Monday, December 9, 2013

Red-tails and Snowy Owl! - 08 Dec 2013

Earlier this week I received a note from my neighbor (Mike) that a Snowy Owl was present at the Willow Run Airport in Romulus, MI (Wayne Co.). I had asked Mike to keep an eye out for Snowies since he works at Detroit Metropolitan Airport, and this past several weeks have seen an explosion of Snowy Owl sightings as far south as Bermuda!

I took a ride out to the Visteon / Grace Lake complex on Tyler Rd. and Ecorse Rd. in Wayne Co. to look for gulls.  I was not disappointed. With temperatures in the single digits (wind chill) and a slight wind I was cold. But I managed to keep the scope on a half-dozen Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a pair of first winter Glaucous Gulls. We did not relocate any other gulls, especially a possible Thayer's Gull that Patrick Jakel had reported a day earlier.

While scoping the gulls I was joined by Tom Pavlik, who had just come from Willow Run Airport. He had spotted the Snowy Owl toward the center of the airport just east of the Control Tower.  I took a ride over to the airport and spent the next hour or so looking for the owl.

My first couple of passes along the Airport Service Dr. failed to reveal any Snowy Owls.  I did spot a nice adult Red-tailed Hawk and paused just long enough to photograph it in a tree next to the road.

While driving along Ecorse Rd. near the west side of the airport I spotted another Red-tail on a fence. As it took off I noticed that it had retained three juvenal tail feathers on either side of the central red tail feathers.  Interestingly enough, I would refind this bird (or another just like it) about a half hour later on the other side of the airport.

According to Crossley (2013) "tail molt begins w/ the central and outer feathers w/ interior tail feathers replaced later".  He appears to be correct...

I decided to make one last pass along the service drive.  This time I spotted the Snowy Owl in the middle of the airport complex sitting on a signpost next to a runway.  The bird was about 150 yds. away, so all I could do was enjoy distant looks through the binoculars. Happy, I headed for home!

Reference:
Crossley, R., The Crossley ID Guide to Raptors, 2013, Princeton University Press.

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