So it Begins

First Snowy Owl of the 2020/2021 season in eastern Missouri.

Although it looks like the next official Snowy Owl “irruption year” is predicted to be in the winter of 2021/2022, eastern Missouri has had its first bird of the season and other states have had a few handfuls of sightings as well. This bird was recently spotted in the area of BK Leach Conservation Area and the town of Elsberry, about a 45 minute drive north of the St. Louis metro area. Sarah and I hopped in the car yesterday afternoon and thought we would give it a try.

It didn’t take long to find the bird – by means of finding the birders who had found it for us. This bird looked healthy and was quite active, hunting from perch to perch. Most of our looks were from pretty great distances but we were fortunate to be able to see it up-close, perched on this utility pole just outside Elsberry in the last light of the day. See below of the bird from far away but on a natural perch.

Snowy Owl from our first vantage point from about 200 yards.

If you chase after this one, be aware of the ‘local flavor’. Sarah and I had a couple run-ins with more than the average passive-aggressive douchebags but I guess it takes one to know one. I was pleased to see several birders younger than me (teenagers, actually) out looking at this one as well. From what I heard, these guys were pretty serious birders.

We then went slightly south to BK Leach C.A. proper, hoping to find some opportunities to view and photograph Short-eared Owls. We found approximately five birds during limited light but they were quite active, fighting amongst themselves and the Northern Harriers. The one photographed below came out from a group of birds carrying its prize.

Short-eared Owl flees with its rodent prey.

Overall it was a nice afternoon on another warmer than average December day.

-OZB

Having some success with SEOW

Short-eared Owl

Miguel and I have been trying to get some better in-flight shots of the Short-eared Owls that use the wet prairies at BK Leach CA for their winter homes. Tonight, preparations and fortune came together and we wound up with a few that we can be satisfied with. The lighting wasn’t great, as the nice sunlight was blocked by heavier and heavier clouds as soon as the action began, but sometimes you take what you can get.

Short-eared Owl

 

Short-eared Owl

 

Short-eared Owl

-OZB

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

Short-eared Owls and a Christmas Moon

SEOW & Christmas Moon
SEOW & Christmas Moon

Wow.  I’ve been looking for an evening like this for a number of years.  I have heard and read that Short-eared Owls will often start their night early and often will often be up and active with several hours of day left.  I have seen them before at dusk, right before sunset, but last night at B.K. Leach C.A. we had several on the move with almost two hours of light left.  We were able to count a minimum of eight SEOW, but there may have been more.  Immediately before sunset I was able to observe somewhere between 25-30 Northern Harriers along with the owls.  It was quite a treat, listening to the Owl’s peculiar barks and screams as they were dog-fighting with the other owls and the Harriers who were looking for their spots to spend the night.

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

-OZB