|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Coe Township, MI|
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Despite single digit temperatures and gusting winds of 35-40 mph, I got out for about an hour on Wednesday afternoon. There was so much blowing snow that I almost didn't see this snowy owl sitting right off the edge of the road. I pulled off and managed to get this photo just as the owl took off. By far my favorite photo from this winter, this one may end up on a wall.
Though my dad and I had gotten out owling once or twice over the holidays, we had only seen the birds from several hundred yards away. He had mentioned me that he would like to get out and get some closer shots of them, especially because he had just picked up his new toy, a Canon 300mm f/4 IS telephoto lens. So we decided to give it a shot this past weekend and roll north to the wind turbine region of mid-Michigan. On our way northward we swung through Maple River SGA to see if any snowies were still hanging around. I had seen one previously on February 3rd sleeping atop a barn in the early morning. We managed to see a few Northern Harriers, a Northern Shrike, some Snow Buntings, and hoards of Horned Larks. We continued to press north in Gratiot County and eventually hit some back roads in the vast expanse of wind turbines. We made a pass down a road where I had seen two snowies a few weeks earlier and came up empty, but as we turned around and headed back out the way we came in, I noticed a white blob sitting atop a telephone pole. Sure enough, it was a snowy.
|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) N Blair Road, Gratiot County, MI|
This sleepy owl simply turned his head and gave us a squinting look. We shot a few quick photos of him and then moved on. We drove a little further north into Isabella County to an area where I had previously seen good numbers of owls. Around 4:30 PM, we turned down a road and noticed an owl sitting atop a bare pole. We got out of the car and fired away, getting much better photos of this owl than the one we had seen earlier.
|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Summerton Road, Rosebush, MI|
The owl didn't seem to mind us at all until something distance caught its attention and it flew off into the adjacent agricultural field. We drove a little further east and saw one last owl just before sunset from about 200 yards away in an open field and called it a day. My dad was thrilled with the photos he got of the owl, and the trip was considered a success. It was a great way to spend a Saturday, and I hope we can do more photography stuff like this in the future.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
We finally got some relatively warm weather here in Michigan, with temperatures rising above freezing for the first time in more than two months. I relished the opportunity to get out and enjoy the sun and warmth in the late afternoon for an hour or two. The area that I've seen snowy owls a lot this winter has become relatively absent as no sightings have been reported and a failed attempt over the weekend. Just across U.S. 127 there is another expanse of agricultural land less than two miles from my apartment which one owl was reported from, so I decided to go check it out. I noticed a white blob about 150 yards from the road and decided to pull off and take a look through my bins. Sure enough, it was a snowy. After a few minutes, the owl suddenly took off and started to fly in my direction. The initial, "Shit shit shit!" reaction caused me to fumble to get my camera lens cap off, luckily I managed to do so. I stooped low and got my lens on the bird. The owl only occasionally beat its powerful wings, gliding less than two feet off of the fresh blanket of snow. As the bird got closer, I was able to figure some nice shots, though not as spectacular as I was hoping for. The bird passed to my right overhead and then swooped low to grab something about fifty yards in the field behind me.
|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Isabella County, MI|
The owl had obviously seen some small rodent from more than two hundred yards away, which is proof of their incredible eyesight. I love the above photo because you can see that the owl is zeroed in on its target, completely ignoring me and my lens. The bird ended up landing about a hundreds yards from the road in the field behind me and scarfed down its meal. It was pretty awesome to see one of these birds in action, as most of the ones I've seen this winter have been stationary. I decided to drive around a few others fields in the area and noticed another snowy on a utility pole right before sunset.
|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Isabella County, MI|
Unfortunately a passing truck spooked the owl, but I was able to capture nice shot of the owl during takeoff. As we move towards the end of February, these owls will likely be making their departure from Michigan in the next few weeks as spring finally approaches. My dad and I are going to try and make a snowy trip this weekend so he can get some decent shots of them before they depart for good. Stay tuned...
Thursday, February 13, 2014
A large group of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were gorging themselves on crab apples today in the heart of CMU's campus. I counted roughly forty individuals, which were constantly flying from tree to tree. I was hoping there would be a stray Bohemian Waxwing amongst the group, but it was all cedars. It was nice to capture some photos of these birds, as I did not have any photos of them previously.
Audubon Magazine: With So Many Snowies to Study, Scientists Are Discovering How Little We Know About This Bird
"We won't live long enough to see something like this again." That statement is probably true, what's happening this winter is a once in a lifetime type of event. It's no secret that the snowy owl irruption has been nothing short of astounding. Snowies have shown up across the country in record breaking numbers, even as far south as Bermuda and Florida. Audubon Magazine has posted a fantastic article about the invasion, which you can read on the Audubon Magazine website. So what's so different about this year, why have so many of these mystical birds descended from the Arctic for the winter?
Being a newbie birder, I remember reading about snowy owls back in November and remember thinking, "I really hope I get to see one this winter!" I guess I couldn't have chose a better winter to become interesting in birding, particularly with owls. There is something striking about these birds, something I can't quite describe. The way they slowly observe their surroundings and then take off with powerful, yet silent wing beats is something one must see for themselves. If you haven't done so already, bundle up, grab your binoculars and make an effort to go out and find one of these owls while they're still around. Many people I've talked to believe they will stick around until mid-March, but it all depends on how quickly things warm up. Check out local birding lists or eBird for local sightings and be sure to report any sightings you have to either one of these resources. That's all for now, I'll leave you with a few more snowy shots from the past month or so.
|Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Gratiot County, MI|
We know that snowy owls are nomadic, often traveling thousands of miles across the arctic to areas where lemming populations are booming. These booms in lemming populations are cyclical, often happening every three to five years. Good years for lemmings in turn are good years for snowies, allowing nesting pairs to raise several youngsters to young adulthood. According to scientists who study snow owls, the summer of 2013 was a banner year for lemmings, leading to huge colonies of breeding snowy owls. This, coupled with early, deep snow in the arctic has created a "perfect storm" which hasn't been seen in more than half a century.
|A snowy rests in the agricultural tundra of Isabella County, MI.|