County Bird #152 – Northern Hawk Owl

On her way Sunday to a Christmas Bird Count, Liz Lackey, a skilled birder from Stowe, spotted a Northern Hawk Owl and reported it that evening.  It was only 25 minutes from here, so Monday morning, before some scheduled appointments, I went up to take a look.  The site was on Route 100, a major tourist/commuting highway, and just up the road from one of Vermont’s prime tourist attractions,  Cold Hollow Cider Mill.  The two-lane highway was busy and there were no shoulders due to snowbanks as I headed north, driving carefully and looking best I could.  No luck the first pass so I turned into a narrow road and looked back — and immediately spotted it high in the same bare tree where Liz had reported it.

I got the binoculars on it and confirmed it easily in spite of the long distance and lousy sun angle.  I pulled into a driveway to get a little closer, watched it for a bit and fired off a few photos with the telephoto knowing that the conditions were tough.  Just then, it dove out of sight — either hunting or just changing position.  I braved the traffic a few more times with no further success but am pretty confident that it stayed in the area and folks will see it — at least briefly — in the days ahead.

Low quality photo taken into the sun at long distance.  Canon SX50 @215mm

Low quality photo taken into the sun at long distance. Canon SX50 @215mm

We had a Northern Hawk Owl here in 2011 – I remember seeing it on New Year’s day.  I was pretty new to birding and when I arrived, the back road had a large group of birders and several scopes set up.  I met many of the top Vermont birders that morning and several shared their scopes with me as we watched the patient owl watch us — far off but offering great looks.  There was no traffic, the birders were psyched about this bird on the first day of the year — and I think I got an impression that this stuff was easy.  Today proved otherwise — you take your life in your hands to see the 2013 bird.  Skiers on their way to Stowe’s new powder take no prisoners.  So, if you try for this one, be very cautious.  It is a very difficult location but perhaps the bird will move a little bit and be accessible from a quiet back road.

I thank my Mad River Birder friends Pat and Patti for making sure I knew of Liz’s report. It very well be the last County bird for me this year – what a good ending.

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