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Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Northern Hawk Owl in Berlin, VT!

2010 ended with some excitement for Nat Shambaugh as he discovered a Northern Hawk Owl hanging out in the fields around Towne-Aire farm at the end of Jones Brook Rd in Berlin! “Go west on route 2 out of Montpelier, turn left at the fork past the Dairy Creme onto Three Mile Bridge Rd,” directed Nat, “go over the bridge and turn right onto the river road and start looking around in the tree tops and elec. poles…” After reporting the bird on the VTBIRD list on December 31, eager birders from around the state converged on Berlin to see the owl and over a dozen people saw the Hawk Owl in the 48-hours following Nat's original posting.

Northern Hawk Owls are indeed owls, not hawks, and are breeders of the boreal forest, only venturing to our southern reaches occasionally in winter. It gets its name because, as one would expect, it is said to resemble a hawk in appearance with a more slender, stream-lined body, smaller head, and overall more “hawk-like” posture and appearance than other North American owls. A treat for any birder (or non-birder, for that matter) to see, these owls are diurnal. When they do appear in our state, being active by day makes them much easier to observe. Furthermore, they have a tendency to choose the most prominent perch, be it the tippy-top of a tree, a telephone pole or wire, a fence post, or a street sign. Although their appearance in our state is rare, when they do appear, they tend to stick around and attract hordes of birders. The image above of a Hawk Owl in Eden, VT spent almost 2 months in the same location in the winter of 2009, being seen dozens of times by scores of birders. How long the Berlin owl will stick around is anybody’s guess.

Despite many search attempts since January 1st, the Berlin Hawk Owl hasn’t been relocated. Living only a few miles from the site where it was discovered, Chip Darmstadt was hot on the scene before its disappearance and got the picture shown above. “Eventually it flew over Jones Brook Road,” recounted Chip, “continuing to hunt from the powerline on the open hillside (technically in Moretown). There's a lot of open country along this stretch of the Winooski, so it would definitely be worth driving all of River Road between Montpelier and Middlesex [for those who want to look for it].” Another lucky observer, John Snell, managed to capture some thermal images of the owl as the sun set on New Year ’s Eve. Check out these amazing images below! (note that the right image shows the Hawk Owl on the ground after catching a rodent!)

We’ll keep trying to relocate this bird and will make updates on our blog, so check back for more details. Also, Bryan Pfeiffer, guru birder and friend of NBNC is keeping tabs on sightings on his blog, The Daily Wing. Whether the bird is rediscovered or not, it has already put on quite a show and given us a great start to the Washington County Birding Challenge!

1 comment:

  1. I relocated the Hawk Owl this morning at about 9:30 am. It was off the west side of Jones Brook Rd, way up on the hill near the powerlines. It was perched atop a leafless tree for the 15-20 minutes I observed it. Perhaps it has been hanging out on this powerline cut out-of-sight the last few days? If it had been 100 yards farther west it would not have been visible from the road. I'll post a picture this evening.