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Short-eared Owl Afternoon

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

 I love the Ohio Ornithological Society's annual Raptor Extravaganza at The Wilds each January. It's a way to get together with friends in a lovely setting and collectively freeze your kiesters off. Together. It's a bonding thing.

Phoebe and Liam dine on fresh snow while we pound a pine grove for roosting owls.  I love taking our kids on this trip each year. Together, they're a unit of contentment, happy to look at what we show them in the scope, but equally happy to just be in The Wilds.

There are other kids who come, too; this one too little to stick up above the Lespedeza.

Part of The Whipple Bird Club. We were missing Shila, but Marcy's smile made up for it.

I forget what Mrs. Claus is supposed to be doing if it's snowing when the sun is shining. Do you remember, Steve?

Maybe best not to ask. Carol (right) obviously didn't get the memo that it was Dorky Hat Day. Shhh. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. Steve and Mawcy are wooking fow wabbits.

I like to shoot pictures of people out birding. Dave looked great in the taupeness with the sunny snowflakes drifting down.

We feel so lucky to have a place like The Wilds less than an hour from our house. A place where you can see for miles and scan for raptors. It's hard to do that at home. Too many trees. 
No such problem here. You see, when the place was strip-mined in the '70's, they took away the soil that could support trees. The subsoil that's left makes stunted, twisted little things that look more like shrubs. So it's going to be open land for the foreseeable future. 

Which is a great thing for short-eared owls. SEOW's come here from the far north, and only in winter (though a few have tried nesting each year). They're looking for voles and mice. It looked to us like a great vole year at The Wilds, with dark little sausage-shaped food packets skittering to and fro on the snowy paths before us as we walked. Their tunnels and tracks were everywhere! That spells a fat winter for owls.

Largely crepuscular, a short-ear has no fear of flying during the daylight. They're tough birds. We accidentally spooked this gentleman from his ground roost right by the road and up he started with the classic mechanical mothlike wingbeats that quicken a birder's heart.

 Phoebe spotted him right away and she and I tried very hard to get a line of five slowly moving cars stuffed with birders to stop and see this wonder of the north. Everybody saw it well! I must've yelled SHORTEAR SHORTEAR SHORTEAR a dozen times.

Phoebe made a mental note of where she'd seen him start up and went over to ground-truth her suspicion.

 She found the spot and lo! there was a puddle of fresh shortear poo where he'd been sleeping.

and she was not ashamed to be very excited to have found that

which warmed her mama's heart.

Speaking of warm hearts, Liam spent the entire day with Savannah, his sixth-grade teacher's daughter, playing and talking and acting goofy.

 Savannah thinks Liam hung the moon, with good reason. He is unfailingly patient and kind to small children and they adore him for that. 

It helps that Savannah is purely adorable.

She brings out the caretaker in him.

 After everyone had finished high-fiving, the ones for whom short-eared owl was a life bird did the Life Bird Wiggle. This is mandatory if Bill of the Birds is around.

We felt blessed to see about a dozen of these beautiful owls, more and more as night fell.

Same shot, but cropped so you can see the fabulous rufous wing patches and something of its face.

There's nothing quite like showing people their first flying owl. It's been an owly winter for us!


Saw my first S.E.Owl a few years back when I was SERIOUSLY birding. It took 16 hours of back and forth driving over 2 weekends to finally see them but well worth the effort.

You brought back two good memories. A year ago this past Christmas, I helped with the Christmas Bird Count at Anahuac NWR. I started out by going owling before dawn and then rode the Marsh Master for my morning assignment. We put up over twenty some barn owls and three short eared owls. We also got a couple of great horned owls and our first - since hurricane Ike - screech owl. We called it and it sat on a post about eight feet away and called back.

Several years earlier, I owled out of my canoe, looking especially for short-eared owls. I played the call and one almost bushed my head as it flew over.

These are moments that bring us closest to God.

Wow!! (They let you go IN the Wilds????) Who knew?? Next time we're there, I'll be looking for owls, too!!

It was a wonderful,chilly day and those Short-Ears were a highlight, for sure. I will do this event again and again, having fun with other birders. And, yes, Elise, they let you IN The Wilds! The amazing part is that they let some of us OUT.

Posted by Amy Girten February 7, 2012 at 8:15 AM

A lovely telling of this discovery. The Life Bird Wiggle makes me wish I wasn't always out in the field alone with my camera. :)

LOL, Amy!! I've been in the Wilds, in the trams, and out where they let you walk about a bit...but from Julie's pictures, it appears as though they might be in some "wilder" places!? I've seen a Northern Harrier there (I think) but didn't look for owls!!

The other morning, I went out to feed the horses and I could hear an owl near the barn and also a high pitched squeal. I followed the sounds to find two owls in the dusk of a large live oak. One owl had something in its claws the other was waiting impatiently for a share. I talked to them a minute, but they didn't like me interupping breakfast and flew off to another hiding place on the other side of the swamp. it was too dark for me to really see them, but if I had been Zick, I could have identified them by their shadows I know. It was a very cool way to start the day.

Hi Julie
I lived at 8506 Academy Road nextdoor to you all. Karen has shared your journal with me and I am so glad to find your blog. Nicely done! I have a friend who does a horticulture blog so I sent her the link.
Patty Gould Rosenberg

Hi Patty! So now you know what happened to the odd little girl next door who spent every waking minute in that little patch of forest behind our houses. How wonderful to hear from you! Thank you for writing and keep in touch!

My friend with the hort blog says she has been reading yours for years. She is impressed that I know you. Keep up the good work. I like your art work too. I can't paint things that move. Patty

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