Rough-Legging it for a Snowy Owl

Well when the alarm went off at 7am, reality set in.  The Holiday’s were over.  Work beckoned.  School beckoned.  Today was the day our youngest Lillian started pre-school at the Center for the Disabled.  But we were in luck.  During the night we had a burst of freezing rain, which coated everything, the rain was done but all schools were delayed 2 hours.  I wasn’t feeling in a particular working mood, so I asked our older daughter Sophia if she wanted to skip school and go birding with me.  Normally she hates going birding, but today (maybe it was just to skip school) she said yes.

So off we went.

We first took a cruise around downtown Albany, where for the last 2 weeks a Snowy Owl has frequently been seen on the buildings downtown.  It was first spotted around Christmas on the roof of the New York State Capitol and no one really knew about it until an article appeared in the Schenectady Gazette.  A few days later it appeared on a window ledge of building down the street and a day later was on a church steeple, directly across from the headquarters of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (yeah a lot of work got done in that place that day).

Needless to say I’ve missed the owl by a few minutes each time.  Sophia and I pulled up in front of DEC and scanned the church.  Nothing.  We checked the other buildings nearby, but again found nothing.  Giving up we headed down to Coxsackie to do some more birding.

We first stopped at Henry Hudson Park in the Town of Bethlehem, but found the place very quiet with the exception of 3 Common Mergansers on the Hudson River.  We continued further south to Coeymans Landing, where I was able to give Sophia her first lesson in Gull ID.

Gulls at Coeymans

The one in the middle of course is a Herring Gull, while the two flanking it are Ring-billed Gulls.  Since they were looking for hand-outs, the birds remained cooperative while Sophia was able to ascertain the field marks necessary for identification.

Next we headed down to Coxsackie Boat Launch, where a good number of White-winged Gullshave been spotted.  Arriving, we found plenty of Gulls on the Ice about 75 yards from shore.  I started scanning, but found nothing obvious, mostly Ring-billed, Herring and Great-Black-Backed Gulls.  One another pass, I found an immature Gull, clearly larger than the Herring Gull standing in front of it, with a nice two colored bill, although this bird was pretty dark overall, I have no doubt it was an immature Glaucous Gull.  A few moments later a Red-tailed Hawk soared over and put all the Gulls up.  The immatureGlaucous Gull I spotted and watched fly away, showing no traces of black.  Also while we were there a small flock of Eastern Bluebirdsappeared out of nowhere, something I have experienced a couple of times at the Coxsackie Boat Launch.

From there we started riding around the Coxsackie Flats, finding many Red-tailed Hawks and the usual roadside sparrows (American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and White-throated Sparrow), a few Northern Mockingbirds raised my hopes for a Shrike, but they were quickly dashed.  Finally on Flint Mine Road, I spotted way across the field, my first Rough-Legged Hawk of the day, a light morph.  Driving up the road a bit more, I found another light morph right next to road.  If I had better light, I would have gotten a better picture (this one is for you Nate of the Drinking Bird).

RLJan5

Just as I was about to take another picture, the hawk suddenly dashed down to the grass next to the car and clearly got something.  My camera furiously clicking to chronicle the kill, but I had it on auto focus, so the camera took some awesome, crisp images of a blade of grass between me and the hawk and left the bird fuzzy at best.  Here is my best shot.

picture-009

Just as I was getting my camera focused again, the bird took off and left me with a unique shot of the hawk.

picture-0142

After that we headed over the Greene County IDA Grasslands, a spot well know for hawks and other birds.  When we arrived it was fairly quiet, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks were perched or hunting along the edges of the fields, a lone female Northern Harrier spent much of the time perched upon a fence post calling over and over.  I found this particularly cool, since prior to this moment I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Northern Harrier call before.  A few American Robins, Northern Mockingbirds and Blue Jays worked through the hedgerows.  Then my eyes started searching further out and I noticed something, can you see it?

picture-015

How about now?

cropped-snow

I put my scope on what I thought was a clump of snow, imagine my surprise when the clump of snow turned its head and looked at me!  Yes, we had found an immature Snowy Owl!  The second Snowy Owl I have seen at this location in my (and 3rd Snowy Owl overall this winter!).  What made it even better, was the fact that Sophia was able to get good long scope looks at with no pressure.  A truly awesome moment.

After the owl, we packed up and headed home after a very satisfying day of birding.

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4 responses to “Rough-Legging it for a Snowy Owl

  1. The big question is could you find the Snowy Owl?

    Need a hint? The owl is right of center in the big picture.

    The good news is the Snowy Owl was seen again this evening, so it might stick around for awhile.

    On a more sad note, it appears the downtown Albany Snowy Owl met its demise and was found dead earlier today. Cause of death is unknown at this time.

    Really shows what a hard time these birds have when they make it this far south, even with a stable food source such as a city, poor hunting skills come into play, if the bird can’t catch anything it can’t eat, no matter how much food is around.

  2. Sounds like a really good day. Don’t forget to send us back our Snowy Owls and Rough-legged Hawks when you’re done with them this winter.

    It will probably be a hard year for the returning birds this year. Good nesting success, coupled with the subsequent lemming crash will mean slim pickings for the summer.

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