Northern Hawk Owl

There have been reports lately about a Northern Hawk Owl spotted in Peru, NY. This is a bird that breeds in the boreal forests of Alaska and Canada. If food is scare, a hungry wanderer will find its way down to the northern United States. Roughly the size of a crow, this diurnal owl can find and seize a vole or a mouse from ½ mile away, even if its prey is buried in up to a foot of snow.
While I have traveled for some spectacular birding expeditions, I am not inclined to drive 8-hours round trip to see one bird that may or may not be there when I arrive. My weekend times away from work are precious. There is housework to be done, errands to complete, phone calls to made, books to read, horses to be ridden. I am reluctant to spend hours sitting on the NY Thruway unless the return is pretty certain. So when Bev from BehindtheBins (who lives 20 minutes away) twittered that she was driving up to “get” the Hawk Owl and wanted to know if anyone was interested in joining her… of course, I tweeted back, “WHEN?”
We left 24 hours later. She drove.
We spent the predawn hours on the NY State Thruway and arrived about 9:30am on a snowy road where the bird had been reported to be seen “often perched on telephone poles or in the local orchards, very easy to see….” Only last Saturday was VERY windy, driving the chill factor to below zero. We sat by the side of the road in down coats and hats and gloves. Sat there, and sat there, and sat there, occasionally chatting with other birders who were arriving from Connecticut, New York City, Long Island, Queens, Albany. We exchanged cell numbers so we could scout around and call each other if the bird was found. Brief forays to nearby fields yielded a sparkling flock of over 50 Bohemian Waxwings (lifer!) as well as the usual Titmice, Black-capped Chickadees, Cardinals. We watched a Kestrel swoop in on a group of Horned Larks foraging on the roadside. Someone else saw Snow Buntings. Every now and then, one of the Peru residents would slow down and ask us, “Are you here to see the Hawk Owl? It’s usually right there, EVERY DAY.” Except Saturday, when we were there.
About 3pm, we were cold and stiff from sitting in the car so long and wondered if we should shove off, but dreaded the words every birder has heard at least once, “It showed up five minutes after you left.” So we waited. And while Bev chatted with another birder, I gazed through my binoculars for the millionth time over an overgrown field as the cold wind razored my cheeks…
And there it was: The Northern Hawk Owl, perched on a snag.
No military unit moves faster than a bunch of birders on a quest. Within seconds, tripods spidered the side of the road and scopes were trained on the bird of the year. A minute later, it flew, but a kind motorist happened by and informed us the bird was perched a quarter of a mile away, so we zoomed over to get our fill of what turned out to be a very cooperative owl, as were the birders themselves, who were careful not to get too close or to interfere with its hunting.
Here it is, peering left, so you only see one yellow eye. My camera is not powerful enough to get a clear shot and the wind made it hard to be still. Nevertheless, it is still a thrill to have taken my own picture of an incredible creature.
So…where to next….?

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This entry was posted in birders, Northern Hawk Owl, NY State Thruway, Peru NY. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Northern Hawk Owl

  1. He’s a beautiful animal. I’m glad that your trip eventually paid off and you got your bird. It was worth the trip.

  2. Kim says:

    Ohhh…good for you! I was actually getting nervous that you weren’t going to see it.

  3. AnnL says:

    Oooh, how cool!!! I would have been happy to see the flock of FIFTY(!!!) Bohemian Waxwings! I’ve only seen random pairs. But, glad to hear that you got your owl.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Kind of like Bird Paparazzi…🙂Barbara

  5. Beautiful write-up of a perfect day.

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