Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hedwig lives ... possibly

A couple days ago I chased a snowy owl originally found in the South county on New Year's.  We didn't have long to look between nappy-time and when I had to go to work.  Fortunately Ginger (while driving) spotted the bird (200 yards off the road on MY side of the car) in fairly short order.
I was able to help Hazel look at it through the scope.  "Do you see the owl Hazel?"
"I SEE it.  I see the Ow-wel."  
"It has a tail!"
I guess most of the random pictures of owls that she's seen in different books, cards, etc. are heavily cropped head-and-shoulders shots and so the fact it had a tail came as a bit of a surprise.

I went back yesterday on a bright sunny day hoping for much better photo ops but couldn't find the bird anywhere.  The pattern for snowy owls in Berrien seems to be of birds that are found and linger for a few days, but then disappear, either moving on, or succumbing to the winter (and/or aspergillosis, a lung fungus that they are reportedly particularly susceptible to).

I've certainly seen more heavily marked birds so I would guess that this is either a young male, or maybe an adult female.  My spanking new Pyle guide offers a lot of criteria for aging, though spends an inordinate amount of time using patterns of the central tail feather to gauge the age for many/most birds.  That may be very effective in the hand, but the book isn't as useful in the field as I'd hoped.  It also suggests for snowy owl that the pattern of black across the scapulars in terms of whether the bars are complete or interrupted is helpful.  

At any rate, a week into the year that's 2 pretty decent birds, ones I've encountered only once before in the county.  (My lifer snowy owl about 10 years ago was the first bird that Ginger and I chased together.  I managed that time to lock her out of the car while I was sneaking behind a row of farm wagons to get somewhat closer to the bird, somehow the relationship survived... ).

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