Saturday, January 11, 2014

Birthday Birding

It's been a tumultuous week of weather here as winter storm Ion moved through over the weekend, dropping more than a foot of snow on southeast Michigan. The polar vortex that caused the snow followed  the storm brought icy cold air from the arctic, resulting in record low temperatures which included wind chills 30-40 degrees below zero. Eventually the winds chills dissipated and the roads were cleared and I was able to get out and do some birding on my birthday. I started the day off by investigating some recent sightings of Common Redpolls in western Washtenaw County on state land. Lots of small passerines were out, but no redpolls were to be found. I decided to head back to the eastern part of the county to drive some areas in search of a Snowy Owl which had been around Superior Township but hasn't seen for a week or two now. As I turned down a road, I noticed a small bird perched atop a roadside tree.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), Washtenaw County, MI
 It was a Short-eared Owl, a small owl which inhabits open grasslands and agricultural lands across much of the world. This particular area seems to have a lot of them and they can often be seen soaring low over the corn stubble. The bird blew a few trees down and perched again, so I moved my tripod a little further down the road and snapped a few more shots. Something caught the owl's attention, and it took off rapidly. I was able to snag a shot during takeoff, I'm pretty happy with the result.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus), Washtenaw County, MI
 The owl flew down the edge of the road towards a large tree, which happened to have a large raptor perched atop it. I quickly redirected the scope towards the tree to see that it was a large Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus) that the owl was making a bee line towards. Over the next few minutes the owl repeatedly swooped at circled the hawk aggressively, trying to flush it from the tree.

It was pretty cool to watch for a few minutes before the owl finally succeeded in getting rid of the hawk. I drove some of the surrounding areas in hopes of seeing the Snowy that had been seen in the area to no avail. The sun was getting low, so I decided to head out and make one small pit stop. Even in the first 11 days of January, there has been massive numbers of Snowy Owls observed throughout the Great Lakes basin and into the northeast. Here's a sighting map for January 2014 via

Snow Owl Sightings, January 2014,
I arrived at my destination just before sunset and did a quick loop of the area. As I came around a corner, I noticed a large white blob sitting atop a small man-made structure.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), Wayne County, MI
Snowies are truly magnificent birds, standing almost two feet tall with a five foot wingspan. I was able to trudge through knee deep snow to get close to a fence in order to photograph this owl which was in a restricted area about 40 yards away, it was quite tolerant of my presence. I fired quite a few photos over the course of a few minutes before heading back to the car, the owl never moved. It was an awesome way to spend my birthday and I couldn't be happier with the shots I got.

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