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Wednesday November 7, 2018   |
The first Snowy Owl of the season surprised Paul just a mile south of home.
No less surprising this week was the first Northern Shrike, also a young first-year bird.

While returning from a short birding drive last Tuesday, just a mile south of home I took a double-take when a white gnome caught my eye near the side of the road. It was quite a surprise to see the first Snowy Owl of fall peering back at me through big golden eyes. The young female’s new plumage was a beautiful bright white with brown markings that beamed like a beacon above the tan grasses where she stood. Hooray!

I guess I’m out of practice with Snowys, because as I positioned myself for photos, the young owl surprised me by taking flight. I wasn’t prepared for that, I’m not sure why. I quickly grabbed my camera, which I normally would already have in hand, and quickly took four desperation photos as the impressive long-winged owl angled away from me. Darn, outfoxed by another Snowy Owl I thought. But it turned out that three of the images were not bad, and I share the best one with you here.

I watched the owl fly slowly across the open landscape. Its flight suggested a buoyant aerial dance until it landed at the next low hill a short distance away. I checked back on the young Snowy a couple more times before sunset and she remained vigilant on the hilltop. I could almost see her position from the bay window addition in my house and I imagined the young Snowy Owl watching for hunting voles into the darkness of the evening.

Snowy Owls are among my favorite birds, and an early Snowy sighting may mean a good winter showing for the species in the region. Some years I find a few; last winter was one of the best for me – I found 62 different Snowys, and I enjoyed observing and photographing a few of them more than once.

Actually, I started the week with a rousing surprise from the north: Monday another winter bird flew into my view, a speeding Northern Shrike that crossed my path and perched a distance away. Was this much smaller predator watching for voles too? The small rodents must be a considerable adversary for the Northern Shrikes that make their way south from Canada’s boreal forest.

It’s always exciting when Snow Geese take over the neighborhood, and the few thousands that were present last week swelled to tens of thousands this week. I so enjoy being greeted by goose music when I step outside, and I especially revel at having long skeins of Snows flying low over my house so I can hear their wingbeats and individual calls. Among the ever-larger flocks assembling in the area is a huge flock of about 10,000 Snow Geese that concentrate at a lake less than a mile to the northeast.

Flocks of Tundra Swans were more common last week with flocks averaging about twice the numbers. Red-tails have all but finished their migration through the area; I only see one or two at most during extended field trips. I did see a fine Prairie Falcon on Thursday, which always gets me excited – any falcon has that effect on me – they are spectacular birds. Keep your binoculars and camera within reach; you never know what you’ll see next!

Photos by Paul Konrad

Paul Konrad is the Editor of The Birding Wire; share your sightings or photos with fellow readers at editorstbw2@gmail.com



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