Great Horned Owl Ventriloquist

Let me set the scene for the Great Horned Owl Ventriloquist act. I had been following a flock of songbirds – sparrows, chickadees, and cardinals – for about a half hour. The usual group of 4-5 crows had been hanging around along with 7-8 of their Blue Jay buddies.

They had been chasing and calling at each other. In other words normal corvid stuff. I was going to call it a day when the crows started calling louder and heading towards the woods. Had they found something to harass?

The calls tempo and volume increased, so I decide they must have something cornered and start heading that direction. Now these would be the same woods I was running out of two weeks ago.

While jogging I hear the repeated call of a Red-shouldered Hawk. So that’s what they’re harassing. But arriving on the scene and getting a clear line of sight, I see the Red-shouldered Hawk has ears!

Great Horned Owl Ventriloquist
This photo of the Great Horned Owl was lifted and lightened from the video I shot.

A check through the binoculars and I’m correct, a Great Horned Owl! But the Red-shouldered Hawk is still calling to the right?

I’m confused??

The scene continues a few more minutes, crows calling, the owl sitting, and the hawk calling to the right.

Following is spliced video I took of the owl, hawk, and crows. Remember to turn up your volume.

GHOW AMCR 3

That’s when I figure out the Great Horned Owl Ventriloquist Act is the greatest ever. Not only is he doing a great Red-shouldered Hawk call but he is throwing his voice in hope the crows will go elsewhere.

But of course we know American Crows are the smartest animal alive and don’t easily fall for that sort of foolery. They continue to mob the owl which doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave.

Of course the crows’ squawking doesn’t bother the Great Horned Owl. But I make one move to get a clear line of sight and the owl flies. The owl flies out of sight with the crows in tow to a distant tree line. This is now going on 20 minutes and I wonder how long the crows will stay at it?

In the end I’m still confused.

While jogging to the scene I saw the local Red-shouldered Hawk flying to the other end the woods. So was there another Red-shouldered Hawk by the crows and owl? Or was there a Blue Jay doing a great imitation?

One of those birding things I’ll never know.

But it was exciting.

Feisty Winter Wren – Weekend Highlight

After checking the local retention ponds Saturday morning and finding a light layer of ice I wasn’t sure I’d have a weekend highlight. But not getting in a hurry and spending time in the field will almost always produce a highlight. And again this weekend I had several to choose from but the definite highlight was a feisty Winter Wren.

Before we get to Saturday I need to say how good it is to see an old friend.  I haven’t seen the local Great Horned Owl for a couple of months but Friday night at dusk it made an appearance.

At any distance a Great Horned Owl’s silhouette is unmistakable.

Saturday started slow with the temperatures in the low teens. The first hour of the park walk had most of the winter regulars calling. Then one of the local Red-tailed Hawks came gliding into a tree on the wood’s edge. It was joined by another hawk I assumed was its mate. After sitting for a minute they both proceeded to a tall tree with a fork. Are they going to nest there? Stayed tuned for updates.

You can see the Red-tailed Hawk in the fork-portion of the photo’s center. Looks like a good spot for a nest.

Sharp-shinned Hawk – Weekend Runner-Up

Not too long later the local Blue Jays started to go crazy. This meant either a hawk or owl! Before I saw what they were harassing I heard a loud call. A Hawk! And not to long later I see it’s a small hawk. A Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I don’t see often.

It’s always fascinating to watch a bird the same size as a Blue Jay harass them right back.

The Sharp-shinned wasn’t having any of the Blue Jay crap. Every time a Blue Jay got close the hawk would go right after it. This went on for at least 15 minutes with the chasing encompassing the entire woods. Most times I watch these encounters the hawk or owl will give up and fly away with the jays in tow. But in this case the hawk kept after them. Finally the group went to the far side of the woods which I couldn’t observe. Eventually the noise lessened up so I assume the hawk moved on.

With the Blue Jays after it the Sharp-shinned Hawk never sat longer enough for a decent photo.

Sunday I checked out the water on Geist Reservoir and then moved on to the trail. Both had highlight candidates.

First was a distant Cackling Goose mixed with Canada Geese. At 600 meters this photo shows the full distance of the P900 camera.
Next I was trying to align the Ring-billed Gull with the moon but also captured a distant plane which I didn’t notice until I got home.
A Belted Kingfisher was patrolling the creek but favored this branch.

Then the Feisty Winter Wren

While walking through the woods checking the Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. I thought I heard a Winter Wren. Giving a little pish a Winter Wren jumped up and wouldn’t stop calling.

Feisty Winter Wren
The feisty Winter Wren seems to be asking “Who’s out there? I know I heard you”.
“Maybe you’re over there?”
“Answer me. I’ll keep calling until you do.” Check out the barring, especially on the tail.

I stood quiet while the Winter Wren proceeded to jump on every limb and branch surrounding me, constantly calling. The view of the activity was appreciated since they’re locally uncommon. The Winter Wren was even the species I used in one of my early posts about finding uncommon species.

A little later I came across a Carolina Wren preening on a sunlit log.

Carolina Wren’s colors are appreciated on a cold winter day. OK, so it was over 50F, I still appreciated the colors.
And not to be out done, check out its tail’s barring.

A Broad Daylight Owl – Strange

After dropping my daughter in Lafayette Saturday morning I headed to my first birding location in Benton County.

But before I reached my first stop I saw one of the oddest things I have ever seen while birding.

A large bird flew across the road coming from a farm field heading to a wooded area. Now mind the time is 10AM. My first thought was a RED-TAILED HAWK but it was too “fat” for a hawk. My next thought was a BALD EAGLE. But it was too small for an eagle. The bird proceeded to land on a fence post and gazed back at me.

A GREAT HORNED OWL out in the open in broad daylight. A first.

I got the car stopped in the middle of the road and took a photo through the car window. By the time I re-positioned the car it had flown away.

Great Horned Owl
The photo was the best I could get through the car window before it moved on. A Great Horned Owl gazing back at 10AM in the morning. Rural Benton County 4/9/16

So what was a Great Horned Owl doing flying across a corn field in broad daylight? I didn’t see any crows or jays around mobbing it. My daughter asked if it looked like it might be ill, but it appeared to be flying fine. I’m not sure what it was doing flying across the field??

In all my years of birding I can’t recall seeing a Great Horned Owl flying in the open in daylight unless it was being harassed by crows or jays. And then they stuck to the tree line. Never across a field. I have seen a few Great Horned Owls flying at dawn or dusk but even then they were close to trees.

Have you ever seen owls flying out in the open during daylight hours? If so, I’d like to hear about it.

Mainly the Same but Not Quite

I have admittedly been doing too much easy birding.  Getting started later and later on Saturday mornings and not staying out as long. And as my last post suggested, I was blaming the consistent weather for the SAMENESS of the birds. Maybe the amount of traveling I did for work in October contributed, but I was in a rut.

Time for a change.  So I decided I needed a day of birding like I used to do every Saturday to break the rut. Make a plan, up early, and get out the door. See what’s out there. So that is what I did.

Pre-Sunrise – Great Horned Owl

I started an hour before sunrise and drove the road south of Franklin to see if the GREAT HORNED OWL was on its usual telephone poll.  And sure enough silhouetted in the glow of the town lights it sat. I drove by and stopped a little further down the road to look back. We watched each other for a bit before the owl decided I might be trouble and flew off to the woods to the east.

And with one exception that was how the day would go. Many of the expected birds were on their “spots”.

GHOW 101109
I’ve used this photo before but it is one of the few Great Horned Owl photos I have and I feel I should post a photo since I’m talking about it. A sleeping Great Horned Owl from Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

Sunrise/Early Morning – Ring-billed Gull 

The first few hours of the day were spent at Driftwood SFA. And as usual it had birds in the trees plus birds in the air. The first bird I saw on the morning was a RING-BILLED GULL.  Not that unusual elsewhere but uncommon in basically waterless Johnson County as seen by this being only my second sighting this year. I assume it had been following the adjacent Flatrock River.

A little later I saw a juvenile BALD EAGLE which was definetly following the river’s course.

Passerines

Not any unexpected passerines at Driftwood.  The day startled at sunrise  with EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS in the same tree.

Various Driftwood SFA
I like this photo because it shows how similar in size different species can appear in the field. Cedar Waxwing (upper right), Eastern Bluebirds (center), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (lower-left). Lower center bird is another Cedar Waxwing. I really had never noticed that these different species seem similar in size. Driftwood SFA 11/07/15
DEJU EABL Driftwood SFA
And a comparison of Eastern Bluebird and Dark-eyed Junco. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

Sibley lists the following sizes:

Eastern Bluebird – 7″

Cedar Waxwing – 7.25″

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5.5″ (seems bigger, plump shape?)

Dark-eyed Junco – 6.25″

So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.

Other Species

Over the next couple of hours I would see my first non-Mallard/Wood Duck waterfowl of the fall – RING-NECKED DUCKS. And I ended up with a slightly uncommon YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, my first in Johnson County for the year.

I ended up having a productive two hours at Driftwood which says something about getting up and out the door.

In a couple of days I’ll post about my late morning and early afternoon adventures.  And some changes at Laura Hare Nature Preserve.

Other Photos

Beaver Driftwood SFA
Two beavers were working the north portion of the lake. I forget how big these guys are. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
EABL Driftwood SFA
Two Eastern Bluebirds showing their color. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
GBHE Driftwood SFA
A Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sunlight. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
PBGR Driftwood SFA
A group of Grebes (say that 3 time fast) swimming away. Pied-billed Grebes at Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
FALL COLORS Driftwood SFA
A beautiful fall morning to bird. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

 

 

Photoless Saturday

Some days I get lucky with photography, most days I don’t.  Saturday I didn’t. But I had a good day birding none the less.  This also means I get to show some pictures I have taken over the years.

With Mike unavailable I stayed close to home. But I still picked up the last of the easy winter birds to add to my Indiana Life list without going to Lake Michigan.

The day started well before dawn trying for an Eastern Screech-Owl I have been hearing at my residence.  But of course they won’t call when you want them too.  Driving to Southeastway Park I checked every telephone pole for a Great Horned Owl. Not really paying attention at that early hour I about ran through a stop sign with a police car behind me.  I had better refine that practice.

Further down the road on a pole I often see a local Red-tailed Hawk, a Great Horned was standing night guard.  We watched each other for a few minutes and then I headed to the park for other owls.  I took a leisurely stroll around the park but never did hear a Barred Owl.

GHOW 101109
I caught this Great Horned Owl sleeping one morning in Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

I then headed to Geist Reservoir.  On arriving there were two Red-shoulder Hawks being harassed by American Crows at the parking lot.  They were sitting close for a great photo-op.  But by the time I jump out of the car they were flying away calling. And that was how the day went for photos.

It wouldn't turn it's head my direction.  To intent on watching something. Red-shouldered Hawk - Atterbury FWA 02/02/14
Yes, I have used this photo before. I better get a new Red-shouldered Hawk photo. Atterbury FWA, IN 02/02/14

Observing the reservoir there was a little open water with Canada Geese and Mallards. But flying over the frozen lake was a flock of 25 geese with one of them white.  It was just a little smaller than a Canada – a Snow Goose.  But to far away for a photo.

SNGO 012212
These are rafts of Snow Geese at Carlyle Lake in Illinois. Estimates were anywhere to 500,000 on up to a 1,000,000 birds. I really don’t know if that is true but when one group flew it was amazing. Carlyle Lake, IL 01/22/12

Walking up the creek I observed a Great Blue Heron flying up the creek and over the spillway to the lake. Then another. And another.  I counted twenty-one herons flying in a ten minute period. The creek is open so they must had a feeding spot up the creek.  Not sure what disturbed them except there had been people with several dogs around.

GBHE
This is one of the few photos I did not mark a date or location. Don’t even have a good guess. Great Blue Heron – United States – 21st Century

In the afternoon I headed to Eagle Creek and observed from Rick’s. The only open water was about a half-mile north.  It contained a large assortment of Canada Geese, White-fronted Geese, Mallards, and a few Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Northern Pintail.

But the stars, at least for me, were two Red-breasted Mergansers. They continued the weekly string I have of adding Indiana Life birds.  They gave good views in the spotting scope but were too far a way for a photo. Of course.

RBME F WW 033011
First the female, and then a male Red-breasted Mergansers. They were in a group of 8 that went slowly by the bank. Illinois River, LaSalle County, IL 03/30/11
RBME M WW 033011
Male Red-Breasted Merganser – details above photo.

After an hour in the cold wind I called it a day. Photoless.