Saturday, March 31, 2012

Snowy on Hellcat Tower

My buddy Eric & I had a Snowy 3 years ago on the Hellcat tower...this a.m. was a very cool repeat. I sat with this fellow for about 40min, same bird from the day before ( on sign). This snowy was very un-interested in me, but was checking out some Buffle Heads in the pool. Breakfast?

This made me laugh...

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sunset in the Parker

I took a quick ride through the Parker right before sunset. My camera could not quite handle some of the shots due to shutter speed, but GREAT finds none the less !!!

This Coyote stopped to look at me, but it was just to dark out to get a crisp shot off

                                                  Lots of Harriers about, 10 + but no SEO's

Loved this snowy

FOY Osprey hunting north pool

Last light

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Snowy Owl's

So after a long sleepless night due to stomach pains, I prepped myself to go to BCP class. The way the curriculum is set up, I would have to wait an entire year to make up the session. Soooo... not an option & even with the pain I wanted to go. Such a good program, but anyways...I left the house around 6 to head into the Reserve... can't sleep I'm sure there are owls about. Rightly so, I found 3 Snowy's by the Wardens area. One in a tree, one on the bank of the pool, and one high up in a pine tree. A few other early risers had noticed all the birds and were enjoying them as well.

From there I went to class, it was a struggle between the horrible pains & the lack of sleep. Dave Larson the B.C.P programs founder / teacher for today presented on bird behaviors related to feeding, diet, & its various implications on avian species, a very interesting class. I just wish I was a bit more coherent. Anyways,  after the lecture portion we headed out into the Reserve. On this amazing day we had the opportunity to Release a Snowy Owl that Norm Smith had caught at Logan Airport earlier in the day. Prior to seeing the owl, Norm showed us some wings and talons collected from some of the owls that did not make it due to starvation or that had been shot. ( By crazy Mass folks... bastards)

Talons from one of the  dead logan birds

male & female wing contrast
David W. with wing, David runs Cranes Beach's Migratory shore bird program

First off Norm Smith is a hilarious guy, he gave a great presentation on Snowys & he provided a wealth of knowledge about Owls, of which he has been studying / trapping  & re-releasing since 1981, which was the year the snowy Owl project began at Logan. His experience far pre-dates that.  Norm discussed the numbers of birds over the years MA has had,  as well as info about tracking them via transmitters post release on their various journeys.

We really don't know a hell of alot about these birds, is essentially what he said. Using my guide information I have always thought I could identify male & female birds...not so much. Apparently it really requires very close inspection, and not just size & coloration. He did show us a male birds wing & a females birds wing, the female being noticeable larger. Also looking first hand at the talons was pretty impressive. So I have always thought Snowy's were a diurnal hunters, in fact they hunt whenever, night especially. During the day Norm stated that they rest, but never really sleep soundly, as they are always watching for predators being a ground species. He also said like other raptors, it is very likely Snowy's basically have zoom "options" with their eye sight, and can focus in beyond their normal view. Much like adjusting a scope ?   Norm told a story about a bird seeing a bait decoy from a  mile away or so.  Snowy's are also quite the apex predator. He told another story about a snowy following a Peregrine falcon that was hunting at logan, which the Snowy caught & killed. I guess Snowy's are not really ambush hunters as they appear, sitting around all day. But will  mainly out-fly and over power avian prey, or even employ "hover" methods like kestrels while hunting. Years like this, we assume that the owls come down due to large numbers of owls from a good breeding year in the Artic and a lack of food, but really we don't know for sure. A very possible contributing factor. But  Some of the birds he has tagged end up in Siberia, others head even further north to hunt ducks in the pack ice,  during the time we  "think" they come south. Very interesting species.  He has caught a number of the birds a few times, one bird has been tracked for 16 years. Like most Raptors the first year birds have a very high mortality rate, but after that first year, they really have no predators. Other than us....( and crap luck )

Norm & the owl making the same face

Seeing this bird so close was amazing for me. I keep my distance from the birds on the island as to not stress them, so this was hands down one of the coolest things ever. Thank you Norm & Dave !!

p.s Another point of special note for me was some of Norms thoughts, & his daughter's research on long-eared owls. Which it seems may be more prevalent than thought....

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Great Horned Owl

Thanks to Phil for the sweet location & find today!!  

My dad and I checked out a Great Horned Owl nest in Ipswich this evening. Even with directions it took us a bit of exploring to find the tree. The female G.H.O, on eggs & was panting in the heat of the 80 degree day. I'm sure there were other places she would have liked to have been other than in that nest... which was up there quite a ways. In any case, a beautiful owl.  I cant wait to continue to check up on this nest.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Various Birds & lots of Owls

So another great weekend for Owls. On Friday Casey & I watched 2 Short-eared owls hunt & "dog fight" over Cross Hill in the Reserve. They stayed pretty far away, so we didn't really get any crazy pictures. We also saw 3 Snowy's on Friday. This afternoon I went back into the Reserve ( Sunday) I found 4 Snowy's all to far for the 300mm lens, but great views with binoculars. I also saw one of the Short-eared owls again right at dusk past the pines.

 Lots of song sparrows and  Redwing Blackbirds singing. High numbers of horned grebes off Emerson Rocks, and a few Killdeer & 100's of Sanderlings at Sandy Point. I  saw my first 2012 Kestrel on Friday near the Wardens. Also worth noting that a number of the Great Blue Herons that use the 95 rookery are back as well. Feels like spring to me ! 

One of Casey's shots from Friday

Just to far, and to bright for any good shots

Found this funny. Poor Redtail. Recently I saw a bunch of crows pestering a Cooper's Hawk. When the crows got bored and took off the Coop chased one down & killed it. Pretty crazy, I've never seen that before. The hawk also did not eat the crow, just caught it, killed it,  & left it. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Short-eared Owl

After some recent email correspondence with my friend about Short-eared Owls, and given their high numbers in my area this winter ( PI), I decided on a bit of research. My friend Bob was telling me about viewing these birds in their breeding grounds up near Churchill in Canada.  From there the conversation went to questions about southern breeding populations , specifically in Mass.  Looking through Veit & Peterson’s,  BIRDS of Massachusetts, it seems that SEO’s in the 1900’s were breeding on Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Monomoy, Muskeget, Orleans & Tuckernuck. I'm sure the numbers dropped as the years went on. The count in 1985 was about 20-25 pairs breeding across these locations.

Today I am really only finding evidence that they are breeding on Tuckernuck Island, an area of about 900 acres, & 35 summer houses. Even on this sparsely settled island there seems to be only a few pairs left. The only other information about current probable breeding in Mass came from an Mass Audubon post about SEO’s displaying in Marshfield in 2008, at the Daniel Webster Sanctuary. 
That doesn’t quite count.

I have read that the over all population in North America is something like 20,000 + pairs. I bet this is a rough estimate, but to be sure they are in drastic decline. From 1966 to 2003 statistics show SEO populations dropping by 80% in the US. As they are highly migratory, one should assume this implies Canada as well.

For places like Plum Island SEO’s seem to be mainly a winter visitor, and I don’t see any breeding records for Essex County. From late November 2011 to now…March 2012, I have seen 19 SEO’s. I have no idea if they are the same birds or not, I assume at least a few are. The sightings have been split between Plum Island and the Nelsons Island areas. Oddly enough I did see one SEO on Plum Island last July as well, not the normal time to be in the area. Aside from the one freak summer bird, all sightings for me have been November through April. With Jan-Feb of 2011 having high numbers as well, 6 birds. 

I do find it interesting that the vast expanses of marsh and beach habitat between Ipswich, Rowley and Newbury do not hold year round pairs. There is quite a bit of protected land between them all. Perhaps too many predator’s in this area for a ground breeding bird, or to much boat activity ?  Wish I knew. But those are the MA facts I have dug up so far.  

SEO flying 100 + feet up PRNWR

 mid afternoon, an odd time

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Birding

A few good birds today for sure, leaving the island this morning there was a Bald Eagle sitting in the marsh near Bob Lobster. From there I headed over to Nelsons Island to meet up with  Ma and Pa Riley. We were hoping to catch some short-eared owls, and they did not disapoint. There were 2 birds hunting the marsh off Stackyard Rd, and another on the back side of the Nelsons Hill. What a great few days for Short-eared owls. After the photo shoot yesterday, it was almost pointless to take pictures but I took a few flight shots anyways.  On the way home thousands of Red Wing Black birds were in the corn fields at Pilkes Farm. Finally a pair of Red Tail's on the P.I. turnpike as the sun was setting. 

Thousands of Red Wing's


far off Red Tail

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Short-eared Owl

So I found another short-eared owl today. Just after the rain ended, I rushed into the reserve to see what I could see. 2 Snowy owls, quite wet, fluffing out their feathers. They were far enough that I did take pictures, but sat and enjoyed for a few. Then an Eastern Coyote flushed the short-eared out of the marsh. I took a few long flight shots, then it came and landed in a tree right in front of me. AMAZING!!!!