Monday, December 30, 2013

Gone, Back Again and Almost There

What a week. I've been to Vermont to see a Northern Hawk Owl, York PA for family Christmas Eve, Florida to visit my mother and Dave, and then to Cape May to see 2 more contest birds.

No birds in York at all and only a few in Florida. Mostly, we visited, ate, drank beer, rode around in a golf cart (don't worry, not after the beer part) and swam in the pool.  I did manage to snap a few photos of Ibis and Cranes. We were able to get up close and personal with both species as they meandered next to the golf cart paths on Christmas Day.

White Ibis
Sandhill Crane
Of course, a new bird showed up in Cape May while I was in Florida. I could scream. We arrived back in Philly at 11:15 PM last night and I was in Cape May this morning at 9:30 AM today to see the bird. I know, I know - NUTS! White-winged Dove #354. It's the dove in the background with the white wings :-)

Mourning Dove (front), White-winged Dove (rear)
You might be sick of this by now but guess what else I saw today?  Yep - another Snowy Owl, #6 for the year.  This one was stationed on the beach at Cape May Point. All of the Cape May birders were on the beach looking at it when I got there. You should have seen the expression on their faces when Roxy showed up. Ha. She didn't go onto the beach with me but I could tell they were nervous (smirk).
Snowy Owl - Cape May Point
I got a bonus bird today too - Whooper Swan. This is a rare bird that may or may not count toward the contest since most birders say that it is probably escaped from a zoo or something. But Patty and I are not taking any chances. We saw the bird and are both putting it on our lists.With any luck at all, this bird will be #355!  Notice how much yellow it has on the bill.

Whooper Swan with Canada Goose
Almost done. 1 more day to go in the contest. We plan to go to Tinicum tomorrow to finish the contest in the field. We don't expect to add to our totals but hopefully we will get some good local birds.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Big Daddy Owl!

This is yet another post about an owl - but NOT a Snowy Owl.  This is a post about an even more obscure and mystical owl - the Northern Hawk Owl. It's THE owl that I have wanted to see ever since I got my first field guide. Back then, there was no Internet. No easy way to know where a bird might have been seen recently. No websites with amazing photos of birds. I used to thumb through that Golden Guide and dream about seeing exotic birds like the Northern Hawk Owl and think - "there is no way that I'll ever see this bird". The bird lives in northern Canada and does not migrate like some other birds. How would I ever be able to get to northern Canada to see one?

Good news - Al Gore invented the Internet and people actually use it to post bird sightings.  More good news -people reported a Northern Hawk Owl in Vermont!  I know what you are thinking - Vermont is really far from Philly.  You already know what happened - I went to Vermont. What you don't know is that 4 other crazy birders went with me AND the trip wasn't even my idea AND I didn't drive! HA.  The plan was set. I would meet the gang at the George Washington Bridge on Sunday at 6 AM.

I was out the door at 4:15 AM, at the GW by 6 and in Vermont with the gang by 11 AM. The gang consisted of Marc, Brandon, Debi and Alyssa - mostly new friends that I have met during the Big Year. Our friend Larry went up to Vermont on Saturday and gave us tips on exactly where to see the bird. He sent us photos that he took of the bird on Saturday. The weather didn't quite cooperate for us on Sunday. The temperature was 65 degrees when I left the house in Philly but is was raining too. By the time we got to the highway in Vermont, the temperature had dropped and the rain was freezing on the roads. Poor Brandon could barely see the road through the thick fog.  I thought we were doomed but he did a great job driving.

The owl was being reported along Rt 100 in Waterbury Center VT - a pretty busy road. When we arrived at 11 AM, another bird photographer was walking along the road carrying his ginormous camera back to his car. We asked about the owl. He told us that it caught a mouse and flew up over the hill with it. Damn! The hill was part of a big farm field that had trees along the back edge which we couldn't see from the road. The guy told us to hang around because the owl would eventually return to the dead tree which was right next to the road and then he left.  We walked up the road and stood by the tree being sprayed by dirty, salty road goo. We stood there for awhile. No owl.

Brandon couldn't take it anymore and decided to go across the street and hike up the hill to see if he could see the owl. Never mind the big yellow "No Trespassing" signs. He could see the owl sitting in a tree at the back of the field!  So close but yet so far. We were in a dilemma. We didn't want to ignore the No Trespassing signs but we definitely wanted to see the bird that we drove 7 hours to see.  Thankfully, Alyssa had an idea - she was gong to knock on the door of the house and ask for permission to stand in the field. Off she went.  She reappeared about 10 minutes later along with the homeowners waving for us all to come into the field.  She's my Big Daddy! The rest of us ran up the hill to join her.  And there it was - the Northern Hawk Owl.

Can you see it? First, find the people, then look at the trees. The owl is not in those trees. The owl is in the one of the trees way back in the fog. That is where we had to hike to see the bird.

Crossing the field

I wore sneakers since it was supposed to be 65 degrees and I was told that the owl was right along the road. Big mistake. By the time we got close enough to actually see the owl, my feet were soaked. Everyone else who saw the bird stood on the road and got GREAT photos.  Like this one that Larry gave me permission to use.

Northern Hawk Owl -  photo by Larry Scacchetti
Our photos are terrible but keep in mind - we saw a Northern Hawk Owl!  I still can't believe it. The next photo was taken by Alyssa with an iPhone through Brandon's scope and processed through Photoshop. Not bad!

Northern Hawk Owl - photo by Alyssa Della Fave
This photo was taken by me. It is severely cropped so that you can see the owl since we did't want to get too close to the tree and spook the owl. Check out the ice on the branches - we drove and walked through that mess.

Northern Hawk Owl - photo by Linda Widdop
The homeowners didn't join us on our hike across the field since they already had a week's worth of up close views of the owl. Although they didn't join us, they did invite us to stop in on the way back for some hot tea and cupcakes.  How nice was that?  "Sure - tramp all through our fields and then we'll make you hot tea and cupcakes". Can you imagine that?  Wait til you read the next part - they are owl lovers.  They had owl knickknacks all over the house. What are the odds that a rare owl would choose their field to spend the winter?  Anyway, many thanks to Ron and Nancy for inviting us into their home. I can only hope that we have the opportunity to return the hospitality someday.

Hawk Owl gang and hosts
We couldn't resist taking a few parting shots on our way back to the car.

Don't go there

Big Daddy!
Of course, the homeowner sent an email at 3 PM telling us that the owl was back along the road. Sigh. We were already too far away to turn around.  I arrived back home just before midnight. It was a long day but one that we will not forget.  Northern Hawk Owl!!!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

They're Everywhere, They're Everywhere

Snow Owls are literally everywhere this year. My last post told the story of the first 2 owls that were reported in NJ this year. Since then, Snow Owls have been reported from all over the Delaware Valley including 2 at Stone Harbor Point which I photographed at length on Sunday (photos below), at least 4 in Delaware, 1 at the Northeast Philly Airport, another at the International Airport, a few in Amish country, another one near West Chester today, a few reports from my friend Frank in New England, and I even saw a photo of a Snow Owl sitting on a building in Bermuda. You read that right - Bermuda, the little island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean.

NemesisBird bloggers put up a special webpage to track sightings called Snowy Owl Watch. Here is the link: .

A few photos from my latest encounter with one of the most accommodating owls in history. This guy - yes it's a male - sat out on the beach while joggers, dog walkers, jeeps and birders passed by, stopped to gawk and photograph him and never moved . . .  The first photo shows the "Free Bridge" that connects Stone Harbor and Wildwood in the background.

Snowy Owl - Stone Harbor Point
Here is a closer view. You can tell this is a male due to the thin barring on the chest and light markings on the head.
Snowy Owl closeup
 Here is a photo later in the day when the light started to get nice and pink.
Snowy Owl
 You can see the yellow eyes on this next photo and Stone Harbor houses in the background

Snowy Owl 
The owl just sat there until . . . a Great Blue Heron flew overhead. Who would have thought that an owl would be afraid of a heron?
Scaredy - Owl
I had the fortune of having a famous photographer show up and help me with settings etc but I still didn't get a crisp shot of Scaredy Owl when he hunched over and took cover in the reeds.

More to come.