Monday, February 5, 2018

5 February 2018: A snowy Snowy!

I haven't been out to bird in a dedicated way recently, but today I lucked into two FOGYs. First I happened to glance out my office window (I bike-commute every day, so office birds are green birds) and saw some bird making a weird motion in one of the pine trees outside, sort of a longish tail of a medium-sized bird bobbing up and down. I got my binoculars on it and saw that it was an adult Sharp-shinned Hawk (#38) plucking its prey, which could have been a chickadee or a junco. Another chickadee in the same tree seemed completely unconcerned, so maybe it was more likely a junco. [Edit: Ha, just saw on eBird that a colleague reported a Sharp-shin that had captured a junco at the office!]

After work I followed up on a tip I'd gotten about a Snowy Owl at the airport (thanks, Gwyn!). My office is right next to the airport, and I'd checked the fields multiple times earlier in the winter before giving up. The owl had been seen on the opposite side of the airport from my office, but it had been snowing all afternoon and the roads were already kind of a mess from snow over the weekend - apparently no one sees a need to plow the roads around here until there's a lot of snow, so the snow plows just drive along spraying salt everywhere without plowing anything! - so I thought I'd see what I could see from the road that goes past my office rather than biking all the way over to the other side. I had a pretty clear (if distant) view of the light poles where the owl had been seen the previous day, and there was no owl on them. I went a little farther up the road and scanned all the other tall objects - light poles around another parking lot, various aircraft control devices, and a weather station. There was a big white lump on one part of the station... I biked around to try to get a better view, but it was pretty far out there. But the white lump looked an awful lot like it had a gray vest (i.e. the black speckles of a well-marked Snowy) with a white head. Finally I saw it stretch out a wing to preen a bit - definitely an animate object! You can even make out its face (just barely!) in one of my photos. Snowy Owl for #39!

Snowy Owl sitting on the black tower. It really is an owl, I promise... although I have no idea what the ghostly red Y is over the red tower!

I took a bunch more pictures from a different angle, where I was closer to the bird, but it was snowing harder and the light was fading. I stacked several images in Photoshop to get rid of the snowflakes and noise... at least a little:

Snowy Owl on the weathervane. I love the setting, even if you can still barely tell it's an owl! 

In contrast, here's one of those images alone, without being stacked:

More snowflakes than Snowy in this one...

So stacking is definitely a handy trick - though you still sort of have to take my word for it that this is truly a Snowy Owl. =) At least you can rest assured that I was keeping my distance and not disturbing the bird! (Especially because the photos are from a 300mm lens and very heavily cropped!)

The central U.S. is seeing a pretty good irruption of Snowies this year, so I was hopeful that I would get one for my 2018 list. But the five that were seen in December have not made an appearance this year (at least not in the same spot, though that's not far from the airport as the owl flies), so I was starting to worry. Can't get much more convenient than a half-mile ride from my office, though!

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