Monday, April 20, 2009

The owls of Whitefish Point

Many North American birders associate Whitefish Point with owls, and indeed where else can you see up to nine different owl species? I'm already at seven - only one that's missing for me besides Barred is the one I want most of all: Northern Hawk Owl. Still possible...!

Two days ago I saw a Short-eared Owl flying out over the water along the eastern shore of Whitefish Point. That was already very cool, but it was topped yesterday by an all-white Snowy Owl flying along the other side of the Point! Both times, the birds were too far away to get decent photos.

The bird at the top of today's entry is a Northern Saw-whet Owl. As small as they are, they can be feisty! Owl banders Chris and Nova let me remove a few of these guys from their nets, and I banded one of them. As we walked the net lanes with me holding this bird in my hand, it was quiet most of the time, but eventually started picking at my thumb with its bill.

Here's a Boreal Owl, only slightly bigger than a Northern Saw-whet. This is supposed to be a peak year for them, yet the numbers caught at Whitefish Point this spring have disappointed a little bit so far. This is one of the most sought-after North American birds.

Another denizen of northern boreal forests is this Great Gray Owl. Here I am, sleepy-eyed, holding one that was caught a couple of hours before sunrise. Chris and Nova woke me up for this bird. A few days later, I heard one during the hawk count from the platform.

You never know who you'll run into over breakfast. Here is Chris with a Great Horned, in the kitchen of the bird observatory. For him and Nova it had been a long night, for me the day was just starting with coffee, cereal and... a Great Horned Owl.

And here's a photo from last night, a Long-eared Owl. They were around in good numbers, because we could see several flying around in the beam of the lighthouse. Chris and Nova caught 18 of them a couple of nights ago, and another 14 last night.

Postscript: Just after I had posted this blog entry, I went out to the tip of the Point, to bring the waterbird counter a cup of hot coffee, and to see if I could turn up some interesting birds, it being migration and all... Normally I would have been on the platform counting hawks, but rain all day meant a day off for me.

Well, what do I find on the Point but this all-white Snowy Owl! So I deliver the coffee and go back to the house to get Chris and Nova. The four of us - Chris, Nova, waterbird counter Andy and myself - watch this bird until a second one shows up!

This bird is clearly more marked than the other one. Possibly the whiter one is a male and the mottled one a female, although there is quite a bit of overlap apparently. The mottled one did seem a little bigger to me.

Here they are together. Chris and Nova have better optics and got better shots than I did. (As always, click on the photos for better views.)


Anonymous said...

You be a lucky boy... :-) Lisalette

markie said...

have enjoyed your WPBO daily dialogue. thank you.... i found them der redtails to be equally fascinating, but i find your lack of recognition of the almighty blackfly sorely missing. or did they avoid you for some secret reason??