This winter turned out to be a great one for owls. I added 2 new species to my life list and encountered a total of 10 different types over the course of the season. Having the opportunity to meet Snowy, Long-eared, Saw-whet, and Great Horned Owls during the past few months certainly fanned the flames of Miriam’s developing interest in my hobby. I was still surprised when she told me that she’d created an eBird profile, but I happily helped her add sightings from our outings and photos of her previous trips to create her new life list. She quickly jumped from “first field guide” to “first cross-state twitch” before even getting her own pair of binoculars when she informed me that she wanted to see a Great Gray Owl. This year’s invasion had brought another individual to Keene, NY, slightly closer than the Massena birds I chased last month. It didn’t take much convincing to bring me onboard with this plan…that’s one bird that’s always worth the effort!
We set out late in the morning on Saturday, making good time on our journey to the Adirondacks. I’d never been the one behind the wheel on the way up to this region before this year, but I’ve now made the drive 3 times in 2017. Car trips are always better with company, and we amused ourselves with stories, songs, and stunning scenery. At 4 PM, we finally arrived at the Bark Eater Inn and headed down the road where the bird had been seen. It was hard to miss the line of cars and optics, and upon raising my binoculars I quickly found the owl on the far side of the field. I helped Miriam get her eyes on the bird, and it was love at first sight. Even from a distance, in freezing conditions, she was visibly impressed with the mighty fluffball. Liz D was also present, and she snapped a photo of the two of us watching the Great Gray from the road.
As the sun gradually sank closer to the horizon, the owl began to perk up and look around more. It eventually took flight and floated across the meadow, landing in a birch tree closer to the road. The assemblage of attendant admirers turned its collective gaze to the new location, cameras clicking away and scopes focusing on the bird’s piercing, golden eyes. The characteristic fearlessness of this species was evident as the giant owl scanned the snowy landscape for prey, rarely even turning back to check on the crowd of humans a stone’s throw away. The wind began to pick up, jostling the Great Gray on its perch and chilling me despite my many layers of clothing. Miriam confirmed, through chattering teeth, that she was having a great time.
The owl lifted off the branch and flew a little further up the road, continuing to survey for rodents from atop tiny twigs. Miriam decided to warm up in the car, and I followed her soon after. Sheltered from the frigid gusts, we watched as the owl swooped low over the field, briefly hovering above the tall grass as it looked and listened for a meal. It spent most of the evening perched in some low brush adjacent to the pond. At sunset, the Great Gray took off again and began hunting along the forest edge. It gradually worked its way up the hill, disappearing from sight just as conditions were getting too dark to see. Perfect timing. Satisfied with our magical afternoon in the owl’s company, we finally departed and wished the bird a successful night on the prowl.
We couldn’t resist pausing along the roadside and using the last bit of light to take the photos of the scenery. A photoshoot with the twilit landscape was a perfect final act for our adventurous roadtrip. A nearby diner, the Noon Mark, provided an opportunity to stop and refuel before the long drive back to Long Island. The meal itself was good, but the apple crumble pie we shared for dessert was on an entirely different level! Delicious!
Making a journey to the Adirondacks in one day is an ambitious undertaking, but I managed to get Miriam home before midnight. In just over 12 hours, we’d achieved our goal and returned safely in one piece. I’m glad that Miriam was invested enough to plan this trip, and I’m glad that I was crazy enough to go along with it and reap the rewards. Most of all, I’m thankful for the majestic northern predator that made the long hours in the car worthwhile. A Great Gray always makes for a great day!
Year List Update, March 11 – 151 Species