Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Raptor-licious Day

For a week or more, I have been meaning to make the trek to Armleder Park to see the now famous Short-eared Owls. Today was the day. The weather was cold, but sunny, dry and not too windy, which is perfect winter birding weather for me, and fortunately, I had the day off from work.

This is the birdiest part of Armleder Park -
a paved walking track around an open field.
Signs indicate it is being managed for grassland birds.

Days off and good weather rarely coincide, so I made my plans. Reports on the Cincinnati Bird Club web site seemed to indicate that late afternoon was the best time to see the birds, so I figured I would aim to arrive around 3-3:30pm. Just before 2pm, as I was putting on my wool socks, my cell phone rang. It was Susan.

"I'm at Armleder right now and there are Short-eared Owls ALL OVER THE PLACE! Get your butt here RIGHT AWAY!"

"OK, Susan, but it will take me an hour to drive there." I knew she couldn't wait that long, so I asked what specific areas of the park I should check for the owls.

"They are EVERYWHERE! They are on the north end, the south end, they are ALL OVER THE PARK!"

Susan was obviously excited. I didn't have the heart to tell her I don't know the north end of the park from the south.

The Little Miami River is on my right.
Since my shadow is in front of me at about 4pm,
the setting sun must be behind me, ergo, I am facing east.
What? I don't think that's right.
Maybe north-east. (I need a compass.)

I donned the rest of my oh-so-attractive winter birding garb, grabbed extra batteries for the camera, bins, spotting scope, water bottle - all the requisite gear - filled my bird feeders, fed the horses, and pulled out of the drive at 2:15pm.

My raptor count started in my yard, with a fly-by Buteo. I didn't get a good enough look for a definite ID, but I'm pretty sure it was the neighborhood Red-shouldered Hawk, who has been calling daily from a tall tree across the road.

The count quickly rose with 3 Red-tailed Hawks and a Red-shouldered Hawk on SR. 32. As I pulled into Armleder, I spotted a falcon in a tree. Before I could get my bins up to my eyes, a guy walked underneath the bird's perch, spooking it. I had hoped it was the Merlin, but I'm pretty sure it was an American Kestrel.

The Walking Man, out with his camera,
walking towards a SEOW and spooking it,
just as he spooked the falcon earlier.

Another Red-tailed flew out of the trees as I walked toward a group of crows. I thought their calls indicated an owl in the area, but I didn't see one.

Northern Harriers have been very active in this park this winter. I ran into a guy today who said there have been as many as 10 spotted at one time. I saw at least two today. They are pretty incredible birds, and I was fascinated watching them, but I was there for those darned owls.

Suddenly, something was different. Two Harriers were chasing a third bird, which looked smaller and lighter in color. That's it! A Short-eared Owl, a Life Bird for me!
A flock of crows began mobbing it, and chased it out of my binoculars range. Well, I saw it, but it was not very satisfying look.
The bird on the upper right is a Short-eared Owl
and the one on the lower left is a Northern Harrier.
Trust me.

I continued walking around, following the Harriers, and doing some light, general birding. I picked up a Great Blue Heron, a Pileated Woodpecker, a number of Song Sparrows, my FOS (First Of the Season) American Tree Sparrows, and a blue-million Northern Cardinals.

Eventually, I saw more owls. There were at least two different birds, and although I could follow their flights with my binoculars, I couldn't get the scope on them. If they weren't flying, they landed in the grass, where I couldn't find them. Eventually, I put the scope in the car, and that's when an owl decided to T up on a tree.

Believe it or not, that's a Short-eared Owl in the top of that tree.
And, this is a SEOW perched on the ground.
I know, it could be a groundhog,
but it really is an owl.

The best of a bad lot of flight photos:
The dark "wrist" patch is characteristic
of Short-eared Owls.
As is the buffy patch on the upper wing surface



Kathy said...

Congratulations on getting your owl! I especially like the last picture. The one on the ground does look like a groundhog.

Mary said...

Great way to spend a day off! Feeling jealous now because I've not spotted an owl here - only heard them before daybreak. Dang.

Your birds in flight are great, Katdoc! I struggle with them and *might* get one, with a stroke of luck.

Sara said...

Congratulations on such wonderful views of the Short-eared Owls and a LIFER too, nice ! Usually seen at dawn and dusk, finding them in daylight is super. Often the Northern Harrier and SEOW co-exist in the same area, harriers hunting during the day with the owls starting up about the time the hawks finish. Seeing them together must have been really exciting !

Susan Gets Native said...

That's all I gotta say.

Marvin said...

A day well spent.

Susan Gets Native said...

BTW, Kath...The north end of the park is where the retaining pond is. The south end is where the trail head is.
Remember it. There will be a quiz.

Susan Gets Native said...

Okay, one more thing.
Did you notice that the owl is carrying something?