Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wintering Owls, Killdeer Plains WA, February 13

Winter is the best time to see our eastern owl species and Killdeer Plains wildlife Area near Marion, OH is one of the best places.  However, revealing the exact locations is not a good idea, because too much human traffic can disturb the owls during the day when they are getting sleep.  I headed to Killdeer Plains today to give it a try.  I stopped at the eastern impoundment north of CH-68 (county highway) that is west of Washburn Road to check out the wintering waterfowl.  There were lots of Canada Geese and Mallards and Black Ducks.  In addition, there were thirteen Tundra Swans, a new bird for the year, a species that I hoped would be there.  I continued to CH-71 to the main conifer stand to look for three species of owls reported to be there--Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl and Barn Owl.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I met two Amish birders, who told me that the Saw-whet was still there and gave me general directions to where it was roosting.  I already knew where to look but this information was helpful.   I found the Northern Saw-whet Owl quite easily.  Below is a picture of the roosting sleepy head.  It is not a great picture, because I stayed away to not disturb it.
I continued to the location where the Barn Owl has been roosting since back in December.  It is hard to see at times because it stays very high up in some white pines and chooses locations that are not easily visible.  I found the location of the roost trees easily enough and it was well marked with pellets, clumps of hair and bones of the prey digested that are regurgitated, and lots of white wash at the base of the tree and on the branches.  I tried for about twenty minutes looking up from all angles from under the tree and from further away.  I could not find the bird.  I decided to try the other conifer stand location where the Long-eared Owls were roosting.  I drove to TH-108 (Township Highway) and parked along the road.  The two Amish birders I met before had tried this location and were walking out of the field on to the road as I arrived.  They did not find the Long-eared Owls and had walked all over the conifer stand.  They saw a lot of pellets and whitewash but no birds.  I walked across the field to the conifer stand wearing boots to navigate the water and ice filled ditch between the road and the conifer stand.  I walked into the conifer stand starting in the most likely location in the far back right corner where the birds had been seen previously.  I walked through the whole stand stopping frequently to scan the trees, but found no owls.  Then I decided to walk around the adjoining area of thick brush.  When I got to the north side, I noticed some whitewash on the lower branches, so I ducked under some branches and carefully and slowly walked into this brushy area.  There are only a few pines in this clump.  Suddenly as I moved forward four owls exploded into the air.  When I took a second step, a fifth owl flew out.  These birds were perched at eye level but were very well camouflaged.  All of these owls flew into the conifer stand.  I followed slowly and carefully.  I wanted at least a distant look to be sure that these were indeed the Long-eared Owls that were reported here before.  I got one good satisfying look, and then left the area.  These owls were very skittish, and had probably been spooked a number of times before.  I didn't try for photos.  However, here is a previous photo that I took from the window of my van of a Long-eared Owl at Killdeer Plains several years ago.
When I returned to my car, I scanned the waterfowl on the ice in the new marsh along the east side of TH-108.  There were at least three Greater White-fronted Geese, not a new bird for the year, but a new bird for the year in Ohio.  I returned to look for the roosting Barn Owl, and looked in additional trees, but never could find the bird.  During my search I heard an Eastern Towhee calling from the deciduous woods, another new bird for the year.  I stayed until almost 5:30 pm, but did not find the Barn Owl.  Just before I left, I checked on the Northern Saw-whet Owl.  It was still on its roosting spot, and occasionally its eyes were partially open.  I left it in peace.  I headed home to Cincinnati having found two owls that are best found in the winter.  The total is 140.               

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