Lenawee County Snowy Owl

Lenawee County Snowy Owl by Goyo P
Lenawee County Snowy Owl, a photo by Goyo P on Flickr.

Britton, MI seems to be the epicenter for Snowy Owl sightings in Lenawee County.

This Snowy Owl was spotted on Monday night by Russell Columbus of Tecumseh.  It was sitting on a power pole along M-50 near County Line Road.  On Tuesday morning Blissfield resident, Charles Owens, relocated the owl in a field off Downing Road.

I took a drive to Britton Tuesday evening and found the beautiful Snowy Owl in the same field earlier reported by Owens.  Janet Kauffman of Hudson and friends were there when I arrived.  She stated, ” The owl was resting, roosting, sometimes preening,” for the 2 1/2 hours she was there.  “Far enough away that a scope helps, but close enough to see clearly with binoculars”.

Although this Snowy Owl is receiving a lot of attention from local birders it is not the first Snowy Owl to appear in Lenawee County recently.   On January 18th Alyson and John Wielfaert spotted a Snowy Owl further north on Downing Road.   Johanna Wielfaert-Lentz saw both Snowy Owls and stated the second owl was whiter with less streaking in the plumage.

As fascinating as Snowy Owls are, it is important to maintain a respectable distance.  These owls have travelled long distances and are under tremendous stress.  It’s best to just let them be and enjoy them from a distance.  For more information about Snowy Owls see the article from Sunday’s Detroit Free Press.

Owl @ the Moon Review

What a night!  A small group of birders took a slow stroll through Indian Crossings Park tonight and it was truly magical.  Before I get into the details take a look at this amazing piece of art by 11-year-old Meg from Tecumseh.  She made it for me as a gift and titled it, “From a fellow birder 2012”.  I love it!  It was a great start to a great night of owling.

I knew it was going to be a good night when Russell Columbus showed up and handed his camera to me.  “Look what I found”, he said.  On his way to owling he spotted a Snowy Owl on a power pole along M-50 near Britton.  Johanna Lentz was there too.  She saw the Snowy Owl that appeared in Britton two weeks ago.  She said this one was not the same bird.  Hers was not as white.

After everyone had taken a look at the Snowy pic we headed off into the woods.  The night was still and the skies were clear…for once.  We headed up to the bluff overlooking Globe Mill Pond.  I called in a Screech Owl there one week ago within the Pines.  Well, I played some calls and …..Nuthin’!  I have to admit I got a little nervous.  I was sure we would find an owl there.  But it was early and the Canada Geese were still coming in….makin’ a huge racket!  So we moved on.  We decided to take the trail that circles back to where we started.  It was getting darker and we were getting deeper into the woods.  That’s when the Screech Owls started to come alive.  First a faint call in the distance.  Then another.  There were at least two…possibly three birds responding to our calls….but none seemed to be getting closer.  Johanna leaned forward and whispered, “play the calls softly and maybe they will come in closer”.  So I did and sure enough one Screech Owl appeared out of nowhere and alighted on a branch in front of us.  I continued to play the calls quietly.  The owl made a few passes over my head.  We put a red light on her so everyone could get a good look at it.  It hung around for about ten minutes or so before it swooped over me and headed back into the woods.  We all smiled and giggled in appreciation.  That was amazing!  I think we were all pretty satisfied after that.  I played a few more Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl calls further down the trail but I really didn’t mind that none called back.  I kept staring at the night sky.  There was no need for a flash light.  The stars and moon lit the trail.  We spent 90 minutes in the woods altogether.  I could have stayed out there all night.

Owl at the Moon!

Mark your calendar!  On Monday, January 30th at 6 pm a few birders are gathering at Indian Crossings Park in Tecumseh.  We plan to walk the trails to call in a few owls. 

This is a free unsponsored event.  We’re just a bunch of bird lovers trying to organize regularly scheduled birding events in Lenawee County.  The agenda is as follows….

1.  Meet and Greet:  We’ll all meet in the parking lot behind the Tecumseh Community Center at 6:00 pm  (703 E. Chicago Blvd).  It’s a big white building with a water wheel in the front on M-50.  You can’t miss it.   

2.  We walk:  We plan to hike the trails within the park at night, starting at 6:15pm.  Owl calls will be played (via an iPod) at certain spots along the trails to try to draw in Screech Owls, Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls.  Dress for the weather and wear a sturdy pair of boots as the trails may be muddy or icy.  We will walk approximately 1-2 miles and try to walk quietly without talking.  Flash photography is not recommended as we hope to enjoy the owls without disrupting their vision.  If you bring a flash light please cover the lens with red cellophane.

3.  Social Hour:  Everyone is invited to meet at Basil Boys Restaurant (125 W. Chicago Blvd.) afterwards in downtown Tecumseh, MI.   

As birders we understand that calling in owls is not something that should be done very often as it may confuse them.  Therefore, we only intend to offer this event once or twice a year.  We hope it provides an educational opportunity for children and others who may have never seen or heard an owl before.   

Please RSVP!  We would like to limit the size of our group to 15-20 persons.

Lenawee County Bird of the Month: American Kestrel

Photo by Mike Dickie

Lenawee County Bird of the Month:  American Kestrel

1/10/11

The American Kestrel, Falco sparvarius, is North America’s smallest falcon and is a commonly observed raptor this time of year in Lenawee County.  If you are not familiar with this feisty little member of the Falconidae family, look for a small, Mourning Dove shaped bird perched precariously on a telephone wire along a road with a grassy ditch.  Many of the ebird sightings that are posted on Cornell’s website at http://ebird.org/ebird/ were along M-50 and the Lenawee-Monroe County Line Roads.  The rusty colored tail and black “sideburn and moustache” are unmistakable identifying characteristics.  Kestrels can also be seen hunting ditch banks and fields by hovering and flapping ecstatically before diving after their prey.  These birds generally eat small rodents, insects and birds and will break the spinal cord with their hooked beak and store their meal for later.  The Kestrel is named for its famous beak where Falco comes from “falcate,” meaning “hooked beak” and Sparverius means “pertaining to a sparrow”.

Chances are you have driven past many Kestrel’s on your daily commute without giving them a second look unless you needed to add them to a check list.  For the most part, we don’t give Kestrel’s a second look but recent studies and counts have suggested that American Kestrel numbers are on the decline.  For an in-depth look at the facts and figures of Kestrel populations in Lenawee County, you can view information through Cornell University’s website ebird at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/ under the “View and Explore Data” tab.

In Lenawee County, the Kestrel populations are stable, however, certain areas in the United States especially the North and Eastern seaboard according to the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) has noted a decline in population.  The All About Birds website (http://www.allaboutbirds.org) states that “land clearing during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries probably raised American Kestrel numbers substantially.”  In North America the American Kestrel is classified as a “Species of Least Concern” by the IUCN.  However, in some places, like New England, parts of the Pacific Coast, and Florida, they are declining and listed as threatened.  All About Birds lists the following reasons for these declines:  continued clearing of land, felling of standing dead trees needed for nest sites, so-called “clean” farming practices, which remove hedgerows, trees, and brush, which contributes to a loss of prey sources and nesting cavities, and exposure to pesticides and other pollutants, which destroys insects and spiders and can reduce clutch sizes and hatching success.

One of the biggest problems for American Kestrels is lack of good nest sites. If you live in one of the areas where kestrels are listed as threatened and want to help, one great way is to put up nest boxes. Plans for a one-board box can be found at http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/american-kestrel-nest-box.html.  In Lenawee County, we can also urge our local farmers to keep natural fence rows and vegetative buffer strips along ditches.  This not only cuts down on soil erosion by wind and water but creates hunting and nesting habitat for Kestrel’s as well.  Next time you spot an American Kestrel perched atop a telephone wire or along the road side, don’t just add it to your list as another number but take some time to observe their fierce personality and unique features that makes them one of my favorite little falcons.

Sources:

•             American Birding Association. Bird of the Year. 2011.  http://www.aba.org/boy/

•             Birdwatching Bliss! 2006-2011. http://www.birdwatching-bliss.com/american-kestrel-nest-box.html

•             Ebird. Cornell University. 2012. http://ebird.org/ebird/GuideMe?cmd=quickPick&speciesCode=&bMonth=01&bYear=1900&eMonth=12&eYear=2012&getLocations=northAmerica&reportType=species&speciesCodes=amekes&continue.x=15&continue.y=15&continue=Continue

•             Journal of Raptor Research.  2009.  http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.3356/JRR-08-83.1?journalCode=rapt

Pileated Sighting

Centennial Woods by Goyo P
Centennial Woods, a photo by Goyo P on Flickr.

Happy New Year folks! Are you ready to start birding in 2012?! Wouldnt it be great to start the year with a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker! I spotted one at Bicentennial Park located on Tipton Road, just south of the Shepard. Centennial Park is a great place to see/hear woodpeckers. For one, the Emerald Ash Borer prettry much devastated the Ash trees there. BUT….woodpeckers are not complaining. That leaves them with more trees for feeding and nesting. The park does have a few challenges however. Due to flooding a pair of sturdy waterproof boots are recommended. The trail makes a circle around the property but when I was there a few days ago I needed waders to make a complete loop. Back tracking will be necessary. I recommend you take the trail left before crossing the first bridge and cross the second bridge. It will take you along the higher and drier portion of the park. In addition to birds it’s a great place to see some old growth American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). They are amazing to see and touch with their smooth bark.

Before you leave please read the placard at the trailhead. Notice that one of the organizations which assisted in the creation of the park was the Lenawee Audubon Society. In 2011 I met several folks who are interested in trying to get the Audubon Society back in Lenawee. If you are interested please let me know by commenting here. We’ll put you on a mailing list for upcoming planning meetings.

Good Birding!

Gregg