For the Birds: Joining the owl party

I’ve written about my barred owl sightings before, but here is the official column version …

Photo by Chris Bosak
A barred owl perches on a Welcome to New York sign on the border of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., and Bennignton, Vermont, in February 2019.

Two weeks ago I wrote a column about the Winter of the Barred Owl. A photo sent in by a reader from Westmoreland showing a barred owl perched on a feeder pole in his backyard accompanied the column.

A day or two after the column was published, I received two more photos of barred owls perched on feeder poles in the Monadnock Region. Yes, these handsome, large owls have been quite prolific throughout New England this winter.

At the time of that writing, however, I hadn’t yet seen any barred owls myself this winter. That all changed with a visit to my brother, who lives in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., a small town just over the border from Bennington, Vt.

My son Andrew and I had a day of skiing planned at Mount Snow, and figured we’d head up a day early and crash at my brother’s for a night. As we headed up Route 22 through Berlin, N.Y., where Massachusetts, Vermont and New York come together, I spotted a barred owl on a wire going across the two-lane highway.

I checked my rear-view mirror to make sure no other cars were following me, pulled onto a side road and retreated to find the owl. As I approached the wire, I noticed the owl was gone.

Bummer, I thought, but before the thought could even be fully processed, I noticed the owl had moved only a few dozen feet to a wire running parallel to the road. I had to turn around again and, this time, I pulled onto a dirt road and saw dozens of wild turkeys in a field. I came up with 40 turkeys on a rough count. I didn’t linger at the turkey flock because they seemed annoyed at my presence and a barred owl awaited on the main road.

I safely pulled onto the shoulder of the road and found myself at eye level with the beautiful creature. The land beyond the shoulder dropped down to a field and the wires ran at the same height as the road. The owl was right there staring down into the field.

It took the occasional glance back and looked right at us for brief moments. Its large, dark eyes looked like round pieces of coal. The barred owl, named for the markings on its chest, is the only New England bird with those large, dark peepers.

Again, we didn’t linger long so as to not disrupt its hunting, but I was able to document the sighting with some good, close-up photos.

So, I had joined the barred owl party; but, it turns out, we weren’t done. On our way to Mount Snow, on the Bennington Bypass, I pointed out to Andrew the “Welcome to Vermont” sign. Andrew is now 15 and has little interest in “Welcome to …” signs, but I continue to point them out. Old habits die hard, I guess. Andrew, to his credit, obliges me by uttering what I’m sure is a half-hearted, “Cool, dad.”

Another of my old habits is to glance back quickly at the “Welcome to …” sign in the other direction. I noticed something funny about the “Welcome to New York” sign. It had a lump on the top of it.

I knew the lump was a bird, but which one? I assumed it was a red-tailed hawk, our most common highway bird of prey, but I turned the car around just to be sure it wasn’t another barred owl. But that’s just what it was. I had been shut out all winter and now I had seen two in as many days.

It was a dark, drizzly morning and not at all conducive to photography, but I managed to get a few decent shots anyway. A barred owl on a huge “Welcome to New York” sign was too much of an opportunity to pass up.

I have a website that features the birds of New England and I try to make sure the photos are actually taken in New England. The first owl was photographed in a New York town that borders New England. The second owl was even closer to the New England border and it may be argued it was half in Vermont. Either way, it was nice to join the barred owl viewing party.

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