Saturday, December 24, 2016

Owl Be Home for Christmas - 23 Dec 2016

Why do I blog? Because it allows me to generate a place for all of my photos that I take to document my adventures. And, when "both" of my backups fail, it provides a small amount of consolation for having just lost every photo I've taken the past 4 years! :(

The only thing to do is start making new photos.

So, this morning I was up at 6:30 am and driving to Pt. Mouillee as part of a "Count-Week" survey for the Rockwood Christmas Bird Count, which will be held on 26 December 2016. My first stop, along Roberts Rd. netted this adorable Eastern Screech Owl (gray morph) that serenaded me for a good 5 minutes and allowed me to get some photos using the Better Beamer and SB-800 flash on the Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII.

I had the flash on "RPT" (repeater) mode at 1/32 power. This gives me multiple short bursts of light to capture multiple frames in succession that does not seem to startle or blind the bird. The effect is interesting, though, in that it causes the irises to contract almost instantly.

Luckily, they recover almost as fast, so the bird does not appear to be negatively affected (I've used the same setting on hummingbirds in the yard and it doesn't seem to affect their feeding motion or scare them away). I am aware that others disagree w/ the use of flash on birds and the negative effects on them, which is why I use it in only rare circumstances (night-time and low-light hummingbirds).

eye(s) appear blood red when the angle of light is just right!
We spent a few more minutes serenading each other after I had taken a few pics and I moved on to the Mouillee Creek entrance where I'd hike the SGA. A pair of Northern Cardinals greeted me at the parking lot. I hitched up the scope, camera, and hat(s), and headed out on the Middle Causeway. I was lucky that a truck had driven on the past 2 weeks of snow so footing was solid for a change.

Song Sparrows were plentiful along the Mouillee Creek. A Red-tailed Hawk was roosting in the Walpatich Unit. I'd been hoping that it might be a Rough-legged Hawk, as was disappointed, until moments later a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk flew across the Nelson Unit and provided some very low-light pics at a great distance.  It would fly toward the Roberts Rd. entrance in the Dead Creek Unit of the SGA.

As I approached the junction of the Long Pond, Humphries and Vermet Units a Short-eared Owl suddenly flushed from the near bank to my left. I managed a pic or two as it flew into the Vermet Unit and perched on a muskrat mound. I hurried over to the dike west dike with the hopes of digiscoping it, but it took off again and flew toward the North Causeway where it joined by a 2nd SEOW and a pair of Northern Harriers that proceeded to harass them.

I hiked across the ice in the Vermet Unit and looked for the 2nd SEOW that disappeared over clumps of cattails out in the unit, but dipped. The ice had firm footing, but was soft enough in a few places to encourage me to make my way back to the Middle Causeway near the Banana Unit. However, I stopped long enough to get some nice flight pics of an adult Peregrine Falcon that rocketed overhead.

I made it to the Banana and found Cells 4 - 5 completely iced over. Heavy construction equipment was being used to haul tons of dirt / dredging from the south end of Cell 3 to Cell 5 where it was being dumped to build a new dike? or possibly a new dock? As I walked around to the east side of Cell 3 I would have to slide down the banks to avoid the heavy trucks that were moving in a clockwise direction around Cell 3.

Lake Erie was frozen to about ¼ mile from shore and had heavy ice flows farther out. Hundreds of scaup, Tundra Swans, Herring/Ring-billed Gulls, Common Goldeneye, and Bufflehead were seen through the scope. But, I could not find any Snowy Owls out on the ice. A few Bald Eagles were consolation.

I would hike across what's left of open Cell 3 back to the Middle Causeway and saw several Snow Buntings flying overhead. A large flock of Snow Buntings would land on the causeway ahead of me, but took off just as fast as they landed. A few Tundra Swans would fly overhead as I walked back to the car. A distant Bald Eagle and Red-tailed were the only other birds I'd see the rest of the way back to the car.

It was a productive hike and a nice way to start count-week.

Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe, Michigan, US
Dec 23, 2016 7:00 AM - 11:20 AM
Protocol: Traveling
9.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Owling along Roberts Rd. Hiked on foot from Mouillee Creek entrance to Vermet Unit, across ice to Middle Causeway, to Cell 3, across Cell 3 back to Middle Causeway to car. Overcast, 30F, 5 mph SW, 2-6" snow on ground, inland ponds frozen, Lake Erie frozen to ¼ mile from shore, Huron River frozen.
26 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  60
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)  2
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  22
Greater/Lesser Scaup (Aythya marila/affinis)  800     large raft on Lake Erie out from Cell 3 scoped from shoreline.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  10
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  30
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  1
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)  4     1 male, 3 fem/juv type seen along Middle Causeway; harassed a pair of Short-eared Owls that were flushed from bank.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)  6     3 adult, 3 juvenile on Lake Erie and along Middle Causeway.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  1
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  1     light morph flying south toward Roberts Rd. from Mouillee Creek
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  50
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  60
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  2
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)  8
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)  1     Along Roberts Rd. 7 am.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  2     One bird flushed just before junction of Middle Causeway, Long Pond and Vermet Units. Flew north toward North Causeway where a  2nd SEOW joined it for several minutes. Both birds landed and took off several times from inside Vermet Unit; harassed by several NOHA.
Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)  1     Gorgeous adult bird flew west across Vermet Unit toward Humphries Unit; got nice fly-by pics.
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)  2
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)  2
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)  60     Saw four single birds before a flock of 20, then approx 46 birds flew across Middle Causeway; all birds moving southwest;
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)  150     several large flocks flying along Middle Causeway in phragmites and in Cell 3 phragmites.
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)  6
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)  2     two 'black-looking' sparrows among Tree Sparrow flock. Got bins on them as they landed on seed stalks. They chattered when pished at.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  2

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

I would then take a ride out to Willow Run Airport late in the afternoon before looking for Short-eared Owls out in Superior Township. Willow Run was fairly quiet except for a Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and a small flock of Horned Larks.

I drove around Vreeland, Prospect, Harris and Gottfredson Rds for about an hour and a half before two Short-eared Owls appeared at about 5:15 pm. During that time I managed to find a dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk far out in a field. Red-tailed Hawks were also abundant. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was a nice find just before dark!

Gottfredson Rd. at Vreeland Rd., Washtenaw, Michigan, US
Dec 23, 2016 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Protocol: Traveling
5.0 mile(s)
Comments:     Cloudy, overcast, cold, 30F, Snow 2-6"; drove Prospect to Harris to Vreeland and Gottfredson Rds. looking for Short-eared Owls.
15 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)  200     Corn field off Harris and Vreeland Rds.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  4
Sharp-shinned/Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter striatus/cooperii)  1     Adult Sharp-shinned sitting in bush next to Gottfredson Rd.; bug-eyed, size of Blue Jay.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)  5
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  1     dark morph; digiscoped in field at 200yds. just before dark
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon))  12
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  2     One bird appeared at about 5:15 pm in field SW of Gottfredson and Vreeland Rd. and the other in the field across Gottfredson Rd.; I watched the first bird for 5-10 minutes before it disappeared in darkness. Continuing birds.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)  1
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)  1
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)  4
Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus)  2
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)  12
Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)  4
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  3
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)  2
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)  12

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (


Neil Gilbert said...

Amazing owl pics!

Cathy Carroll said...

Holy cow, Jerry. So sorry to hear about the loss of your photo files. I was so bummed out for you that I even wrote about it this morning on my blog. Your eastern screech photos certainly put you back in the saddle again. Merry Christmas to you and Robin.

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