Short-eared Owls, Feb 12th 2012

- by Marty Schlabach

In spite of the miserably snowy, cold and windy weather , four others, John Confer, Alicia Plotkin, Anna Nowogrodzki and Ian McGullam joined Mary Jean Welser, Michele Mannella and me to look for short-eared owls in Ovid Sunday afternoon. We headed to the Wycoff Road and Rock River Road area about 3:30pm. It turned out to be a rather bright afternoon, and we didn’t see any short-eared activity. Michele had received permission to walk behind the barns of the Beardsley farm which is on the northeast corner of the intersection. We walked back as far as the pond and did not see any owls or even pellets where we had seen both in years past. We did see a few tree sparrows.

We then made a stop in front of Rock River Tech to check out the spruce trees where short-ears were reported to have roosted. We spotted one short-ear and with John Confer’s scope, we got a pretty good look at the owl looking us over. Given it was still quite light to expect to see them in flight, we drove to Center Rd and Co Rd 129, which is where we have had short-ears and even a snowy owl in years past, but we did not see any short-ears. Many of the fields in that area have been tilled and were no longer in hay and weeds like in years past, substantially reducing the habitat for short-ears and harriers. We drove additional back roads in the area, and saw very little, other than several Horned Larks and a Red Tailed Hawk (as well as starlings and rock pigeons).

Heading back to the Rock River and Wycoff area, we again didn’t see any short-ear activity until we returned to the one roosting in the spruce. Shortly after we arrived at the roost about 5:15pm and had confirmed that the short-ear was still where we had first seen it, it took flight, immediately followed by a second short-ear that we hadn’t noticed before and we got to see them in flight. Though some participants had to leave, several of us stayed until dark and got additional good looks at a total of 3 short-eared owls.