Winter of the Short-eared

I have shared images and discussed the Short-eared Owl on a number of previous blog posts.  Never did I imagine the “storm” that the “winter” of 2015/2016 was to bring.  On many different trips to a few different places, I along with my partners Sarah and Steve, were fortunate to have great looks at great numbers of these fluffy fascinations in feathers.  I can’t say for certain if this winter in this region was abnormal for hosting a greater than average number of SEOW, or if my observational skills have just improved, but it certainly seemed easier than in past years to find and watch these birds.  I’ve just finished putting together a video with some video clips and highlight images that I wanted to share. Without further ado, here you are…

Oh, the challenges video brings to an inexperienced, unprepared and poorly equipped photographer.  Throw in the fact that these birds are utterly unpredictable and it’s hard to believe I was able to capture what I did.  So, I learn and take notes and hopefully improve next year.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Other than the simians, is there another species easier to anthropomorphize?  Here we have cute and inquisitive SEOW, followed mere seconds later by the evil, harbinger of doom SEOW of which early writers told.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

And then we have the indifferent SEOW…

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Okay, I’ll stop now before they take my biologist card away from me…
Although I got a few images, I struggled mightily and missed several great opportunities at capturing SEOW in flight this season.  The randomness of the encounters coupled with challenges with lighting and equipment make this a true challenge.  Funnily, one of my better in-flight photographs was taken with a setting sun at the bird’s back – not the best opportunity…

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

The image below was taken with the sun in a better position.  Notice the catch light, which suggests that the bird was up and in flight with the sun still in the sky.  Something else in this photo that I noticed before is the difference in dilatation of the lit pupil compared to the pupil of the shaded eye.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Below is a flight shot from a further distance.  I liked the warm light of the golden hour, painting the dead prairie vegetation in fire.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

One night Steve and I were fortunate to have an owl perch close to our car well into dusk.  It then left its perch and landed nearby in the vegetation.  We could not tell if it was after a prey or decided to go back to bed, as it sat there for the short remainder of the day.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

The final image I am sharing here is just to show off those feather-covered legs.  A great adaptation for the cold climates in which these birds are found.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

-OZB

A Tale of Three White Giants

Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter Swans

Missouri is home to three giant white swan species that can be difficult to distinguish without a bit of training or education.  All three swans belong to the genus Cygnus and rank among the largest waterfowl on the planet.  The first species we will consider is the Trumpeter Swan (C. buccinator).  Ranked as both the largest waterfowl species in the world and the largest flying bird of North America, the Trumpeter Swan is considered a conservation success.  Beginning in the 1600s the birds were collected for their meat, skins and feathers.  This unregulated slaughter lasted until the passage of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which provided the species some protection. Their population rebounded from a level as low as 32 birds documented in 1932 to 15,000 – 20,000 estimated today.  Trumpeter Swans only winter in Missouri, spending their summer nesting season from the upper great plains up to Alaska.  As many as 600 birds have been counted at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary during a winter season.

Trumpeter Swans
Trumpeter Swans

The Tundra Swan  (C. columbianus) are more widespread across North America compared to its larger relative, the Trumpeter.  And, although they far outnumber the Trumpeter in total population, the Trumpeter is actually the more abundant winter resident in Missouri.  For reasons unknown, this winter we have seen an unusually high number of the comparatively rare Tundra, giving birders something to be excited about.

In single species groups, especially at a distance, the two species can be challenging to tell apart.  However, when seen up close and spaced closely together, the differences are more easily identified.  On average, the Tundra is 1/3 to 1/2 the size of the Trumpeter.  In addition the border of the black color surrounding the bill is different in the two species and the Tundra usually has a yellow spot on the lores, near the base of the bill.  I’ll guide you to your favorite field guide for more specifics.  With this information, can you spot the four Tundras in the image below?

Mix of Swans
Mix of Swans

Here is a closeup of the two species in flight.  Easy to spot the Tundra here.  Right?

Trumpeter : Tundra - 2.1
Trumpeter : Tundra – 2.1

It was such a treat being able to watch a group of Tundras carrying on…

Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans

Finally, our last (and quietest) of Missouri’s Cygnus – the Mute Swan (Color).  The Mute is native to the old world and exists in North America as a naturalized resident.  Still raised and sold on the captive market, the Mute is typically a year-round resident in these parts, moving only to find open water in the dead of winter.  These birds are easily recognized by the large, orange-collored bills, often with a bulge at its base.  I photographed this pair at Binder Lake S.P.

Mute Swans
Mute Swans

There you are, a quick overview of the Missouri’s white giants.

Thanks for the visit.
-OZB

Clarence Cannon in White-Out Conditions

This past Saturday I headed up north on Highway 79.  Knowing that the frigid temps and predicted winds of 30 mph + would not afford many great opportunities, the chance of snow in these areas made me think that something interesting could happen.  Here are a few I thought worthy to share.

Harrier Still Hunting
Harrier Still Hunting
Snow Falling on Pintails
Snow Falling on Pintails
February
February

Nesting Birds of Missouri – Grasshopper Sparrow

Sarah helped me nab this shot of a singing Grasshopper Sparrow recently at Confluence State Park.  It was interesting to me that out of such a large area of potential habitat, the only two birds we had singing this day were right on top of each other.

IMG_4703

Nesting Birds of Missouri – Warbling Vireo

At riverine locals like RMBS, the warbling song of the Warbling Vireo can be heard all day long throughout the summer.  However, they have always given me grief when it came to getting a photograph – lurking shyly among the leafy branches of the Cottonwood.  This year, I hit a trail where I know they set territories for nesting.  Early in the spring, before the leaves expanded, I was able to follow this guy as he made the rounds and get some photos.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo