Monday, January 27, 2014

Lots of snow, but no snowy owl!

Haven't been able to spend as much time out birding as I would like to as of late.  My car has required a good deal of maintenance, so I haven't been traveling to see birds as I have in the past.  Plus, I have switched jobs that requires that I work a lot of overtime.

But since I am a birder, I still made time to have birds in my life.  Many good birds were hit and miss this winter, not seeming to stay in one place very long.  This winter has seen the biggest invasion of Snowy Owls that I can remember since I have started birding.  More on that later.

This winter has been a winter.  By that, I mean it has lived up to its name!  Currently, it is 42° here, but it is supposed to be close to -10° by this time tomorrow.  I got out before the brunt of this polar vortex stuff starting coming in back in November of last year.  The minuses are too cold for me to be birding!

I am sure that all of the Eastern Meadowlarks are either gone from the area now, or are hiding very good.  However, I was still surprised to find a good flock of about a dozen or so at a twp. park in late November.

A slight dusting of snow is a herald to what is to come...

When I watched them, they put me in the mind of shorebirds.  From the back, they are very similar.  One particular meadowlark was with a group of starlings.  They feed very much the same way, so they are structurally very similar.  It was say "I am much better looking than the starlings".

I misread a report of a Long-tailed Duck that was on the Ohio River at Medahl Dam back in November.  However, I misread the post and went to East Fork Dam looking for it.  Of course it wasn't there, but I wouldn't have seen this Northern Harrier cruising alongside the car if I didn't head there.  This bird would be one of a few I would see later on, including at least two gray ghost males.  I took this pic out the car window.

In the winter, the rangers close the gate to the top of the hill to the East Fork beach.  This keeps a lot of people with dogs from going down to the beach.  The Bald Eagles take advantage of this lack of disturbance, and if you get lucky, you can catch them perched in a favorite tree to the right of the beach.  I always keep my distance once I spot them.  Always love to watch them!

With all of the reports of Snowy Owls popping up around Ohio, I have been traveling local backroads hoping to get lucky.  Not a Snowy, but I did find a bird that is not easy to find this time of year - a Wilson's Snipe taken out the car window.

East Fork has been slow in the weeks leading up to the Christmas Bird Count.  I did find a Hermit Thrush that I think was intoxicated by the eastern red cedar berries it was consuming.  The bird would just sit there and pant.  I made a noise, and the bird snapped out of it and flew off.

My how the time has gone.  CBC time has come and gone, but not without some awesome birds!

The Cincinnati Count was miserable with cold rain most of the day.  However, I did have point blank looks at a Winter Wren and a FOS flyover Fox Sparrow.  The East Fork count was even better.  The weather was cold, but nice.  Had 4 Cackling Geese for the count.  

Even though these were good, the best birds of the count was a surprise point blank flyover.  I saw some ducks flying from a cove behind us.  As soon as I said ducks, the other birder I was with said "These are something interesting!"  and before I could say Surf Scoters, he says "Surf Scoters!"  Eight of them!   If I just had my camera ready!!!

While traveling the backroads in Brown County for the count, I came across many large flocks of Horned Larks.  I scanned and scanned and could only come up with larks.  Odd, it seems that this year all of the Snow Buntings and longspurs are on the west side.  I did come across one lonely American Pipit.

I love the larks, as I don't see them often.

One lark stayed in the middle of the road as if playing chicken.  It looked up at the car before it flew.

I did find some owls on the count, but not a Snowy Owl.

Here is a Barred Owl from East Fork from the car window.

I did call in an Eastern Screech-owl as well for the count.  I have also learned of a screech owl that hangs out in a hole in a dead tree around the dam area of East Fork  I took my girlfriend to see it and it wasn't visible in its hole.  As we were leaving, we looked out the car window one last time to find that it was there!  It was peering right at us.  I was able to get this fast shot off from the car window.  

But my girlfriend wants me to show her a Snowy Owl.  There was a report and photos of one from Washington Court House.  That is usually too far for me to chase a bird that is not a lifer, but it is a Snowy Owl.  So, we took the drive up there as it was being seen in a Home Depot parking lot and seemed to be and easy to find bird.  Well, we didn't find the owl.  Not soon after the report of this bird, one comes from just down the road to speak from my house!  I had to check this out!  Myself and other birders combed the area pretty extensively, but turned up owless.  I did run across a leucistic Red-shouldered Hawk that may have caused a misID.  

As later I have found out that the WCH snowy has been found dead.  Another bird was brought in to Raptor Inc. from Wilmington, OH.  It also later died.  I know that any bird that would be found this late in the invasion would likely be near death.  I and others would like to think that some make it back to their arctic home, but most will not.  Although we can not stop the owls from coming down, we can use the data gained from the invasion for some good.  I learned of a project to attempt to track snowies via a GPS.  It is called Project Snowstorm.  I urge birders to support this research if they can, as much can be learned.

For now, I will just have to settle for my memory of my lifer Snowy Owl in Duluth, MN in February of 2005.  This was way before the awesome point-and-shoot cameras of today.  Warning:  vintage photo

Stay warm and safe in the dangerous weather.  I hope it warms up soon, looking forward to warblers and things!

1/28/2014 Update:  There is a Snowy Owl report now from the Kenwood area.  Odd place, but who knows.  Meanwhile, Snowies have made the local news:

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