Hello Vermont Birders:
Starting off a year with an owl species is always a goal of mine and this
morning turned out to be exceptional. The conditions were pretty ideal -
warm, calm, and overcast (dark). I was up owling in southern Chittenden
County from a little after 0500 to sunrise and managed to find myself
within earshot of seven Great Horned Owls and one Eastern Screech-Owl. At
one location I could hear two pairs of Great Horned Owls dueting
simultaneously with a screech trilling in the foreground. None of the
Great Horned Owls were solicited by playback so the breeding season is
getting underway it seems.
After a sunrise pick up of my good friend, Bill Hancock, visiting from
Maine, we headed down to the Champlain Bridge for some ducking with Ian
Worley. The low ceiling, intermittent fog and sections of ice on the lake
made for a study in gray and turned the horizon line into guesswork.
Significant rafts of diving ducks kept teasing us in the distance as they
faded in and out of view. The concentration of diving ducks at this site
is truly impressive. A careful count of Common Mergansers yielded 1344
individuals. Over 1,100 Common Goldeneyes were in view but I suspect even
more were just out of sight. Relocating the previously reported pair of
Redheads was a highlight but they took off heading up the lake. A Common
Loon, four Hooded Mergansers, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker seemed
noteworthy as well.
Our waterfowl census from the bridge was interrupted by one of the most
spectacular aerial pursuits I have ever witnessed. From out of the distant
fog came a rattled and rattling Belted Kingfisher and an adult Peregrine
Falcon. The peregrine made repeated dramatic stoops on the kingfisher as
it tried its best to get to the Vermont shoreline. Each pass by the
falcon sent the kingfisher plunging into the lake. Forced to cross a
section of ice, the kingfisher twice resorted to belly-sliding when it felt
the Peregrine breathing up its tail feathers. Eventually the kingfisher
was saved by the treeline and the peregrine was forced to rest atop a tree
at the base of the bridge. A scope view of the falcon showed a metal
federal band on the right leg but I never saw the left leg clearly to
determine if it was marked.
Ian, Bill, and I moved up the road to D.A.R. State Park. Visibility was no
better but a new set of ducks were scopable (yes I am making up words).
The Redhead pair had joined these rafts dominated by Lesser Scaup (444) and
Common Goldeneye (244). Other notables at this location were 11
White-winged Scoters (all drakes) and a drake Long-tailed Duck.
After birding the state park, Bill and I said goodbye to Ian and worked our
way back to the Burlington area. On our way home we tallied about a half
dozen Rough-legged Hawks and a Merlin. On Slang Road in Panton we
encountered an adult Northern Shrike.
What a fun way to start the new year.