Tuesday, January 8, 2013

More Short-eared Owls (because you can never have too many owls)

Photo: Dane Adams

A Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus, flops its way over a Hardin County grassland. The owl's fierce visage is somewhat neutralized by its amusing mothlike flight. At least they may be amusing to us - large bipeds have little to fear from these hooters. Put yourself in the paws of a small rodent, and the owls are no laughing matter, as we shall see.

I recently wrote about the Lawrence Woods Short-eared Owls, HERE, and then later received a report from Cheryl Erwin that even more owls had appeared at this locale and were at least on occasion hunting well before dusk. That sounded positive for obtaining photos, and better admiring the owls' curious antics, so I stopped by a few days ago. Dane Adams visited the following day, and made some of his always outstanding images, some of which he was kind enough to allow me to share.

This is the entrance drive to Lawrence Woods State Nature Preserve, and the owls can usually be seen quite well from this road. Although the preserve's centerpiece is the big woods, seen in the backdrop, there are hundreds of acres of meadows that are frequented by birds of prey.

The Short-eared Owls have a penchant for perching on the fenceposts adjacent to the lightly traveled county road that abuts the preserve's north boundary. It didn't take long to spot an owl teed up and ready for photos.

Short-eared Owls are the extroverts of the owl world, and generally pay people little mind. With a modicum of basic courtesy, they can be admired without bother. As long as one stays in the car, and doesn't approach too closely, the owls will utterly ignore their admirers. This is NOT true of most owls, such as the closely related Long-eared Owl. CLICK HERE for some pointers on how to admire the spookier owl species without disrupting them.

Support your local state nature preserves. Ohio is fortunate to have over 100 preserves which collectively support most of the floral and faunal biodiversity found in the state, including the rarest of the rare. CLICK HERE to become an active supporter of the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves.

At one point, a female Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus, attempted to cross the big meadow. Big mistake. The harrier was like a Blood attempting to infiltrate Crip turf. Several Short-eareds immediately scrambled skyward, barking like annoyed terriers, and gave chase. In this distant photo of the action, the harrier is at the far right, about to suffer another owl strafing. It was just bushwhacked by the owl at the far left. Mrs. Harrier did not linger long.

Photo: Dane Adams

An owl carts off a little furry hotdog with legs, a Meadow Vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. These small rodents have lemmingesque boom and bust years, and this apparently is a boom year. Watch the snowy ground at your feet for a bit at a place like Lawrence Woods, and you'll see one of the little rodents make a dash across the snow. Raptors quickly figure out where the voles are high in number, and move in to capitalize on the mammalian bonanza.

It does not behoove the long term survival of a Meadow Vole if it shows itself. Not that they live long anyway, but if one foolishly sticks its nose above ground, it's odds of ending up as an owl pellet rise exponentially. Therefore, voles craft tunnels under the snow and grass; sort of like rodent subways. But every now and again a vole must come topside and that's when the ever vigilant owls are there to pounce. CLICK HERE to learn more about these important rodents.
I made this image from the vehicle, from 75 or so feet off using my Sigma 150-500 telephoto lens. That was obviously plenty close enough to admire the animal, and make some nice images, but not near enough to pester the bird. In fact, to momentarily divert its attention to look at the camera, I had to squeak like a mouse. I suppose you might say that squeaking at an owl is pestering it, but I don't think so. The owl briefly stabbed me with those glaring yellow eyes, then resumed its constant scanning of its surroundings.

Photo: Dane Adams

One can never have too many owls in their life, and should you wish to enrich your owl quotient, don't forget the Ohio Ornithological Society's upcoming Owls of North America Symposium. All are welcome, and all of the details are RIGHT HERE.



Anonymous said...

I stopped at Lawrence Woods for the first time last March while driving back 68 from Toledo towards Springfield. I had seen signs for it many times, and had never stopped. There were some early wildflowers up in the woods, and I enjoyed the boardwalk, but I was amazed at how much open grassland surrounded it. I didn't think about Short-eared Owls in the spring, but that makes a lot of sense. For a place named "Woods", it was nice to see the variety of habitats. I really want to come back when the Buttonbushes around that swampy pothole in the middle of the woods are blooming. With proper mosquito gear of course...

Lilac Haven said...

Great pictures! Thanks for sharing. i love owls.

Bruce Lindman said...

My girlfriend and I were up at Lawrence Woods this past Saturday.
We sat in a freezing bird blind in the middle of the field just south of the parking lot for an hour and a half. We saw no owls there (though I did spot a vole).
We packed up just before dusk and drove out the driveway, turned East, and a quarter mile down the road we saw the Owls.
By then it was too late to get any pictures (I shoot a Sigma 15-500 like you, so good to know that its possible to get shots in that scenario).
We'll try again in two weeks, now that we know where to find them.
Why all the owls in one field, and none in the other field? The only difference I could see was the presence of thistles in the active field. Voles must prefer them over the seed-bearing plants in the other field.
Looking forward to meeting you at the Owl conference!

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for the comments! Not sure why the localized concentration of owls, Bruce, other than that's where the voles were. Last time I was there owls were flying everywhere.

Ryan Schroeder said...

Bruce, unless you have a permit, all visitors must remain in the developed areas (boardwalk, driveway, parking area) of a state nature preserve.

Anonymous said...

As a tracker, something I rarely see in wooded SE Ohio is the evidence in the snow of predation attempts by owls on small mammals. I'm referring to snow cover that is 3+ inches deep. I'm wondering if the owls common to this habitat rely much more on other prey (birds?) under heavy snow cover? I've found studies of a couple of european species that show this to be true on that continent, but nothing for North America or Screech, GH or Barred Owls. Does this correlate with your experience? Thanks! joe letsche