Monday, January 13, 2014

Pt. Mouillee Snowy Owls - 12 Jan 2014

What a week! Last Sunday we had 12" of snow followed by a severe cold front that put daytime highs of -4F and wind chills to -50F on Tuesday. By Thursday temps were already in the 20's with Friday and Saturday bringing rain and temps in the 40's! I took the opportunity Saturday to bring out the hose and refresh the back yard pond and hose out the bird feeders. I had put up a domed, 4-sock thistle feeder on the back deck and had to rinse off 7 lbs. of seed from the 2-dozen American Goldfinches that had made a terrific mess during their feeding frenzy.

Sunday morning arrived with cloudy skies and temps in the low 30's.  I decided to head to Pt. Mouillee to see if any of the Snowy Owls were still around (first seen in late December). I threw the bike on the back of the car w/ the hopes of riding the Middle Causeway, but when I arrived at Mouillee Creek entrance the parking lot was a solid sheet of ice and the entrance buried in snow.  I decided to walk.  Good thing, because the parking lot was slippery and I had to skate to the gated entrance.

The first quarter mile of the dike was covered with snow and ice, with only tiny fragments of exposed dirt.  However, the ice cover soon disappeared and the dike was bare (frozen) dirt. The decision to walk was a wise one, however, as ice soon reappeared and even walking was treacherous. As I reached the Pump House I spotted a light-phase Rough-legged Hawk in a tree overlooking the Bad Creek Unit.  It flew off to the south even before I could get close enough to put a spotting scope on it.

I reached the junction of the Lautenschlager and Nelson Units and spotted a juvenile female Snowy Owl perched on one of the sign posts about 300' away.  I fumbled w/ the scope and digiscoping rig only to find it totally misaligned.  So, while I realigned the camera on the Digidapter™ the owl took off for the Middle Causeway and landed another 100 yds. away.  I managed to get some long-distance photos of the bird as it flew along the dike, and created a composite of it landing. The bird was but a speck through the Nikon V1 at 30mm.

I had hoped to approach close enough to digiscope the bird, but it again took off even though I was a quarter-mile away.  This time it flew over the Humphries Unit and landed on a muskrat den in the middle of the unit.  A second Snowy Owl then erupted from a few feet away from the first bird and the two began a short tussle that resulted in both birds flying back toward the Middle Causeway. This time they landed alongside the south end of the Vermet Unit halfway between the Long Pond and Banana Unit.

When I reached the junction of the Long Pond/Vermet/Humphries Units I stopped and put the scope on both birds.  I slowly approached them, only to have the nearer bird take off again for the middle of the Humphries Unit.  This time it landed on a muskrat den near the Osprey Tower and quietly fluffed and preened while the 2nd bird remained.

I was able to approach within 200' of the bird still on the causeway and spent some time digiscoping it while the sun attempted to break through the clouds directly behind it.  With glare from the sun and wind blowing in my face I had a difficult time focusing.  My eyes were watering enough that I had to trust the camera focusing.

Soon, the owl flew off across the Humphries Unit and settled on a muskrat den far away along the south shoreline.  I decided to walk back to the car and head home.  But as I walked back toward the Long Pond Unit I spotted a third Snowy Owl along the banks of a small cattail island in the Humphries Unit just 40 yards from the causeway.  It was hunkered down but allowed some nice images to be taken from the shoreline.

I'm guessing that all three are the same birds I found late in December, and it was good to see that they at least appear healthy.  I had hoped to hike out to the Banana Unit, but a lunch date forced an early end to the day.  Just as well, I have very large blisters on both feet from the hike...

As I drove home I counted 3-dozen Tundra Swans flying over US-Turnpike from Pt. Mouillee HQ, had a Cooper's Hawk fly over the car, and an adult Bald Eagle soaring over Gibralter Rd. Good stuff!

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