Saturday, January 5, 2013

Celebrating Snow Buntings - 04 Jan 2013

Its Friday afternoon and skies are clear.  Its a bit windy, but I thought I'd take a run out to Superior Twp. to look for Short-eared Owls.  They have not been reported lately, and I was worried that the somewhat strong winds would be a detriment, but it was too nice otherwise to resist.

I reached the intersection of Gottfredson and Vreeland Rds. just a bit after 4 pm and found the place quiet.  Wind-driven snow swept across the fields and left small drifts on either side of the road.  It would be an hour to an hour thirty before any owls would appear, so I decided to drive around and look for birds.  A pair of Red-tails were spotted overhead near Vreeland and Harris, but were too far for any real decent images.  American Tree Sparrows made scattered appearances in the ditches on either side of the road.

As I headed down Gottfredson Rd. a large flock of Snow Buntings lifted off from the field to the east.  They swirled and scattered like leaves in the strong wind, then turned and settled back down just 100' from the road. I jumped out of the car and grabbed several frames of the birds as they foraged among the tiny stubble that emerged through the snowpak.  Among them were several Lapland Longspurs!  I was able to count 3 through the camera, and would later find a total of 12 in one frame, alone.

Thinking I had time I grabbed the scope and tried to digiscope the birds, but they lifted off again as soon as I started focusing.  I managed a series of frames as the wind whisked them off their precarious perches we call 'ground', but they were soon back in the air and heading south.

I doubled-back and found the flock, and spent the next half hour photographing the birds from several hundred feet away as they allowed themselves to be tossed around by the blowing winds, scattering, and re-emerging as a mass and settling back down.  Always moving, always skittish.

As I processed images at home I couldn't help but scan through the flock of birds trying to locate the Longspurs, which appear all-brown in flight, with no real white wing or body markings.  Can you pick them out of the images?

Also, some of the images at enough distance to lose much of the detail, so I played w/ the artistic filters in Photoshop in order to turn some of those ho-hum images into something a bit more 'hum'.

A dozen Horned Larks foraged near the road closer to the car, and never attempted to join up with the much larger flock of birds, which I estimated at 250.  Instead, they kept to themselves and stayed relatively put in one location. Meanwhile, the sun was fast disappearing in the SW sky, which added to the coldness of the blowing snow.

The Short-eared Owls would never appear.  Neither would any Northern Harriers. The winds never died, and I believe the that the energy expenditure would've been too great.  I wasn't too disappointed, though, since I had such a good time watching one of my favorite winter birds.

1 comment:

GumbyandPokey said...

Nice post. We're going on a little run for snow buntings and horned larks tomorrow morning. Can't wait to see them!

Cindi Martineau

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