Friday, December 9, 2011

Invasion of the Snowy Owl! - 08 Dec 2011

The Great Snowy Owl Invasion of 2011 appears to be the real deal. Reports out of Canada have indicated that it was a very good hatch year for Snowy Owls, and many birds seem to be migrating farther south of their normal wintering grounds.

This is a map of current sightings of Snowy Owls in the Midwest (courtesy of Skye Haas). Michigan's Lower Peninsula is blessed w/ a few Snowy Owl sightings each winter, but this year's crop is leaning toward 'Crazy'! So, keep your eyes peeled. One of those white plastic bags in the open fields may actually be a real live Snowy Owl.



I arrived at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit this morning shortly after 6 am.  Dad was going to have some serious heart surgery to repair a pair of large aortic aneurisms.  After visiting w/ him, mom, and siblings, they wheeled him off to surgery prep.  This gave us about 2 hours before surgery to cool our heels, so I decided to run over to Harrison Twp. to look for the recently-reported Snowy Owls along S. River Rd.

I drove to the foot of S. River Rd. shortly after 8 am and met a photographer near the DNR office. He had not seen any of the owls, but believed there to be 3 birds, including an all-white adult male (it was seen on the jetty last evening, but not this morning).  After he left I ran into Andy Dettling, who had ridden his bike ~125 miles to see these birds.  The KING of BIGBY had seen one juvie on the roof just up the road, but was looking for other birds.

I walked to the end of the small woodlot at the tip of point, and scanned the jetty, but saw no birds.  Returning toward the parking lot I spotted a juvie Snowy Owl soaring over the water and being harassed by a Ring-billed Gull. I watched the bird circle several times in the bright morning sunlight, then soar in my direction.  It drifted over the boat launch and landed atop a light pole in the parking lot.  Another photographer was approaching me, and I quickly directed him to the bird.

We ran back to the parking lot and found the bird atop one of the tall light poles, beautifully illuminated in the morning sunlight.  I grabbed the scope and proceeded to digiscope it from a safe 200 ft.  After getting a couple dozen shots, I noticed the photographer standing below the pole and stomping his feet/whistling, trying to get the bird to look his way.

I ran over and yelled at him to stop harassing the bird, and to move back.  I lectured him on the stresses these birds face when flying this far south, and his responsibility to avoid adding additional stress. 

We continued to photograph the bird from behind another light pole for another 20 minutes or so, freezing our fingers until they were numb.

I packed up to leave as several more photographers arrived, and was driving out when the bird took off toward the nearby condos. It landed across the canal atop one of the roofs, and posed for more images from a safer distance behind the brick wall. I took a few more images, noting that it appeared to be hunkering down for a nap. I then left, and headed back to the hospital to hang out w/ the family.














Post-op: Dad's surgery went w/o complications, but next 48 hrs. will be critical for him. We're keeping him in our prayers. "Dad, this bird's for you!"

4 comments:

Janet said...

Hi Jerry, I am pleased you were able to see the Snowy Owl amidst a very hectic and stressful day. My prayers are with your dad as he recovers from aneurysm surgery.

Soshacat said...

Jerry, thank you for educating that other person about harrassing the owl. So many times I see people harrassing wildlife and it is really frustrating. Sometimes people don't want to speak up about it but I am glad you did! I hope your dad is doing better!

Soshacat said...

Jerry, thank you for educating that other person about harrassing the owl. So many times I see people harrassing wildlife and it is really frustrating. Sometimes people don't want to speak up about it but I am glad you did! I hope your dad is doing better!

Pisa said...

Jerry, thanks for the pictures and the information. I made it out yesterday and was able to take some distant photos of one of the owls on the breakwall. There was a guy down the way blowing a whistle at the owl. Fortunately, the owl didn't seem to take any notice so I opted not to confront the guy. Keep up the nice work!

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