Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 18th: Brewer's and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, & Long-eared and Short-eared Owls

Jeremy Hatt and I decided to go for a drive Saturday morning, so we met at the Hillman Marsh parking lot, stocked our gear into my car, and drove around the onion fields while listening to alternative rock from our youth on the radio.....You know, back when music was good..(sarcasm)

A few local birders (including Jeremy the night before) had a Short-eared Owl in the onion fields this past week.  We started very early there but the owl was not to be seen. The airport was another location the owl was spotted, so we tried there as well.  Though we didn't find the SEOW, we did have a heavily barred young Snowy Owl south of the airport on Concession C.

We headed down Concession E and had a fairly large accipiter fly by us, but we couldn't get a positive ID on it .  Continuing to drive down the road we observed an adult Cooper's Hawk, a young Red-tailed Hawk, along with a male Northern Harrier.

Red-shouldered Hawk.  A species we didn't see that day, but the only raptor photo I have that is recent.  Taken on January 12th/2014  Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill

The dirt birds currently occupying the onion fields are definitely Snow Buntings, Horned Larks with a few Lapland Longspurs mixed in, while Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows are the most numerous Sparrows.  It took us a while to find a mixed blackbird species flock, though we eventually came across a group that contained Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a male and female Brewer's Blackbird.

After a look at a Long-eared Owl at the usual spot north of Hillman Marsh, we headed back to my house for vegetarian chili and we were soon back in the car again to go to Staples.  A Yellow-headed Blackbird (which Jeremy found out later actually involved 2 different individuals!!) was visiting a feeder this week.  When we arrived on the scene it looked like something out of Hitchcock with House Sparrows and Brown-headed Cowbirds biting and clawing at each other over the bird feeder, while the tree behind the house was dripping with more Brown-headed Cowbirds.  After two visits, we ended up seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird which stood out like a sore thumb.

A record shot of the Yellow-headed Blackbird with one of  the many Brown-headed Cowbirds. Photo by Marianne Reid-Balkwill.

Because I dipped out on the Short-eared Owl in the morning, I decided to try again in the evening.  This time I went with my Mom and we ended up with Long-eared Owl, the Snowy Owl, and now the Short-eared Owl all in a span of about 20 minutes! The Short-eared Owl was a lifer for my Mom, and many of the LLBs were out that evening to watch the owl hunting over the field.  I didn't manage any photos, but just watching the owl with my Mom was rewarding enough for me.


Looks like we are in for another cold snap this week.  The word "polar vortex" seems to be the word of the season.  However the temperatures this coming week (a low of -20 mid week) are going to be nothing compared to what we had a couple of weeks ago (which was a low of negative "@#^% it's cold!")


  1. I totally should have went back out for that Short-eared Owl and then back to the farm to hear the Great Horned and I would have had a 4 owl day! I know there's at least one screech owl showing in Ojibway that I might have to go searching for soon. That would get me a 5 owl month in Essex County :)

  2. That hawk looks like a Red-shouldered - not sure if you just forgot to mention it.

    1. Well I did forget the captions for my photos this time. Whoops!

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