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. As in the year's past, I've added a location or two.
With a dirth of raptors this Winter, I rambled around in search of more birds. I don't include a species list seen transiting from one count to the next, but I did have the most notable raptor of the trip on the Rt. 11 - NYS rooftop tour route: a Golden Eagle. An adult, or nearly so as the bird kept its tail closed, this individual crossed my path just Northeast of Governeur NY, technically Richville, and locally, that's "Gov-a-manure" to those who know people from there. This highway arcs North of the Adirondacks and South of the St. Lawrence River. At its beginnings along the Vermont border, Quebec is actually South of the river and you can drive right into Canada on many backroads. Of course you'll be detected electronically, but there are no Customs stations to speak of.
[above: Rough-legged Hawk. It's a light morph.And an immature. Also heavily marked.]
Back to the Golden Eagle. It was quite a nice look [are there any bad GE sightings?!], even in the fog/sleet/rain: no more than fifty feet up, to the North, then directly overhead, drifting above this very low, open river plain terrain. I had the bird in view for a good two minutes, just gliding with the occasional deep flapping to keep from stalling against a light SW wind. Very nice. And this real eagle, as the Golden is called, came just a couple of hours after having an adult Bald Eagle sitting on the ice as I crossed the bridge onto Grand Isle VT working my way up and over another bridge to New York State.
[right: One of four Pileated Woodpeckers encountered.]
Other trip oddities, in this very sucky weather pattern [that's the technical term we use in the organic meteorology biz], were four Pileated Woodpeckers, four Northern Flickers, and four Northern Shrikes.
The trip list overview: over a hundred Redtails, thirty-plus Roughlegs, two adult male Northern Harriers, two female Kestrels, a young Coop, and two Peregrine Falcons, plus the aforementioned two eagle species.
Lake Champlain Lake Plain, VT
Little did I know that bright overcast skies first thing in the morning of December 22nd would be the best weather one could hope for on the Christmas Eve '05 run. While the Roughleg numbers were down a bit from Thanksgiving, the Harriers were gone, except one male. Any Peregrines on these Winter Counts are a treat, but two within a mile is a first for me. I would have counted them as one bird, if they weren't different plumages.
26 Red-tailed Hawks [all adults]
21 Rough-legged Hawks [10 light morph; 10 dark; 1 undetermined]
1 Northern Harrier [adult male]
2 Peregrine Falcons
204 Horned Larks, 136 Snow Buntings, 12 Wild Turkeys, 1 Eastern Bluebird, male.
Lake Ontario Lake Plain, NY
Nothing says Merry Christmas like rain and fog! At least there was some seasonal sleet at times. While very few hawks have been wintering west of Watertown, I'm sure I missed a couple that were hunkered down out of the rain on Friday afternoon. Under these conditions, every bird is a gift, and I have some close encounters.
[right: Immature, light morph Roughleg. All overcast imagery, all the time.]
14 Red-tailed Hawks [All adults]
9 Rough-legged Hawks [6 light; 3 dark]
1 American Kestrel
Also... 1 immature Northern Shrike.
65 Tundra Swans on Lake Ontario, 180 Snow Buntings, 48 American Robins, 28 Wild Turkeys, & surprisingly, 4 Northern Flickers.
[below: Adult male, dark morph Roughleg on Pt. Peninsula]
New York State Miscellany
Independently, both Gerry Smith and myself made quick work of Pt. Peninsula's lack of hawks, so on Christmas Eve we ventured into a couple of field complexes located in the vast and under-birded St. Lawrence County in the rain and fog.
In a Winter without many raptors in the good areas, the birds were few and far between here too. But we wended our way through the fog, around Amish buggies, stopping for the infrequent hawk, getting a feel for what could be there... some other year.
[right: Hand-stacked cornstalks in Depeyster NY, where there is a growing Amish community.]
13 Red-tailed Hawks [12 adults; 1 immature]
2 Rough-legged Hawks [light and dark]
1 Cooper's Hawk
1 American Kestrel
Also... 2 Northern Shrikes.
42 Wild Turkeys, 35 Snow Buntings, 4 Eastern Bluebirds, & 2 Pileated Woodpeckers.
Longing for a concentration of Redtails, I checked out a sure thing at the NYSDEC Game Farm adjacent to Cornell University, in Ithaca. The Redtails view this Ring-necked Pheasant ranch as a large bird feeder and come here in good numbers. Twenty-one Redtails were counted regarding their Christmas dinner while perched on the high link fence enclosures. Some of the 21 were had in nearby trees, even here though, the numbers were less than previous years, as the barometric pressure probably lowered the observable birds. Often, birds are seen soaring around and moving between trees and fields.
[below: On the left, two Redtails eye the pheasant buffet; at left, both birds are Redtails even though they sport different shapes... note the tail extensions.]