Sunday, December 11, 2011

Short-eared Owls and Harriers! - 10 Dec 2011

During the last week or two there have been reports of up to 6 Short-eared Owls appearing just after dusk in the vicinity of Vreeland Rd. and Gottfredson Rd. in Superior Township.  Birders have been commenting about the terrific views they'd been getting, so Robin and I took the opportunity to run out there and see for ourselves. A full eclipse this morning meant that there'd be clear skies and a full moon tonight. 

We headed out to the area of Prospect Rd. and Vreeland at about 4 pm, and saw a single female Northern Harrier cross the road ahead of us. We paused momentarily to watch is slowly cruise the field to our right, before continuing on to the corner of Gottfredson Rd, where a number of cars were already strung out along the road waiting for the birds to appear.

I saw Joan Tisdale, so I walked out to her car as she was getting her camera gear together.  We walked the road a bit and had the opportunity to see an Eastern Meadowlark pop out of the grasses about 20 yds. away and pose momentarily before settling back down. Its bright yellow chest just popped in the late afternoon sun!  We would also be treated to several flocks of Horned Larks passing by and dropping into the snow-covered field to our right.  They were close enough that we could hear their 'tinkling' call as they flew by.

Moments later the first of three juvenile Northern Harriers appeared and slowly cruised in our direction.  I managed to grab several long-distance photos w/ the Nikon D300s and 300/2.8 VRII.  I had the camera set to ISO 1600 so that I could get some captures as dusk approached.  For the next several minutes we enjoyed wonderful views through our binoculars of the russet colored juvenile bird as it floated just feet above the grasses.  It would momentarily hover, then drop down trying to capture prey.

I managed several series of images as one would pass in our vicinity, so I created composite images of the hawks as they soared and hunted over the grassy fields.

In the woods far across the field to the east a single Red-tailed Hawk was perched.  It appeared as a white speck through our binoculars, and white blob in our scopes.

Last evening the Short-eared Owls made their appearance as early as 4:20 pm, but tonight they wouldn't show until about 5:05 pm.  So, Joan and I, Janet Hug, Patricia Brandon, Amy Widenhofer and a few others waited, and freezed our toes and fingers before the first bird appeared across the field near the woods.  Moments later a second bird, then a third bird appeared on stiff wing-beats criss-crossing the field toward us.  I had magnificent views through the scope, watching as one bird flew directly toward me - I could make out its bright yellow eyes against its disk-shaped face as moved in my direction!

With the skies darkening, and it becoming increasingly more difficult to see the owls fly about, I grabbed the scope and headed back to the car where Robin was.  No sooner did we pull out and start back down Vreeland Rd. did one owl float right over Joan's head (I hope you got some photos, Joan!) and circle above our car.  I was too slow with the camera to get any overhead shots, but the bird drifted slowly ahead of the car for us to follow it.

At one point it landed on a wooden post just a few feet to my left, and appeared as a dark silhouette against the yellow-red sunset.  You could make out its sharp talons against the clear sky.  If only I had my Better Beamer and flash unit!!!  Still, I managed a few quick frames before it flew up into a dead snag to my right.  I managed a few blurry pics through the dirty front windshield before it took off again down the road.

It made one last perch atop another wooden post before circling back east toward Gottfredson Rd.  Dave Cooper would later post that he saw a bird perch on Vreeland Rd., and I'm betting that it was this bird just after flying back away from us.

Fully satisfied, and frozen, we rolled up the window and headed off to the Claddagh for some warm dinner and coffee.  Great night!

1 comment:

"Dr. Bob" said...

Your skills keep getting better! In very low dusk lighting you certainly captured some exceptional shots! Great blog! - "Dr. Bob"

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