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Gerry Smith and I returned to the scene of the crime and reprised our Christmas Eve Day Count on February 1st, 1998.

To recap: "We conducted a raptor count of western Jefferson County NY toward and including Pt. Peninsula. We then combed the highways and byways [mostly, gonebyways] of Chaumont and Cape Vincent."

The aftermath of THE early January ice storm was evident everywhere with shattered telephone poles and tangles of old wires yet to be cleaned up. Over four inches of ice coated things in the area: that's a lot of ice. Anything over 2" is a serious problem.

Power was just being restored as we birded the area; crews were at work even on Sunday. The many summer homes ringing Pt.Peninsula have been left without power for now: the complete clean-up including recycling all the old wires will continue well into Spring: a season that usually comes/goes in this area around Memorial Day.

On the hawk front, a great Roughleg year didn't materialize but we had fun anyway...

2/1/98 12/24/97
RL 48 73
RT 63 42
NH 1 7
BE 1 0
AK 1 3
CH 2 0
NG 1 1
GHO* 2 0
SeO** 7 6
126 132

* Great Horned Owl
** Short-eared Owl

Hawk Food Highlights
The usual species repeated their December appearances including plenty of Snow Buntings, a covey or two of Gray Partridge, one Hoary Redpoll w/some commons, and 3 immature Northern Shrikes. A species we love but absent on our 12/24 trip.

There were 17 or so birds on the Pt. around Thanksgiving, 39 on the eve of Christmas, and now it's down to 21 birds inhabiting the Point. Forty-eight RL's were had over the count area though.

The great vole year was a plus, but seasonal weather patterns play a part in making a great year too. And the mild, snowless conditions north and west of the Great Lakes didn't push anymore birds into the area. The ice storm of a few weeks ago may have killed or moved some of the Christmas Roughlegs out of the area.

At the bottom of this page is a temperature chart from CNN showing the extent of the warm winter. Note the red area north and west of the Great Lakes: a record-setting deviation. A snowy, cold Winter there combined with a peak in the vole cycle means a great RL year. So this factor is most likely the missing ingredient for the pretty-good but not great counts for Winter of 97-98.

Overall though, a near-50 Roughleg day is a pretty good day o'raptors anywhere/anytime.

Other Raptors
The total number of hawks/owls was about equal to 12/24. The RT's just seemed to fill the space left by the RL's. But numbers can be deceptive. The tails were not found in the RL places but increased over the whole of the day's route. There was, afterall, a bumper crop of raptor food everywhere.

Harriers and Kestrels wintering in the North Country are usually adult males -- an indicator of the skill level needed to vacation here. [And a smaller body size helps too.] The decline in numbers for both species often happens after a snow cover sets in. Because of the winds moving over the lake plain, even two feet of snow fall only results in an even coating of 2-6 inches. But that's enough to all but eliminate NH's from an area with otherwise abundant food. Harriers for sure are very snow sensitive.

On the Owl front, we had Short-eared Owls in the usual places. While the Great Horned Owls were heard but not seen.

A Microtus hops in from the left and a raptor hits it sliding to the top right: there's a spot of blood there. Nice wing mark in the snow too. And there's more to this story...
Now here's the most interesting Roughleg we saw all day. Just kidding... need an i.d. hint: check the day list for 2/1/98.
The weight of four inches of ice buckled poles all over the North Country. Interesting break pattern: halfway up and at the ground.
It looks like someone set a gigantic lawnmower, with a dull blade, for a cutting height of 30 ft. and ran it over ALL the woods for hundreds of square miles. The shadow is that of newly erected telephone pole.
North County Winter sunsets are spectacular. If the sun sets and no one sees it, does it still make a sound. Ever heard a sunset?
Short-eared Owl PhotoNote: Late "afternoon" light doesn't always make for accurate colors. But the reddish-brown patches were really present on this first winter plumaged SeO. Also I deteriorated [if that's a verb] this JPEG image as I saved to cut down the file size.
On another note, I like framing individuals looking like you might see them in the wild... w/some ecosystem showing!
The adult male Northern Harrier, habitat included [left], was photographed on a down stroke showing off that "gull" wing tip: top and underneath.

Snow Bunting [above] occur by the hundreds: here's one up close.

Only one little Roughleg pic when this was about Roughlegs [below]? Maybe it wasn't that much about Roughlegs... although we love our RL's. This distant bird was a mostly failed opportunity to get up close with an intermediate light-dark bird.