Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Snow Storm - 10 Dec 2017

This morning I drove to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to take in a few days of boreal birding. My plan was to stop at Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, then spend the night in Mackinac City. I would then bird the Rudyard and Sault Ste. Marie area on Monday, then drive to Whitefish Pt. on Tuesday.

I reached Hartwick Pines SP at 1 pm and found the place void of birds; the only sighting was a fat beaver waddling into the woods from the parking lot. The ranger at the Visitor's Center hadn't seen any Evening Grosbeaks in over a week, and hadn't heard any calling for several days. Since I was only an hour from the Mackinac Bridge and another hour to Rudyard I decided to continue on and get a late afternoon drive down Centerline Rd.

Snow squalls hit the Crawford Co. area just north of Grayling and I found myself in a mini-blizzard for about 30 minutes. The roads cleared near the Bridge and steady flurries greeted me in the Rudyard area. Two Snowy Owls were reported yesterday, so I kept an eye out for them as I slowly drove just east of I-75 on Centerline Rd.

I found a juvenile Snowy Owl atop a pole on the passenger side of the car. Rather than stopping the car and trying to photograph it from the road I decided to drive down, turn around, and photograph it from inside the car. Glad I did.

Just 100 yds down the road I spotted a monstrous flock of Snow Buntings in the road and in the fields on either side. Initial estimate was 1000 birds, although 500-700 was more of a possibility. The Snowy Owl could wait.

I pulled over and rolled down the window. I had kept the car cold on purpose to reduce the amount of heat escaping the car while photographed from inside, but convection currents were still apparent as I tried to capture the massive flock as it swirled, circled, settled, foraged, then erupt again enmass. With snowflakes in the skies the buntings created a perfect storm.


I would find that group autofocus on the Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII tended to find snowflakes to focus on easier than the hundreds of Snow Buntings whipping by my field of view. As a result I had dozens of frames of blurred birds and sharp snowflakes. However, of the approximately 1000 photos I did take I had enough to keep me busy for hours.

I did find a single Lapland Longspur among the flock of Snow Buntings, and after reviewing images, found several more that went unnoticed. The single bird I saw was a straggler that flew alone when the larger flock moved across the road.

After returning to the Snowy Owl for about 2 minutes I turned around and headed back to the Snow Bunting flock. I arrived just in time to catch a male Northern Harrier drift across the road and scatter the flock once more.

After spending a few more minutes capturing Snow Buntings in flight I watched as the flock moved on and decided to start heading toward Sault Ste. Marie to get a room for the night.

1 comment:

david boon said...

Those are wonderful pictures Jerry!

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