Owl prowl II: Short eared and Long eared owls

With a howling wind whipping the defenseless branches outside, I dragged my sorry butt out of bed EARLY on Thursday morning. I assured myself that I was not crazy and that lots of other people do this on a regular basis, especially when they have the promise of a trifecta of owls on the horizon. Today was to be a re-run of the previous owl prowl, except this time I was shooting for Long eared owl (LEO), Short eared owl (SEO) and Saw whet owl. I quickly threw on three layers of clothes and pulled all my gear together. I jumped in the car and pulled down the road listening to Dave Matthews’ Waiting for the world to change. As I was driving along route 31 South sipping on coffee, I was pondering whether Dave was right or whether apathy would be defeated by the winds of changed promised by the next batch of presidential hopefuls.
Wow I thought to myself that is quite deep for 5:30 in the morning. I quickly banished my pseudo political thoughts deciding that the American electorate would make a sensible choice. As Lifehouse’s Hanging by a moment started, I instantaneously transformed my Nissan Sentra into a recording studio and I hooted along. 45 minutes later I arrived at my location in Mercer county. The heat in my Sentra was cranked to the max and by the looks of things the weather peeps were spot on – it looked FREEEZING outside. It was just starting to head towards dusk as I pulled into the parking lot of the Mercer county park. This was my first time at this spot and I was extremely excited as I could see two SEO’s hunting in the field right next to me.

I pulled into the parking lot and spotted more SEO’s zooming around the grassland – wow this was going to be a fantastic morning!

I strapped on all of my clothing items including gloves, a scarf, skull cap, face cover and much much more. Stepping out of my heat shield I was hit by an arctic cold but my senses were focused on tracking the SEO that was hunting a couple of yards ahead of me. The next hour was spent trying to snap SEO’s in flight as they were diligently hunting in the field in front of me largely ignoring my presence. The SEO sightings were periodically broken up by Harriers gracefully cruising along offering me some amazing views of these beautiful raptors.

After an hour of shooting pictures I suddenly realized that my camera had stopped working. I looked at the screen and noticed that the battery light was blinking. The camera wouldn’t do anything, even though I had charged it all night. I figured that it was time to head back to the car to see if I actually had frost bite on the tips of my fingers. After thawing myself and the camera for 20 minutes the camera came back to action and I re-established feeling in my fingers. Being the fanatic that I am, I headed out for more photos and finally called it quits for the SEO after about another hour. Next stop was at a small little pond up the road where I saw Rough Legged Hawk, Ruddy duck, Common Merganser, Red tailed hawk and a couple more feathered friends. I left this site and headed back to the LEO roost to see if they were still hanging out.

Walking up the path I noticed that there was a fellow birder looking in the direction of the LEO’s. He managed to point out one LEO sitting deeply in some cedar cover. I looked around for several minutes to see if I could track anymore and then moved on to see if I could find the Saw whet. The next three hours I spent looking for the cedar grove that my friend described to me without any luck. Along the way I did run into a VERY cool Hermit thrush (more to follow) as well as a Woodcock (which scared the living sh*t out of me).

Heading back to the car I walked past the LEO roost where three birders where checking in on the owls. This time one owl was pretty visible and I managed to find two other owls. The birders were very respectful and in awe of the owls, snapping what sounded like thousands of pictures. The one guy kept saying ‘I wish my wife and my daughter could see these guys’. I snapped a few decent pics and bid them a fond farewell heading back to my car, feeling a great warmth inside spreading through my body even though the temp was barely hitting 20 degrees F.


Mel said...

Nice post! Great owl pictures :)

mon@rch said...

Sound like such an amazing morning and love seeing your Long-eared Owl photos! Your Hermit Thrush is a great find also!

RuthieJ said...

Those are great owl pictures--definitely worth freezing the extremities for!

Owlman said...

Thanks for the compliments on the pictures although they hardly do the owls any justice. Ruthiej, good to hear from you again!

Elaine said...

This is such a great post! I am originally from NJ, living in SW Florida now. Most of my birding was in southern Ocean County, and I have seen mostly waterfowl and backyard birds; no owls to speak of. I saw one short-eared once. I am hoping to soon get down to Cape Coral to see the Burrowing Owls. Anyway, I lived in the Princeton area for a while and I am somewhat familiar with Mercer. Where did you go on this day? Was it a refuge? I head up to Jersey now and then, and I'd love to see your spot. You seem to have a wealth of bird life in your neck of the woods, and I am eager to expand my birding adventures. Happy birding! :)

Owlman said...

Elaine, I saw these particular owls at the Pole Farm in Mercer county. They have a large field on one side of the farm that is ideal for the SEO's. We definitely are lucky in that we do have a lot of birds in this neck of the woods. The owls are tought to find and you have to be lucky. I was hoping to track down some Saw whet, but I haven't had any luck yet. Burrowing owls are very cool and I'd love to see some.

robin1 said...

Hi again! Where is the LEO roosting area...I am wondering how on all my visits I could have missed it!

Owlman said...

Hi Robin1,

They are not there this year and I haven't found any pellets in the area at all. Shoot me an email at elearning05ATliveDOTcom and I'll give you some directions. Hopefully you'll share any owl locations you come across with me ;-)