Our better angels of hard work and persistence having been rewarded with the sight of the Northern Hawk Owl, we promptly broke for lunch.
And it’s just as well that we did, because after our next stop no one was hungry. Turning down a lonely, windswept rural road, we passed a handful of Horned Larks and then found ourselves at the gates of a garbage dump.
The Inimitable Todd, perhaps sensibly, elected to stay in the car with Jerome*. The rest of us piled out and trouped across the frozen, yet somehow still pungent, expanse to the fence around the dump. There we scanned the gulls.
Vast flocks of gulls rose squabbling over the churning black muck; Great Black-backed, Herring, Glaucous, and Iceland, in an array of plumages, mixed almost as promiscuously as the trash they picked over. I was surprised at how little was recognizable in the affray – a broken milk-crate here, a scrap of grocery bag there, but for the most part it was just unspeakable ooze, a sort of eldritch perversion of a healthy, well-blended soil. I got my eyes on the gulls I wanted to see – no point being here for nothing – but I was quickly overcome by a sense of futility and waste (and cold and stench) and retreated.
From there, we drove to a more suburban, more wooded location, in the hopes of spotting Evening Grosbeaks at a feeder. The front cover of my first field guide featured Evening Grosbeaks. They’re a bird I’ve always dreamed of and never seen – born as I was after they entered their steep decline, the accounts of mass irruptions and flocks of hundreds descending on bird feeders were just a taunt. So I was excited as we scanned the pines and feeders – although also a bit wary that we’d be mistaken for peering in someone’s window.
Alas, we scanned in vain. The only birds who showed were Chickadees, Nuthatches, and a few overhead Ravens. The big yellow finches would stay a dream.
So we piled back into the cars, drove further east through broad fields, scanning the roadside for Snowy Owls. Sure, we’d seen these magnificent predators yesterday, but through a glass (or a pair of glasses) darkly, and we were in quest of better looks. Besides, you can never see too many Snowy Owls.
Nor can you see too many Snow Buntings, as I discovered when we pulled over to scope a promising distant white lump. Suddenly, a flock of Snow Buntings – scores of them, maybe a hundred, in gorgeous winter plumage – rose up from where they were gleaning the nearby cornfields and circled our caravan. Probably they were waiting for us to go so that they could get back to dinner, but it felt like being in the center of the world.
The Owls, perched on telephone poles or in the corn stubble, were also incredibly accommodating. Less confiding, but still cool, were a pair of foxes in the distance and a muskrat forced into the open presumably by the frozenness of its usual haunts. A last owl soared directly over us as we were distracted by the muskrat – perhaps irritated that we had spooked its would-be prey.
As the sun declined, we split up and went our separate ways for dinner – the Inimitable Todd and I electing to continue east to Montreal, where a delicious and romantic evening was followed by a long ride back. And this must stand as testament to the IT’s hardcore foodie cred, for tomorrow would see us rise at 6 once more for a last desperate visit to the Owl Woods….
*Who is Jerome? Why, Jerome is our birding mascot: