Sunday, January 16, 2005

First Day, Snowy Owl

It was after noon when I reached the Snowy Owl area near Oxford, Kansas. I went to the corner that had been posted on the net, and within a couple of minutes had found another couple of birders who were also searching. They had only been there about fifteen minutes, and no luck yet. We exchanged phone numbers, and started checking out various details of the landscape that had been mentioned as perches. I was scanning the treeline about a quarter mile away when I spotted a large white patch, but heat shimmers made it indistinct. I got the small spotting scope and it appeared owl-like. I got the big spotting scope, and it looked very like a big white owl, but still distorted and unsteady from the heat shimmers. I called Bob, the other birder, and he showed up in minutes. He agreed that we had the bird, but we wanted a better look. Bob drove down the road to find the farmer owner, and I studied the image. I confess I had enough doubts to continue scanning everything I could see. In about fifteen minutes, the farmer and Bob came back, and we found there was an old railway roadbed through the field that would give us a close up view. We followed the owner out in the middle of a vast black soil field planted in wheat, a few inches tall, and laying down weather hammered, with thin patches of snow. Did I mention it was below freezing, but not too windy. I was setting up the scope to get the great life look, when Bob announced it was a railroad crossbuck remnant, part of the old X shaped sign marking a RR crossing. Disappointment.

Back to zero. We started again working over the landscape, and eventually moved to the section road one mile south. About half a mile down Bob announced that he'd found the bird. Sure, I think, now it's your turn to be the fool. But it was. We drove out a service road for some oil wells and got a good scope look. The bird had a streaky chest, making it a female (the males being nearly pure white). We could see the face distinctly. The bird was resting on the ground in a patch of snow, something like tundra I imagine, with large field of view, but it didn't appear to be hunting, just resting. They typically hunt from perches. We could see another birder on the far side of the owl, with a scope set up, and decided to see if we could find them. We drove along the section roads until we had circled the square mile block, and I turned down an unmarked un-posted lane that seemed to head in the right direction. I found a woman with a scope and she recognized me, Andrea, a UofA grad student who I'd been birding with before. Small world. It was the second time I'd run into her chasing rarities.

Other good birds seen on this portion of the trip were Prairie Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk, and Swainson's Hawk.


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