Friday, January 25, 2019

VT - Golden Eagles in Putney

Golden Eagle (first-winter) - from Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.

January 23rd looked liked it would be a nice transition day between the frigid temperatures of the 21st/22nd and the balmy but horribly wet forecast for the 24th. Since January 6th, a steady series of Golden Eagle reports from Westmoreland, New Hampshire had piqued my interest, especially since I'd missed all of the birds reported in Windham and Franklin Counties during what appeared to be an exceptional fall for them. Westmoreland, as the eagle flies, is only 30 miles upriver from my home in Northfield but as I know the adjacent side of the Connecticut River a little better, I decided to take my chances and have a morning looking across the river from Putney Great Meadow. And, seeing as the 23rd is my birthday, I felt like I could justify going a little further afield than my local patch.

Golden Eagle (first-winter) - from Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.
Three more images of the first individual that gave the most prolonged views.

Arrival at Putney Great Meadow was not pretty with no obvious way of getting into the site and included six to eight inches of fresh snow. But after some effort I was inside the meadows trudging around in deep, soft snow scanning for raptors and anything else that might come my way. Initially things were quiet, very quiet in fact to the point where I considered giving up and heading back south. But a flock of 85 Snow Buntings got things moving in the right direction and as I carefully scanned the tree tops and hillside across the river toward Westmoreland the first breezes of the day picked up. Almost instantly, Red-tailed Hawks started lifting up above the tree line and the very first raptor lined up my scope was a crisp, pristine first-winter Golden Eagle! I could hardly believe my luck as it gave fairly prolonged views soaring and gaining height as the initial breeze became wind. Hoping that the southern wind would drift the bird my way was a little too much to ask for as it went into a glide heading straight down river towards Putney town itself. And that was my day, or so I thought, but minutes later I was watching another Golden Eagle, this one much lower and heading north before it went into a dive seemingly settling in some massive riverside evergreens. It had to be a second bird as the first was long gone and heading south. I waited for a while hoping for more views but it seemed to have settled. In the mean time, watching Redpolls foraging in the open fields with Horned Larks, and Snow Buntings perching high in the tree tops along the river provided a touch of the bizarre.

Snow Buntings alighting in tree tops Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.

Snow Bunting  Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.

Red-tailed Hawk  Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.

Golden Eagle (first-winter) - from Putney Great Meadow, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.
A second individual heading north just above tree line. 

Getting out of Putney Great Meadow was even harder than getting in but I was thrilled with the result and the modest hardship seemed well worth it. Heading south on River Road toward Putney, I came across another very large raptor with an obvious dihedral showing a lot of white in the tail, surely another immature Golden Eagle?! Roadside parking was tricky but I fired off a number of images before raising my bins. The next eagle to come into view was an adult Bald what had happened to my apparent Golden? Sure enough, a review of the images revealed that I was right, the first bird that I'd seen from my moving car was a first-winter Golden Eagle. Could that be three Golden Eagles one morning? Well, quite possibly but I think it's equally possible that the bird on River Road was the first immature that I watched heading south from Great Meadow. Either way, three sightings of Golden Eagles was way more than I could have expected just 30 minutes from home - absolutely delighted!

Golden Eagle (first-winter) - Stoneholm Farm, Putney, Windham Co., VT. January 23rd, 2019.
The third sighting of the morning about two miles south of Great Meadow but note the white 'flash' on the left wing 
very similar to the first bird photographed at 10:53 hours. 

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