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Short-eared Owls at Lawrence Woods

A pair of Short-eared Owls, Asio flammeus, hunt over an old field in the gloom of post-dusk. The other bird is in the background, bottom righthand corner of the photo. Don't expect award winning owl photos in this post - the short-ears didn't take to the wing until it was nearly dark and it was all my camera could do to make any images at all.

Short-eared Owls can be curious and this fellow suddenly materialized over my head. It's always a treat to watch these owls hunt the grasslands and meadows, barking and scuffling with neighboring owls and occasionally plummeting earthward to Whack-A-Mole (or vole). I saw four, and possibly five, owls tonight. A Northern Harrier was working the fields earlier, and a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk was also nearby.

This was the place of the owling - Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve in Hardin County, Ohio. We're looking east down Township Road 190, with the preserve lands on the right, and a big prairie/grassland on the left, the latter courtesy of Pheasants Forever. The big woods - the preserve's namesake - can be seen way off to the right. This preserve encompasses over 1,000 acres, and roughly half is the woods, and the rest is meadow. The owls were hunting the field on the right, and were easy to view until conditions grew too dark.

This map shows the locale, should you wish to go Short-eared Owling at this spot. The area outlined in blue are the good owl fields. The section of Township Rd. 190 highlighted in red bisects the fields, and there is virtually no traffic along here and the verges are wide and flat, so viewing from an automobile should be no problem. The red line heading south from 190 is the gravel drive back to the preserve parking lot, and good viewing can be had from there as well. Note that the preserve is open only during daylight hours, though.

U.S. 68 can be seen on the left of the photo, and the city of Kenton is a few miles to the north. This site is less than an hour from Columbus, and makes for a great field trip. There is a fabulous boardwalk through the woods, and traipsing its length prior to nightfall should produce Red-headed Woodpecker and all of the other expected woodpeckers. Barred, Eastern Screech, and Great Horned Owls are also present, so with a bit of luck and careful listening you might tally four species of owls at this site.


I love that first photo. Do you mind if I try to paint it?
Jim McCormac said…
Sure, be my guest Lisa! Your painting will look a lot better than the actual photo!
Anonymous said…
I love this site! Until my father died in 2009 my parents lived a couple miles away on Twp. Rd. 180. I spent a lot of time at Lawrence Woods when visiting from Chicago. Besides the owls and woodpeckers, it can be really good for warblers in the spring. Henslow's, Grasshopper and Vesper Sparrows nest in the fields in the summer.

Randy Shonkwiler
Jim McCormac said…
Thank you Randy! I agree; Lawrence Woods is one of Ohio's jewels, with much to see beyond the owls.
Bruce Lindman said…
Fantastic post Jim.
I was up at Big Island Wildlife Area a few weeks ago looking for Short-Eared Owls, but only managed to find a Northern Harrier. I was thinking of heading to Killdeer Plains this weekend, but I may change my itinerary to Lawrence Woods now.
Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I can get some nice shots.
Jim McCormac said…
Thanks Bruce and good luck! Let us know if you see any!
Kelly said…
...I really like the first photo. Looks like great art for a book cover (a mystery maybe!). It's cool.
Jim McCormac said…
Thank you, Kelly! And here I thought it was one of the worst photos I ever took! Guess even a blind pig stumbles into an acorn occasionally! :-)
Anonymous said…
I was at Lawrence Woods on 12/1/2012 at 5:30pm on the dot. We saw about 7 SEOs flying around the fields, in the same area you described. We heard their alarm sounds, as we must have been right by their nests. As we were leaving the preserve, one short-eared was on the ground, and flew right over our car. It was amazing! And the cherry on the sundae, heard 2 Barred Owls hooting in the woods on our way out.
Anonymous said…
We went to Lawrence Woods on 12/1/2012 at around 4:45pm. Initally, we saw 2 rough-legged harriers hunting the fields, then at around 5:30pm, 2 Short-Eareds appeared. Then several minutes later, we saw about 7 SEOs flying all over the field in the same locale you described! They were squaking ALL over. You could not have pin-pointed so accurately. We were walking on the drive around the fields and must have been right by the nests, as we heard many "alarm" sounds by the owls. On our way out, a short-eared was sitting on the ground, and flew right over us. They were soaring all over the field, and one must have gone down for a field mouse or vole. We saw a mouse cross the drive as we came in and thought, "Yes, we will see some short-eareds tonight!" We sure did!! It was amazing. It was similar to my experience at Big Island Park area about 2 years ago this time of year. And as a bonus, we saw an American Kestrel on our way to the preserve, and heard 2 hooting, Barred Owls in the woods by the field! Amazing owling and birding day.
Jim McCormac said…
Excellent report, Anonymous, I'm glad that you got to see the owls!
Kathie Brown said…
Wonderful! It has been a long time since I have seen a short-eared owl! What an experience!

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