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 approx. the same square miles.
Lake Champlain Lake Plain, VT
Like last Thanksgiving, the hawks were clustered with many empty miles in between. But there were a lot more birds overall this November 23rd. Looks like more voles... and earthworms. Earthworms? With the mild conditions this Thanksgiving, clouds of Ring-billed Gulls were feeding [on their very favorite summer food item] behind tractors practicing the awful practice of winter tilling. Legumes were green even under the light snow covering, and Apple trees in one orchard still had all their leaves.
[above: While the Champlain Valley had a dusting of snow overnight, the fields were green and the ground unfrozen.]
I had a couple of terrific looks at adult male light morph Roughlegs: one bird had no bellyband to speak of and carpel patches made up of only a few loosely aggregated black speckles.
[right: Adult Red-tailed Hawk in Vermont: move your mouse over the watercolored image to reveal the original digiscoped photo.]
34 Red-tailed Hawks [33 adults; 1 immature]
25 Rough-legged Hawks [19 light morph; 5 dark]
18 Northern Harriers [even split on ages]
2 Cooper's Hawks
1 Sharp-shinned Hawk
1 American Kestrel
1 Bald Eagle
450 Horned Larks, 62 Snow Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Robins & thousands of Snow Geese. And one more thing: a single Cave Swallow at Button Bay State Park first flew by heading north, then a few minutes later -- the same bird, most likely -- came back by flying south.
Lake Ontario Lake Plain, NY
Due to some serious lake effect setting up for Friday into whenever, making travel in and out of the count area a dangerous proposition, and because of a low presence of raptors west of Watertown, Gerry Smith make a run of Pt. Peninsula and vicinity at the same time I was in Vermont! A first.
Unfortunately he did have particularly low Roughleg numbers, as predicted, "POOR" was the final phrase in Gerry's emailed report on the day, but, time will tell if there will be more birds for Christmas Eve Day.
[right: Immature Rough-legged Hawk; taken 12/22/05 and backfilled here from an abundance of Christmas Eve images.]
24 Red-tailed Hawks [23 adults; 1 immature]
5 Rough-legged Hawks [4 light; 1 dark]
2 Northern Harriers
3 American Kestrels
Also... 1 immature Northern Shrike.
185 Tundra Swans on Lake Ontario, a Common Raven pair courting on Pt. Peninsula, a pair of Red-winged Blackbirds, maybe 20 Horned Larks for the day, and no Snow Buntings, at all.
[below: Gerry Smith emailed me this shot of a greenish, snowless field he took on Pt. Peninsula, west of Watertown NY.]