Sunday, March 9, 2014

Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, and a Snowy Owl

Find the Snowy Owl!
Snowy Owls. We've all been taken with them this year. Nearly 300 have appeared in our state since December, 2013. It's been a delightful winter for birders, especially those in smaller, rural towns. Here in Milwaukee, we get Snowys every year. They usually frequent the Coast Guard Impoundment or the Petroleum Pier underneath the Hoan Bridge--and they're usually so far out, it is hard to get a good look at them without using a spotting scope. 

In places like Freedom and Janesville, at least five different birds have been seen in ONE DAY. I have been jealous of the people who live near those towns and have wanted to drive to them in hopes of seeing a Snowy closer up, flying across a field, sitting on a telephone pole or silo, making a kill....sigh. Long drives aren't my thing, though, so today I decided to try my luck in Kenosha County, where at least three Snowys have been seen this winter. I got lucky.
Male Horned Lark strutting
Before the Snowy made her appearance, I watched dozens of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings flit around. They congregate on roadsides, scratching for food (minerals?). If you see a farm field with chunks of dirt emerging through the snow in the winter, chances are you'll also see a Horned Lark or Snow Bunting (and maybe one or two Lapland Longspurs, too!). I parked my car so far over on the shoulder that a sheriff pulled over to ask if I was okay. I thought that was nice. So many people just don't care these days.
Female Horned Lark striking a pose

Horned Larks waiting for the traffic to pass by
 These birds are difficult to capture. They move fast, they blend in with their surroundings, and the glare of the snow can overtake the photo. I did the best I could considering all of the traffic on the road and the pummeling winds.
Beautiful Arctic visitor--the Snow Bunting

Another striking Snow Bunting

I can't resist birds when they tilt their heads

Snow Bunting flock foraging
 This picture is certainly not quality, but I've never seen so many buntings together at once before. I have only seen these birds two or three other times--and fleetingly.
This bunting flew right in front of my car
 Most of my encounters with Snowy Owls have been the same--but I finally saw one in a rural environment instead of sitting on a dock, a slab of ice, or a pier! Thank god for those buntings and larks--if it hadn't been for them, I never would have seen this lovely immature female Snowy Owl. She flew in from the west and I followed her with my camera (and its paltry 250mm lens). I captured the moment, though: indeed.
Snowy Owl flying across a well-traveled rural road
Snowy Owl being followed by numerous buntings

More of the same

The buntings were either curious or did not want the owl in their territory

Soaring low, about to land

I waited and waited for this lovely lady to fully open her eyes and begin hunting. I yearned for her to fly closer to me so I could see what other people have seen, what I have seen in dozens of photos. I waited about an hour, until it didn't seem prudent to wait anymore. I was too cold to wait another hour until sunset because I knew that when she did fly away, it might very well be in the opposite direction of me. It didn't seem logical. I went home, glad to have seen her, the larks, the buntings, and the singular longspur, but somehow, I still felt matter how long you have, it never seems long enough.


  1. Awesome, thanks for sharing.

  2. like your pics, you're a good photographer.