Posts Tagged 'owls'

Owl Ranch

Glaucidium brasilianumSan Migeulito Ranch is all owl, no cattle. A dozen miles from anywhere in Kenedy Co., and down a treacherously sandy road — we got stuck, as predicted, and needed a pickup to pull and five of us stout-hearted lads to push (this is when I think I picked up my tick and my chiggers, I’ll spare you pics of the savaged ankles) — it’s home to a pair of nesting Ferruginous Pygmy Owls (Glaucidium brasilianum). The birds are rare indeed for the U.S. They are also unusual for owls because they’re active in daylight. The ranch gives tours.Glaucidium brasilianum(Above shot through a spotting scope: I think I’ve finally figured out digiscoping.)
Glaucidium brasilianum

But wait! With this FPO, you also get:Megascops asioEastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)! This nest box was no more than fifteen feet from the FPO nest box: the species seem to care less about each others’ proximity.Megascops asioBubo virginianusThe same thing could not be said for the local Great Horned Owls, which will eat little owls and big owls and any and everything else. There was a nest with two young in a nearby barn. Another nearby barn had had Barn Owls: ant lionsthe ground was littered with the tiny white bones from their prey, but there was no sign of them that day. (The pits are made by Antlions.)

On the way out, which is when we got stuck, we were shown another GHO nest, with another two young ones, perhaps a week from fledging. Bubo virginianus

Bonus Owl: here’s a GHO adult still sitting on eggs in a Sable Palm at the Sabal Palm Sanctuary:Bubo virginianus

Owl in the Hole

Bentsen State ParkTwilight. We were in Bentsen State Park, looking for Elf Owls (Micrathene whitneyi). These are our smallest owls, 1.4oz (compare with House Sparrow, .98oz, and Great Horned Owl, 3.1lb). There was a nest in a snag, perhaps originally carved out by a woodpecker. An owl was periodically poking out as the sun set. Micrathene whitneyi“Owl in the hole!” The distinctive “eyebrows” are visible even in this long-shot in low light. The other half of the pair showed up just as our human vision began to fail in the dark. We heard the birds calling as they prepared to hunt through the night.

Lesser Nighthawks were also in the air, zooming after insects. These southwestern nighthawks have more rounded wings and a white wing bar nearer the wingtip than the slightly larger Common Nighthawk. We heard the yip of coyotes in the distance and the onomatopoeic call of a Chuck-will’s-widow, very near. We were also on the look-out for Common Pauraques, another night-flying insectivore, found only in the southeastern tip of Texas (in the U.S., anyway). One did fly over our heads, heading downwards to the road, but we would have better views another day. Bentsen doesn’t allow cars (there’s a large golf cart type of tram during the day), giving us the freedom of the night road. There were a few fireflies. We heard the distinctive tremolo of an Eastern Screech Owl, which came to investigate us.

A magical night, with only a few mosquitoes and Ninja-garbed La Migra agents (as omnipresent in the Rio Grande Valley as Great-tailed Grackles). We had been accidentally locked out of our van; as we waited for the lock-popper, we looked at all four Galilean moons of Jupiter through a spotting scope.

Last of the Snowy Owls

grasslandsWind-swept and plastic-strewn grasslands at the edge of the city. Can you spot the Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)?Bubo scandiacusNot all of the white blobs here are (unfortunately ubiquitous) white plastic bags. This heavily-barred Snowy is one of this winter’s massive influx of the birds from the Arctic.
Bubo scandiacusThis bird and its cohort will be trying to head north soon. Unfortunately, we have to expect that a good number of them will not make it to their breeding grounds. For one thing, as a young bird, born last year, it’s never actually flown home before. And many are the hazards between here and there.
Bubo scandiacusOn the other wing, this individual has clearly survived a winter in Brooklyn, one that has to have been rather more stressful than your average winter in northern Canada, what with NYPD helicopters doing low practice runs overhead, eager idiots tramping after you and flushing you all day long, and so forth. So maybe, with some good luck, this honorary Brooklynite will see the the north again. MAOne of my owing co-conspirators, Marion, has memorialized the scene out there, crowded with Kestrels. Can you find the owl?

I spent a week with the Snowys for Christmas:
Dec. 24
Dec. 25
Dec. 26
Dec. 29

And all the owls here at B&B.

What a day!

Croton PointCroton Point Park: as the train pulled in, not a single Bald Eagle was visible in the trees fronting the bay. Uh-oh. I’d promised eagles to the folks I’d dragged up to celebrate my birthday. The absence of ice seemed to be telling; the birds were heading back upriver. When I was there at the beginning of the month, the river was largely iced-in. Now it was running free, with just a few sheets trapped in the north bay.

There was plenty of snow on the ground, and the paths were quite gooey with mud. The first big birds we saw were Red-tailed Hawks, a pair doing some aerial-bonding, with they claws outstretched; then suddenly there were five hawks up there. It wasn’t long before we saw our first eagle, at some distance, over the river. Things were looking up. Then two Black Vultures sailed overhead, birds I haven’t seen since last summer, their white primaries beautifully bright, and a Turkey Vulture, not seen since the fall — were these birds already starting to migrate northwards?

Then a mature Bald Eagle went right over us, low enough for us to see those enormous yellow talons with our unaided eyes. A little later, I spotted this huge shape in a pine.Haliaeetus leucocephalusPossibly the bird we’d just seen fly over us towards this direction. This bird was still there on our way back from the point. My party was, I think, pleased.Haliaeetus leucocephalusBut speaking of owls, the Flatbush Gardener, freelancing in the same park before teaming up with us, reported an Eastern Screech Owl at the opposite end of numerous telephoto lenses. Several hours later, we got to the location, to be told by the Ranger that the owl (and the photographers) had left. In the Nature Center, there were some “clay babies” to console us and, overhead, some compensation with a Red-tail and a Peregrine. I, meanwhile, enjoying Jean’s romesco dip on pita bread, was convinced the owl had only moved, not departed, not in the middle of the day, anyway. But it was someone else in our party, Virginia, who isn’t a hard-core birder, who spotted the bird. Megascops asioEastern Screech (Megascops asio), the color and pattern of bark (the species also comes in red and brown plumaged versions), basking in the late afternoon sun. We surmised it had been following the sun around the tree during the day.

Not so different from what we were doing.

Xmas with the Owls

Bubo scandiacusBubo scandiacusBubo scandiacusBubo scandiacusBubo scandiacusSome more pics, from the Snowy Owl Irruption of 2013-14. We may never see this many Snowy Owls again in Brooklyn (and throughout the NE and into the Great Lakes Midwest). While a bonanza for us, this massive irruption isn’t necessarily good for the birds. These are mostly juvenile birds, and juveniles of any species are always less able to survive. No doubt some will not make the long trip back to breeding grounds.

Why are they here? This Newfoundlander, who has counted 100s of Snowys this year, argues that it was a particularly fecund year for the birds; when lemmings, their main food item during breeding season, are numerous, Snowys can produced up to nine eggs in the short breeding season. It’s boom and bust. Particularly boomy boom years cause the birds to spread out, there are too many for the local carrying capacity, and mature birds will defend their territory against usurpers. The vast majority of birds down here are youngsters. Here’s more evidence of this, along with some wonderful footage of a feisty bird aching for freedom, from the guy in charge of capturing the owls at Logan airport and then releasing them elsewhere.

But consider how those breeding grounds are being radically transformed, the tundra sagging into melt. That fringe climate change measurer, the U.S. Navy, is predicting an ice-free Arctic summer by 2016.

Xmas with the Owls

Bubo scandiacusThe amazing yellow eyes are fixed in bone rings, meaning the bird must move its head to see in different directions. The result is a remarkable 270-degree twisting of the neck to scan the surroundings. The lemon yellow is said to act like a filter to block the bright glare of sun off of snow.Bubo scandiacusNote the almost flat profile of the face, the deeply-set eyes, and the disc-like feather pattern surrounding the eyes. This facial disc acts to direct sound waves towards the ears. Bubo scandiacusThe ears, meanwhile, are hidden under the feathers. Like a radar dish, the owl’s face, including its downward bill, force sound towards the ears. Some owl species have asymmetrical skulls: one ear-hole is higher than the other, the difference helping to triangulate the little scamper of, say, voles under the snow. Snowys don’t seem to have this pronounced difference, but their hearing is still very acute. They hunt in the unending daylight of the Arctic Summer and the long darkness of the Arctic Winter. Down here, they rest during the day and hunt at night. Animals as big as Arctic foxes are their prey.

Xmas with the Owls

Bubo scandiacusMerry Christmas and Happy Holidays.


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