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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Short-Eared Owls: Skagit Birding Part 3

Of all the cool things I saw while birding in Skagit County, I was most excited by the short-eared owls. I had only seen short-eared owls once before, and that was just a quick fly-by at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon. They're an interesting owl because they are often active during the day. They're also one of the most widespread owls in the world, found not only across North America but South America and Eurasia as well.

When I first arrived the three short-eared owls were high above the wetland area, waaaay up in the sky. I had a feeling it was them right away, because their wing beats are a little more erratic than hawks', and their faces looks much flatter without a protruding sharp beak.

Soon after they settled back down into the driftwood that covered the wetland. For a while, it seemed like every time I turned around there was an owl, either perched or flying from place to place. It took me a while to determine there were only three of them, but they were all very active.



A northern harrier was also in the area, quietly going about her business foraging while the owls did their thing. Every once and a while when she roamed too close, one of the owls would chase her off a little further again. I just love the angle of the wings in this photo:


Even more than the harrier, the owls were interested in each other. One would swoop down over another that was perched, hissing at it. Or, on a couple of occasions, they would dart towards each other in mid air. This photo was taken right after they had clasped talons momentarily:


Some coordinated acrobatic flying followed:


I had to crane my neck to look straight up at them at times as they flew around, which would allow me to see the characteristic black "wrist" marks on the underside of the wings. They have a similar marking on the top of the wings, which is one of their key identifying features. Looking up at the owls led me to notice a couple of swallows flying up their as well - my first swallows of the spring!!

4 comments:

T and S said...

Beautiful series. The image of the Northern Harrier is such a stunning composition. Well done

Warren Baker said...

All those raptors in one place! You are certaainly spoilt! Great captures. Good to see them doing well. Over here the attitude to raptors is still victorian. Some species are persecuted almost to the point of extinction.

John said...

Beautiful series!
Your name sounds very Scandinavian. :)

Monika said...

T and S - the body position of the harrier just really fascinates me. It's such a graceful pose, and one you probably wouldn't notice watching the hawk live and in motion.

Warren - That's unfortunate about the attitude towards raptors. I've spent the last few months learning some more about them and they are such fascinating birds!

John - Thanks for stopping by! My name's actually German.