I was surprised to see 4 different Rough-legged Hawks at the Great Swamp (in the measly 1/2 hour I had to spend there) on Saturday. Curious to see if there were any at the Wallkill; I decided to take a run through the farm country in lower Orange county (NY) to see what was shakin’ before swinging by Oil City Road at sunset for the raptor show.
As I crawled along deserted snowy roads I found Rough-legged Hawks alright. I was delighted to find 1 sitting in a tree overlooking the sod farm on Skinner Road. Then pulling back onto Route 6, heading into Pine Island; I squeezed half off the road when I saw both light and dark morphs on successive telephone poles. While I sat there 2 more flew across the road to land in a copse of trees while 1 hovered over a field. That’s 5. 5 + 1 Holy Cow. I was on a roll. Now that I knew they used telephone poles like Red-tailed Hawks, I scanned every hawk on every pole as I headed toward Oil City Road. I found another 1 sitting on a pole beside a pole with a Red-tailed Hawk that provided a lovely comparison. Alas, there was no shoulder to pull off. Spotting a dead-end road not far ahead, I thought to park on the edge of that and hike back for the hawks. But as soon as I got out of the car, I glanced up and in the trees overhead was another Rough-legged Hawk. He took off winging his way across the road toward some distant trees where I spotted yet another dark morph. I shook my head, counting hawks on my fingers.
As I approached the Oil City Road parking lot, giddy from seeing all the arctic hawks, a Harrier flew across the road and the resident Red-tailed Hawk sat on a pole. I spent the next hour standing in deep snow watching Harriers (4 and 1 gray ghost), 4 more Rough-legged Hawks, and the local Tail as they went about the end of their day. The Rough-legged Hawks flew back and forth across the marsh occasionally stopping to hover in place. I did not see any of them actually get anything. Snow started to fall making visibility in the gathering dusk more and more difficult. I finally left, covered in snow, without seeing the owls.
All in all, I had 13 Rough-legged Hawks in both morphs, 3 Red-tailed Hawks, 4 Harriers and 1 Kestrel.
Is it me, or do there seem to be more Rough-legged Hawks around this winter?