Friday, January 2, 2015

Cold (but SNOWy) End to 2014! - 31 Dec 2014

The day began with flurries and a quarter inch of snow. I was disappointed because I had hoped to bike one last time at Pt. Mouillee SGA for the year. But the clouds cleared by 8:30 am so I decided to head out. Forecasts called for bitter cold temps through the weekend and high winds. I figured that it was my best chance to get some 'sunny' weather for looking for Snowy Owls.

I parked at Siegler Rd. and rode out onto the North Causeway. A stiff breeze was blowing and temps were in single digits. With the exception of a large raft of Mute and Tundra Swans on the Huron River mouth in front of PMSGA HQ there were no birds to be seen in the Nelson, Long Pond or Vermet Units.

I continued on around Cell 5 and checked out the Lake Erie shoreline. Winds were picking up, and biking became a bit more challenging. Ice was forming along the shoreline. All inland waters were frozen over. Still, no birds except for a pair of American Tree Sparrows on the dike ahead.

When I returned to the dike separating Vermet Unit from Cell 5 I had to walk the bike. The winds were blowing at 30 MPH+ and my gear was acting like a parachute. Things did not improve when I reached the Middle Causeway. Still no birds to be seen I tried biking a bit, and walked the rest. The cold was starting to permeate my entire being.

I finally reached the junction to the Bloody Run and Long Pond Units and spotted the first Snowy Owl of the day; a bright white adult (female?).  I was able to get to within 200' and grab a few digiscoped images before the bird suddenly took off over the Long Pond Unit. I managed to grab some flight shots of bird against the dark clouds of the late morning before she disappeared.

I found a second (juvenile) Snowy Owl perched on a large dirt mound in the Bloody Run Unit as I turned north along the dike separating the two Units. With the wind now less face-blowy I was able to start riding again. Another Snowy Owl flushed from the dike directly in front of me; I never saw it on the side of the dike.  I could only grab a couple of flight shots of its backside as it headed north for the dike separating Nelson and Bloody Run Units.

As I got on the bike and started riding another Snowy Owl flushed from the same spot! I never saw that one, either! This one followed its partner, but circled around before landing on the dike. I was able to get a few more pics before it landed.

I approached the junction of Nelson/Bloody Run/Long Pond Units slowly, not wanting to flush them again. I left the bike behind and approached close enough to get some digiscoped images when a third Snowy Owl flew in. The adult bird from before! With three birds on the dike within feet of each other, I was in a great position to get some nice photos.

The sun was directly behind me and illuminating all three birds beautifully. As I set up the scope the 2nd Snowy flew off toward the Nelson Unit. I created some composite images to show its wing patterns.

The other two rested quietly while I was able to digiscope them from a safe 100' away. They paid me no mind and I made sure not to startle them. The adult was perched a bit out of view on the railing that was obscured by nearby sign poles.

The immature bird on the dike gave me the best views, and was a gorgeous bird to photograph.

The adult bird was a stunner, as well, but not giving the most natural setting for photography. I didn't mind a bit.  My fingers and toes were frozen, so I fumbled with the shutter release on the Nikon V3, but managed to get my photos.

Satisfied, I slowly picked up the bike and was able to walk past both birds without flushing them. Success! I rode back to North Causeway and the parking lot feeling suddenly a bit less uncomfortable with the bitter cold. What a great end to 2014!!!

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