Searching for Raptors (and other predatory birds) in the Magic Triangle
Earlier this week some friends and I drove over to what some birders call the Magic Triangle located between Westport and Essex. We were looking for raptors and other field birds, and there had been reports of a Snowy Owl in the area and we were hoping to see and possibly photograph it.
Our sightings of predatory birds began as we drove from Elizabethtown when I spotted an adult Northern Shrike on a power line along a brushy stretch of road. The bird was evidently hunting for small songbirds in the bushes. We reached the fields around the Magic Triangle, finding a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk clinging to the small branches at the top of a tree. However, we were fairly focused on locating the Snowy Owl, and we drove on. We slowly drove along the field lined roads, stopping here and there to scan, but didn’t find the Snowy.
We drove down Middle Road where two Snowies had been reported about a month ago, but didn’t note any there. We did find a nice Peregrine Falcon as a consolation prize. The bird was perched low in a bare tree overlooking some fields. We returned to the intersection of Clark and Cross Roads where the Snowy had been seen and waited a bit before driving off on a short foray again. As we returned from this trip I spotted the Snowy landing on a small shed along the road. It had evidently been sitting out on the open field behind a knoll which blocked our view.
The owl quickly moved from the shed to some trees along Route 22 – a busy road and one I hope it avoids. It then moved in a circuit from those trees to a stand of trees out across the fields to the trees in the yard of the nearby farmhouse and then back to the field with the shed. In each location it would sit – sometimes very briefly and other times for 15 minutes or more – always scanning its surroundings for prey. I stood in a likely flight path between these points hoping it would come closer to my camera and waited.
After perhaps 15-20 minutes I was rewarded as it flew in and landed in the trees nearby. While my lens wasn’t that strong to capture the action up close, I was happy with my attempted photos and so when the owl flew across the fields and out of sight; I headed south along the lake with friends in search of more raptors. As we were leaving a flock of Snow Buntings flew overhead and we added a Red-tailed Hawk to our list of raptors as we drove.
We headed to the fields south of Westport where a second Snowy had been reported, but we didn’t find it in the evening shadows. We did find small collections of ducks along Dudley Road as well as at both the Westport Boat Launch (a very icy driveway so watch your step if you go!) and the Westport Wastewater Treatment Plant. Our light was low but we found Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye, Black Ducks, Mallards, and Bufflehead. I also spotted a Bald Eagle – the final raptor of our trip.