Northern Hawk Owl in Maine

by John Briggs on February 7, 2009

in Bird Photographs, Blog, Weekend Birding

Island on the Sheepscot River - Wiscasset, Maine

Island on the Sheepscot River - Wiscasset, Maine

The time had come to take the trip to Bristol, Maine to see the famed Northern Hawk Owl. The boreal species from the northern reaches of North America has been at the same location since the first of January. Sharon and I decided that if we wanted to add this species to our life list, we had better get moving.

It was a race against time to make the 30 mile trip before the clouds over took the mid coast of Maine. I wanted to photograph this bird, and clouds would ruin the opportunity for good pictures.

Crossing over the bridge between Wiscasset and Edgecomb was sureal. Arctic sea smoke was just disapating and everything had a heavy coating of smoke frost. When we reached the end of the bridge, I had to stop to capture an image of a small island in the Sheepscot River that looked so beautiful, it nearly took your breath away.

We turned off Route 1 and went south on Route 130 down the Pemaquid Peninsula. Anxiety began to set in. Would the Owl still be there? Were the directions good? (4/10’s of a mile south of the Bristol Consolidated School, look in the tall trees) Would the clouds hold off?

There was no doubt as to the location after we passed the school. Tracks in the snow from vehicles and humans along the side of the road told us we were in the right spot. I pulled off the road as far as I could and immediately began looking in the “tall trees”. From inside the car, we looked for a good five minutes.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

Oh no! Did it finally decide to head back north? Was it out hunting? Please, please, please show yourself!

I got out of the car to have a better look. I saw movement out the corner of my eye. I wanted to holler, “THERE IT IS!” I knew better than to do that, so I whispered loudly to Sharon, “don’t move!” The Owl was in a tall spruce directly across the road from where we parked.

I took a few images, checked them on the LED screen and decided I needed to adjust the ISO and the exposure. In the mean time, the skies were beginning to become milky with clouds lightly veiling the sun.

Taking more images in a race against the clouds, I had to make several more adjustments to the camera. Suddenly, a Red-tailed Hawk swooped in low over the Hawk Owl causing it to flee into thick cover. Natures way of telling us the show was over.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

 We got back into the car and decided to head back home. I drove down the road several miles and turned around. When we got back to the location where the Owl had been, there it was in the exact same spot where it had been previously.

By this time, clouds had pretty much overtaken the sun. We watched the Hawk Owl for a few more minutes and drove off, bidding farewell to this magnificent creature and wishing it a safe trip back home to the far northern reaches of the boreal forests.

Sharon and I talked about the Owl on the way home. We wondered what brought it here and how long it might stay. The two of us promised to return next weekend if it was still around and if the skies were clear. At least we got to see the Owl and we also chalked up another life bird in our birding quest.

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

On the way home, we stopped along Route 1 where the Marsh River goes under the highway and into Sherman Lake. Several Red-breasted  Mergansers were feeding in the only pool of water that was ice free for as far as the eye could see.

The highway was busy with traffic and as a tractor-trailer went by, hitting a bump in the road, making a loud racket scaring the ducks into the air and flying off into the unknown.

What a day! If the Hawk Owl is the only bird that I will see for the rest of the month, it was well worth it. As you can see in the photos, the Owl looks healthy. Serveral reports on the MaineBirds list say that birders have seen it eating small mammals. I am sure when the food supply runs low, it will move on, perhaps bringing a smile to the faces of other birders on the North American continent.

All thumbnail photos in this article are clickable to bring up a larger view. Enjoy!

Camera: Canon 40D
Lens: Canon 100-400mm IS L
Handheld with BushHawk

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

 

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

 

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

 

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

 

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

Red-breasted Merganser in flight

Happy birding!

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