Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bad Weather = Good Birds

If one is into balmy weather, Ohio has been less than ideal this last week.  However, if you are into winter birding, Ohio has been "Oh-wow-oh" so far this December.

Snowy Owl at Burke Airport. 
Snowy Owls have been the headliners.  This photo was taken off the backside of the City of Cleveland's Burke Airport lakefront, a couple of years past.  It is a good stand in for any one of the nine Snowy Owls now appearing in Cleveland. Most of the owls are at the airport or on a lakefront break wall, so take your binoculars.  You don't often get to see them up-close.

If you would like to read a bit about this irruption of  owls in Ohio (and states beyond) go here  to read a news article written by Todd Hill.

Northern Shrike at Killdeer Plains
If you are willing to risk the back roads in some pretty lousy weather, Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area is a good place to see yet another winter rarity, the Northern Shrike.  This "butcher bird" arrives in early winter to stake out a territory and add small birds and mice to its larder.  This one seems to have set up housekeeping in a hawthorn tree.  The thorns of the hawthorn become a food "holder" the shrike.  It is the shrike's habit to store food items by piercing them upon a thorn.  Later it returns to feed at this cache.  Having a powerful bill, the ripping and shredding of game proves to be no problem, however its undersized talons are better for perching than gripping prey items.  Hence the need to make a shish-kabob with the haw's-thorns.

Michael Godfrey at work on the back roads of Killdeer Plains
This last week it was my privilege to play hostess a videographer at work.  My photos were not the best, as I stand back and attempt to stay out of the way while he works.  But it was a joy to see so many fabulous winter birds all across Ohio, especially in naturalized areas. Other than providing for the occasional Snowy Owl or Snow Buntings, farmed lands of corn and bean stubble does not provide much habitat.

Northern Shrike at Killdeer Plains.

These northern visitors to Ohio, the Northern Shrikes, Rough-legged Hawks, Short-eared, Long-eared and Saw-whet Owls all need mice or other live prey available to winter through.  You'll find them near grasslands and pastures, the exception being the Snowy who is habituated to the vast open expanses of arctic tundra. A wide open field suits him just fine.

So get out your long-johns and snow-suits.  Bad weather can mean good birds!

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