Wednesday, January 16, 2013

High Winds and a Hawk Owl! - 12 Jan 2013

Robin and I took off yesterday for Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  I was hoping to cruise the Chippewa Co. area to look for boreal birds: Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, Pine Grosbeaks, Northern Shrike, Sharp-tailed Grouse, Redpolls and Evening Grosbeaks.  I was also bit worried, however, since the temperatures were supposed to be unseasonably high, and the forecasted clear skies were now looking like fog. We had light rain the entire trip up north Friday nite.  Though the roads were clear we hit numerous patches of dense fog, and it was supposed to rain all night.  We got a room in Mackinaw City and decided to cross the Mackinac Bridge into the U.P. first thing in the morning. 

Saturday morning started promising, with clearing skies and no rain.  We headed along 9-Mile Rd. toward Riverside Dr. then south toward 20-Mile Rd., where a Great Gray Owl has been reported.  It suddenly turned cloudy with patches of dense fog popping up along the way, but skied started clearing again as we reached Riverside.  At 11-Mile Rd. I spotted a Rough-legged Hawk atop a pine tree next to the road.  It was still early, however, so I could only watch it take off and head across the field to the west.  Just a short distance later I spotted a dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk that posed for nice scope views from the road.  I managed a few flight shots as it flew across the road.

Just before 13-Mile Rd. another light-phase Rough-legged Hawk was perched atop a tree across the field to the east; again, too far to digiscope in the morning light.  So I turned my attention to a flock of Wild Turkeys in someone's yard. Yet another dark-phased Rough-legged Hawk was spotted just south of 16-Mile Rd.

We spotted the first of three Northern Shrikes just north of 17-Mile Rd.  I grabbed the scope and managed to get some nice digiscoped images of the bird atop a power line.  It suddenly took off, however, flying right past me where it snagged a vole in the ditch just a few feet from where I was standing.  I had left the 300/2.8 VRII in the car, and had to watch helplessly as it wrestled the small vole into its talons, then took off across the field to find someplace to either impale it, or eat it.

Red-tailed Hawk, composite image from 12 frames
We drove as far as 21-Mile Rd. but didn't see any evidence of a Great Gray Owl.  So we turned around to head back toward the Dunbar Forest  (12-Mile Rd.) area.  At 19-Mile Rd. I spotted a second Northern Shrike, then a third as we entered the Dunbar Forest area east of 12-Mile Rd.  The woods themselves were quiet, though.  We saw only a single Golden-crowned Kinglet and Black-capped Chickadee.  There were no birds at the feeders, or in the nearby trees.  We decided to make a trip into the Soo to grab a coffee, then head south toward Rudyard to look for the Northern Hawk Owl that had been reported at the intersection of Dryburg Rd. and Trout Lake Rd. (H-40).  Just before Rudyard a Red-tailed Hawk was perch on the side of the expressway.  I managed to create a composite image of it  taking off and circling the large spruce it was using as a perch.

Just 4 miles west of Rudyard we came to the location of the Northern Hawk Owl and started scanning the tree tops.  I noticed a car pulled off to the side of the road, and immediately checked to see if I could spot binoculars.  Sure enough, they were looking at the owl, which was perched just 10 feet off the ground in a deciduous tree next to Curleze Corner Hair Salon.  I drove up the road and stopped, grabbed the scope and headed back toward the owl.  It took off for the stand of trees behind Curleze, though, so I could only try to grab a quick flight shot before it flew up into the trees behind the business.

I was able to get the scope on the bird, which was now perched in the trees.  Winds were blowing at a constant 10-20 mph, with gusts to 30 mph, so digiscoping was a bit of a challenge.  I managed to grab a few record shots from the road.  A lady was pulling out of Curleze Corner, so I asked her if she owned the place.  She was an in-law, and gave me permission to walk out toward the back, but just as I reached the garage the owl took off along the tree line parallel to the road.

Getting back into the car, we cruised the road slowly to see if we could spot the owl in the trees along the north side of the road.  About an 1/8 mile down the road, the owl appeared on the south side of the road in one of the birch trees.  We stopped the car, and were able to get some nice photos of the owl from just across the road.

We were surprised when it hopped to a branch close to the road, and gave us stunning looks from just a few feet away.

I carefully got out of the car, opened the back, and grabbed the scope. I then starting walking backward to a distance far enough so that I could get the entire owl in the viewfinder. The owl provided some nice images from about 100' away, but was side-lit to back-lit, and was facing the ditch to the south.

I walked down the road about 30 yds. and crossed the ditch to the abandoned railroad and headed back toward the owl.  From there, I had a better lighting for imaging the owl, but now high winds and tree branches severely limited viewing angles.  So I had to move as far back as I could down the side of the rail line in order to get a clear view of the owl.

I spent the next few minutes or so digiscoping the owl as it scanned the ditch, preened, scanned some, and generally just got wind-blasted from its perch.  Occasionally it turned its gaze toward me, but generally paid me little attention.  Not wanting to spend too much time in the area I quickly emptied my memory card, and headed back to the car.  We were able to drive up the road, turn around, and head back past the owl, which was still perched in the tree.

Here is a short video showing the wind-blown owl:


After lunch in the town of Rudyard, we made the loop down Hantz Rd. to M-48, over to Centerline Rd., then back north to the I-75 entrance ramp.  We spotted 2 Snowy Owls, but both birds were several hundred yards out in the fields.  High winds and distance discouraged me from any attempts at photographs, so we headed for home.

The only excitement we encountered was our attempt to cross the Mackinac Bridge.  The car in front of us was hauling a snowmobile trailer, and the high winds flipped the trailer on its side, stopping traffic atop the bridge.  We had to wait 20 minutes or so the trailer to be righted, then escorted across the span by a semi truck that acted as a wind break.  Several large rafts of Redhead ducks were seen in the straights as we made our slow trip across the bridge.  Winds would not slow down enough until we were half-way down the state, so we were glad to be heading home.  I was a bit disappointed that the weather wasn't conducive for birding the U.P., but the Northern Hawk Owl more than made up for the otherwise lack of boreal birds.


Elaine Dougovito said...

wonderful photos and video. Great narrative too!

Elaine Dougovito said...

wonderful photos/video. Great narrative!

pcarlson9 said...

Very nice, thank you.

pcarlson9 said...

Very nice, thank you for posting.

Adrienne Cruise said...

Thanks for this! The video of how the bird copes in that wind is splendid. Great shots, too, and I really enjoyed your narrative :)

Adrienne Cruise said...

Thanks for this! The video of how the bird copes in that wind, is splendid. Great photos, too, and I really enjoyed your narrative :)

Cathy Carroll said...

Such a beautiful bird and captured perfectly in your photos.

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