The Great Backyard Bird Count is on and I am out counting birds. Today is day 2 of the count and I start by counting the birds in my own yard. After yesterday’s High of 60 degrees the 32 degrees I wake up to today feels frigid, especially when you add in the high winds and the wind chill factor. After counting birds in my own yard, I move on to my friend Merry Robin’s yard. I count the birds there for 15 minutes.
Next I move on to Sacred Heart Park in Andover.Gus and I discovered this place when we first looked at the apartment we are renting. It is a perfect place to bird watch with open fields, wooded areas and a lazy river meandering through it. But, when I arrive today the field is still covered with almost 2 feet of snow. The temperature has dropped from the 60 degrees it was yesterday to 34 degrees today with high, gusty winds. In other words, it is very cold out there. So, I sit in my heated car with its heated seats and roll down a window so I can hear any birds and wait.
A lone gull soars overhead, then another. Time is passing slowly and I am seeing nothing. I scan the trees surrounding the field for any sign of movement. Nothing. Usually I see or hear crows and jays. Nothing. Suddenly I see a pair of pigeons fly overhead, then, Nothing. My time is almost up and I scan the trees one more time when I detect a funny lump in the tangle of twigs and vines. I focus as best as I can through the branches and there I find a Red-tailed Hawk just sitting. Wanting a closer look and perhaps a photo I shut off my heated car, grab my bins and camera and get out. As I step out of the car I hear a blue jay call. Species number 4 for this location.
I walk out onto the field. In the gap between the guardrails the snow has been worn down and I think this will be no problem, but, after 3 or 4 steps out my feet start to sink in the snow. Soon I am up to my ankles, then my knees, and I do not have boots on, so the snow is tumbling into the tops of my shoes. I chalk this up to a bad idea, take one last shot, and head back to my car as a couple of crows call from over the treetops. I get a total of 5 species in my 15 minutes at this location with having seen 2 species of gulls.
I move on to Andover town Park next where I park in a virtually abandoned parking lot. I back up to on snow bank and face the park. Gray cloudy tumble overhead in a boiling sky. The gusting wind is tearing branches from the trees and littering the parking lot with debris. I know that windy days keep the birds down, but I sit here anyway. If no birds arrive, I will enter a count of zero into the GBBC and eBird, for they both want to know where the birds aren’t as well as where they are. After sitting in my heated car with heated seats for about 10 minutes I decide to get out and just walk over to the spruce and pines I see surrounding the park just so I can peek up through the branches and see if any little feathered friends are hiding in the tree. You know, bird watching and birding are all about timing, and life was just about to teach me that once again.
As I step from the car into the freezing wind with my bins around my neck and my camera slung over my shoulder I must have looked like an Eskimo in my hooded parka. I close the car door and walk around the front of the vehicle. As I do, I am facing northeast, in the direction I am walking. Suddenly up over the eastern horizon I see a dark shape rocking on the wind. As it comes closer I cannot believe my eyes, for I know what it is. I raise my camera and click! Click! Click!
But the turkey vulture rides the current and drops behind the tree line to the south.
Meanwhile, behind me I hear the cawing of crows. I turn to see what is going on and from the northwest over town I see a fury of black shapes chasing a large raptor. This roiling and boiling bunch of feathers is headed my way, but a large maple tree is blocking my view. I scurry to anticipate which direction they are going so I can hopefully capture some shots as they move into a clear patch of sky.
For a few brief seconds they are directly over my head and I snap away.
Through the lens of my camera I cannot see any details of the hawk they are chasing. In my heart I am hoping I am seeing a Northern Goshawk. I think to myself that the bird looks awfully pale and gray from below, but when I look at the photos afterwards I discover it is just another red-tailed hawk. Still, I am pleased.
As the hawk heads south the mob of crows breaks up and turns back to the north. I also turn to walk back to my car when suddenly I see the turkey vulture retuning from over the southern tree line and the large brick buildings before me.
As the vulture dips its wings towards me I feel as if it is giving me its blessings. I get in my car, turn the heat back on, and drive away. I only counted 3 species at this location but what an exciting count it turned out to be!