Friday, January 25, 2013

Gray ghost

We have very much enjoyed the company of several Northern Harriers at Stratford Point this fall and winter. Normally there are certainly a bunch of individuals that pass through during migration, and sometimes a bird or two hangs around here on wintering territory. In rare cases, during large snow and other inclement weather events especially focused on our entire region, you will find several birds attempting to hunt the grasslands at Stratford Point because they are quickly forced to the south and following the coast of Long Island Sound in search of acceptable foraging habitat. While we have had a mild winter so far this has not come to pass, but we have had a lot of frequent sightings of birds, including one "Gray Ghost" (adult male) Northern Harrier.

Here are some looks at him searching for small mammals on a (as usual) windy day at Stratford Point. 

I believe we have had so many sightings of this gorgeous guy and others of his species because of Hurricane Sandy. But it's January, you say...huh? Many coastal habitats, low-lying grasslands, marshlands, barrier beaches and the like were all inundated with water during the major flooding brought on by Sandy. This is the case across the entire nearby region, and certainly the case for most of the acceptable habitats in this part of Connecticut. When this happened it is generally believed that a lot of the rodent populations were destroyed, and while they will rebuild quickly, this means that small mammals may be more scarce than usual. Stratford Point may be surrounded by water but it is tens of feet above sea level in many areas, and most of its mammal population would have been able to find shelter and survive easily away from rising waters.

Unless a bird wants to go inland and face more snow, ice, and frigid air, fraught with more unpredictability, they will stay on the coast. And at Stratford Point they can find one coastal location that still has plenty to eat. It's almost too bad that we do not have a major irruption of Rough-legged Hawks or Snowy Owls this year. I feel as though if we had a bird or two looking for a spot to spend the winter they would enjoy the comforts of Stratford Points season even more than usual.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation Technician

Photos by Scott Kruitbosch © Connecticut Audubon Society and not to be reproduced without explicit CAS permission

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