Documenting the Birding Adventures of Scott Whittle
Saturday, December 20, 2008
A Trip to Peru
The year is starting to wind down now, with less than two weeks till New Years. November was a dissapointing month for rarities, most notable being the absence of a Ash Throated Flycatcher this year. However, where one expected bird fails, an unexpected bird appears, and so it was with a Northern Hawk Owl that showed up in Peru, NY, near Plattsburgh at the top of the Adirondacks. Hawk Owl is a great rarity for New York, certainly not a yearly thing, and is a very cool bird. They live in the Boreal Forest in Canada and Eurasia, and they hunt both day and night. They can spot prey up to 1/2 mile away, and can hear and catch a vole or other target under up to a foot of snow. They have a long tail, unlike other owls, and do have a somewhat hawk-like appearance and behavior, perching on treetops or posts and scanning for food.
I couldn't get up to Peru for several days, but I wasn't too concerned with this bird. A Hawk Owl that appeared in Bloomingdale Bog a few years ago stayed for a couple of months. I got a window of opportunity on Thursday night, so I drove up and got into Plattsburgh a little after midnight. The next morning I was at the spot at daybreak. At first I wasn't seeing anything, so I drove around a little, and found a large Snow Bunting flock and a few crows. The crows worried me a little, since they are known to mob predators like hawks and owls, and I didn't want them suppressing this bird. As I came back to my original position my fear was realized, as first one and then 1/2 dozen crows started hectoring a bird in the apple orchard across the street...it was the Hawk Owl. The owl was pushed off its perch and flew into the orchard where I couldn't see. The crows lost interest, and I thought I might have a long wait ahead of me before the owl showed itself. But I underestimated the owl, and within minutes it swooped up and perched on top of a telephone pole by the road. I drove a little closer and got some photos in the overcast morning light. The bird seemed completely uninterested in me, and looked intently towards the ground, swiveling its head back and forth. At one point it got especially interested in one spot, sat more upright, and then suddenly swooped down and splashed into the snow. Whatever it was, it missed, and it flew back up to its perch to continue the hunt. I spent a couple of hours watching and photographing, and didn't see it catch anything in that time, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
In addition to the owl there had been reports of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings in the area, and although I've already listed them this year I certainly wanted to see them again. I drove the local roads for a while, and at one point got onto a distant Waxwing flock that turned out to be most if not all Ceday Waxwings. I gave up around 11, and headed back to town for lunch. As I pulled up to Becky's diner I saw a berry bush across the street that was covered in Waxwings, mostly Cedar, but including 3 Bohemians and 3 Pine Siskins. I parked near the bush and used the car as a blind, and watched and photgraphed for about half an hour as the birds fed on the abundant berries. The colors of these birds almost look spray painted on, and that combined with the red berries and the red building behind nearly knocked my eyes out.
I had the day's special at Beckys (spagetti and red sauce...all eight of the other customers were having it, too), and then headed back around noon. Then the snow started, and I came back in the blizzard. What took about 5 hours the night before took 8 1/2 hours back, but I returned to a beautiful, snow-covered Brooklyn.
My name is Scott Whittle and I'm a professional photographer (www.scottwhittle.com). I have an MFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. I started birding as a teenager, and then dropped it for many years. I started to bird again in 2007, and have been birding since then in Brooklyn, NY and Cape May, NJ.