With the weather yesterday, we had some great views of the Short-eared Owls but our photos just didn’t capture the magic.
Liam McGranaghan was kind enough to send over a few of his photos of this impressive bird from past excursions around the back roads of Loudoun.
Sharing them with you here for your owling enjoyment:
Yesterday, January 22, was our annual Birds of Prey field trip, and it did not disappoint! Laura McGranaghan wrote up a great account of our day to share with you here:
What a great day to Search for Birds of Prey. Despite the 100% cloud cover, temps in the low 30’s, snow and drizzle, we all had a great afternoon as we drove the back roads of Loudoun county in search of raptors.
Liam McGranaghan led the drive assisted by Laura McGranaghan, Joe Coleman, and Liz Dennison. The 12 participants were treated to a wonderful diversity of wintering Birds of Prey that Loudoun County offers during the winter months.
Our drive began at 1pm with light snow falling. As we headed south from Leesburg on Rt. 15, we couldn’t believe the number of Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks we were seeing. Within the first 6 miles, we had already counted over 8 different hawks!
One of the first of many highlights we had was a pair of Barred Owls tucked into a cedar. They sat quietly until one of them decided we should be offered a better look. He flew to a nearby snag and posed for some photos, then flew off.
Next, we were able to view a pair of adult Bald Eagles working on their nest as they rearranged sticks for some “home renovations.” What a joy!
From there, we turned around and drove to an area north of Leesburg. We stopped at a field being hunted by a few Red-tailed hawks searching for their lunch.
At this point, Liam snuck off to do some “hunting” of his own. He returned shortly thereafter to show us just what the hawks are eating this time of year.
In hand, he had a live and healthy Meadow Vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. He explained how many of these rodents are in the fields which surrounded us and how they are such a critical food source this time of year for raptors as well as other animals like foxes. He then returned the Meadow Vole (unharmed) to the location he found it.
Next, with hopes of finding a field of Northern Harriers and dare we hope…… Short-eared owls, we headed on! With only a few reports of Northern Harriers this year, and no reports of Short-eared Owls, we weren’t sure what the late afternoon would have in store for us.
Then, there it was…a “Gray Ghost”, the adult male Northern Harrier flying HIGH above us! With excitement building, we continued to travel north to an area rich with tall grasses. Then another Northern Harrier….. then another, wait, another! How exciting and what a way to end the day!
It couldn’t get better than this ~ so we thought. As we were getting ready to leave, that’s when it happened.
Up flew a Short-eared Owl! (You’ve heard this before), then another, wait, another!
All told we had at least 5 Short-eared Owls!
We had great views of them through our spotting scopes as they sat on fence posts in the field in front of us. (Our photos are no comparison to what we saw through the scopes)
Now, that’s the way to end the day.
Here’s the list of raptors seen over the course of our afternoon:
Bald Eagle (adults) 2
Red-tailed Hawk 15
Red-shouldered Hawk 19
Coopers Hawk 2
Northern Harrier 6
Barred Owls 2
Short eared Owls 5
More photos can be seen on our facebook page. Thanks to all of you who came out and we look forward to seeing you soon!
Winter is a great time to find owls because our winter resident population swells with an influx of migrants from the north that think our Virginia temperatures are quite nice (though they may be having second thoughts this winter). We can always use more owl sightings for our Loudoun County Bird Atlas Project so this month’s email, inspired by Paul Engman’s recent Natural History of Owls program, will be devoted to owls.
1. An atlaser was treated to a Short-eared Owl on her property in the Round Hill 4 block.
2. The LWC-sponsored Birds of Prey trip provided fantastic looks at a Barred Owl, Kestrels hovering for mice, Northern Harriers hunting, and a flock of Horned Larks.
3. Pine Warbler documented during the Central Loudoun CBC in the Lincoln 4 block.
1. The atlas training/refresher session is scheduled for Sunday, February 6th from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. at the Rust Library in Leesburg. If you haven’t already, please Sign Up if you plan to attend.
2. If you observe/hear a Rusty Blackbird while atlasing between Jan 29th and Feb 13th consider entering your sighting for the Rusty Blackbird Blitz. See http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/MigratoryBirds/Research/Rusty_Blackbird/blitz.cfm for more information.
Tips for finding Owls (provided by Paul Engman)
1. Your best bet for finding owls is to look for roost sites in the daytime. Habitat is important! Dense stands of conifers in the winter are good for thermoregulating, especially when in association with farmland and open fields.
2. Check tree cavities for breeding owls and look for pellets (regurgitated, indigestible material).
3. Look for crows or other birds mobbing an area and you may find an owl roosting.
4. Be respectful of owls (and all creatures); do not surround them or flush them. Flushing a Screech Owl during the day may result in him becoming a tasty meal for a Cooper’s Hawk!
5. Great Horned Owls entered into safe dates on December 15th. They’ll be laying eggs this month and raising their young in March. One advantage of being an early nester is that the young learn how to hunt when their prey are inexperienced newborns (i.e. easy pickin’s).
Species of the Month – Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Prefers open grasslands and extensive broomsedge fields.
- Most diurnal of our owls in Loudoun. Best time to look for them is from late afternoon until dark on cloudy days. They fly low over open ground when hunting, locating prey by ear.
- Often roosts communally with Northern Harriers so if you see a Harrier during a daytime atlas trip check back at that location before dark for the Short-eared Owl.
Information taken from Paul Engman’s Natural History of Owls program held on January 12, 2011 at the Purcellville Library. This program was hosted by the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy.
57 enthusiastic atlasers have spent 2,260 hours in the field documenting 24,580 sightings. You have recorded 225 species, with 97 of these species having a confirmed nesting status. Field cards have been reported for 39 blocks and 3 blocks are considered complete.
Loudoun County Bird Atlas Coordinator
A winter chill wafted through the open window. Emina pulled the covers up to her chin. There’s a ghost out there. I can feel it.
Resonating through the darkness of the night was the eerie sound of cackling and gurgling. Hoo-hoo-hoo-too. She reached for the phone beside her bed. The Nature Detectives would know what to do……..
Senia Hamwi has been writing The Adventures of Zoom and Compass for our Habitat Herald since 2008. The above snip it is from her story, “Hoo is out there?”
With all the owl activity this time of year and our owl program coming up on January 12, I thought this would be a fun story to read again. Find out what happens here in this Adventure of Zoom of Compass!