Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

February 2016

Vol. 44, No. 1

Musings from the Blind Birder: Memorable Winter Birding Moments

Martha Steele


Northern Hawk Owl. All photographs by Bob Stymeist.

Although winter birding generally does not engender the excitement of spring and early summer in New England, it can most certainly produce experiences that remain etched in our memories for life. Such memories for me are not solely about the birds, but also include details on everything about the circumstances of the encounter, including with whom and how we might share those experiences.

Three of my winter birding experiences particularly stick out as extraordinary. In February 2010, Bob and I were lucky enough to enjoy, all to ourselves, a Northern Hawk Owl in North Derby, Vermont, only a football field or two away from the Canadian border. It was a clear, cold, and calm day on a quiet street that ended at the Eagle Point Wildlife Management Area. This is generally open country, managed for grassland and open country birds. Upon arriving, we quickly found the bird perched in the open on a bare tree and facing us. Over the next two hours, we watched the bird’s activities as it flew from tree to bush to telephone wire and back to tree, occasionally dropping down to the snow-covered fields. At that time, my vision was better and I found the bird a stunning specimen, with its piercing eyes, black facial features, and heavily barred breast. I could not take my eyes off the bird, so beautiful, so close, and so perfect in the classic winter landscape. This is my kind of bird: cooperative, often still and facing us, and simply gorgeous. Our experience was made all the more powerful by our personal and private connection with the bird.

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