... right through the area that will be plastered with wind stalks. Way to go KFN.

Wolfe Island was rainy, host to a dearth of hawks, but I finally came upon my first Snowy Owl for the Winter Count, sitting very close to a remote dirt road. And there will be another waste of space wind project going in there as well... Ontario needs a few more millionaires too, I guess.

4 March '07 [Amherst I.]:
39 Rough-legged Hawks
14 Red-tailed Hawks
13 Northern Harriers
2 American Kestrel
And:
3 Short-eared Owls and an adult Northern Shrike.

Hawk food:
8 Snow Buntings and a Ring-necked Pheasant [!].
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10 March '07 [Wolfe I.]:
3 Red-tailed Hawks [adults]
2 Rough-legged Hawks [2 light birds; ad/imm]
2 American Kestrels [adult males]
1 Northern Harrier [adult male]
And:
1 Snowy Owl [pictured below], with an adult Northern Shrike and 7 Bald Eagles on Wellesley Island [US/Canada border crossing].

Hawk food:
91 Horned Larks [pairs, many], 132 Snow Buntings, 1 Lapland Longspur.

The Owls of Ontario: The female Short-eared Owl on the left was teed up at midday on Amherst Island. There were a couple of male SeOwls soaring overhead. The male Snowy Owl was the finale to my Wolfe Island foray. The blackish thing, just off the end of the tail, is a dead meadow vole.
[The owls are not scaled, such that the bigger Snowy Owl appears so.]
(More counts online at the Counting for Poets page)