It’s cold. Wicked cold, snot-freezing cold, why-didn’t-I-stay-in-bed cold. But it’s opening day of Christmas Bird Count season, and I was off to Schenectady County.
At 8°F, pigeons huddled for warmth on light poles. As the sky brightened a few birds ventured down to the pavement, joined by others from across the lot. When they all erupted into the air, we realized one of the ‘pigeons’ was a Cooper’s Hawk. It gave up the attack quickly and swung off into a tree. And we started our route.
Things settled into a routine pretty quickly. Cruise slowly along the road, windows cracked for chip notes, get out, stand around stamping our feet, jump back in the car and crank the heat. Repeat, adding a few birds at a time for a few hours. It seemed to be getting colder as the morning wore on. The birds had better sense than the birders.
Then the news raced across the local list — Snowy Owl at RPI! I recognized the location right away. All the times I’d driven my kids to classes there finally paid off! I decided to bail from the count, and the count followed me across the river to Troy where right where he was supposed to be was a beautiful immature male Snowy Owl.
He gazed around looking sleepy. Cars entered and exited the parking lot, birders gathered and oooohed and gazed. The only thing that caught his interest was a vehicle squeaking like a tremendous rodent. For that, he opened his eyes.
Until a pigeon darted by. He followed the bird’s flight, turning his head nearly 90 degrees.
Then he turned around…
… and did what birds usually do when planning a hasty takeoff. (No, I did not take a picture of that.) And in a heartbeat, too quickly for me to follow with the camera, he took off.