December 28, 2011 — Snowy Owl

Now that classes are out and I have some time to dink around, I’ve been cruising around looking for birds.  I heard there were Trumpeter Swans out near Wakonda State Park, so I went out there to have a look.  No swans, but I did have an American Tree Sparrow land very close.  Gave me a great pic.  I’m not sure many people appreciate the simple beauty of these little birds.  I got a nice Song Sparrow in town, as well as some Eurasian Collared doves.  I stopped at the Slough one day for a Belted Kingfisher that was perched on a wire.  It was a bit far out, but I got a few decent shots. 

On the colder mornings when we know the ball fields are frozen we take the dogs down to run.  I’ve gotten more shots of their antics, but one day I noticed some little fingers of ice sticking out of the infield.  After we took the dogs home, I went back with my macro lens and shot the most interesting ones.  After a bit of research, I found that they were needle ice.

 “Needle ice is a phenomenon that occurs when the temperature of the soil is above 0 °C (32 °F) and the surface temperature of the air is below 0 °C (32 °F). The subterranean liquid water is brought to the surface via capillary action, where it freezes and contributes to a growing needle-like ice column.  The ice needles are typically a few centimetres long. While growing, they may lift or push away small soil particles.” — Wikipedia

I knew the local weather man loves interesting meteorological photos.  I sent them in and they showed them all on the evening news.  He explained the phenomenon.  Of course, the conditions that day were ideal for the formation of needle ice.

I also sent in the picture of Big Guy as “Reindog”.  They ran that on 12/27 in the morning.  They mangled Stacey’s name, but kept the image on screen for a long time.

While looking for hawks in the area, I got yet another Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree.  On a trip to Monticello on Christmas, Stacey drove and pulled over so i could get some distant images of a hunting Northern Harrier.

A while back I found out about a contest for photos taken in state parks.  I didn’t have much I was really happy with, so I went out to Wakonda State Park one morning before work, took a short hike, and took some spontaneous wildlife photos.  This squirrel with a nut ran up to me and I shot it with the macro lens.  It turned out pretty well, so I submitted that one, and a nice image of a grasshopper.  Of course, the squirrel won (semifinalist, wildlife category).  My friends know that I hate cutesy, furry mammal photos.  They are so cliche.  Apparently, they are also what people want!

From Greatest Hits


We wanted to take a small vacation during this break.  I had been hearing about the great Snowy Owl irruption this year, and knew that there were three or more sighted regularly at Smithville Reservoir.  That’s in Missouri, but on the other side of the state, just north of Kansas City.  These were the closest I could find, but at least they had been reliable. As an aside, this is an Arctic species that rarely makes it down to these latitudes.  Apparently, it’s a bad winter for lemmings, and the hungry birds have moved down to find food.  We loaded the dogs in the Lil Egg and drove across Highway 36.  After getting directions to the owls from the park office (it’s a big lake), we were just minutes away from seeing our first Snowy Owls.  That’s when Gretchen barfed in Stacey’s lap.  She had been sick a few times before we left, but we thought it was out of her system.  We made an emergency stop at a tiny grocery store in Paradise so that Stacey could change and I could effect clean-up.  After order was restored we continued around the lake and across the dam, where ALL reports had said the owls were always present.  We didn’t see any.  We parked at one end while I glassed the area with binoculars.  We saw some vehicles stop on the dam, and a large white bird fly out and land about 50 yards from them.  That was it!  My 323rd North American species.  Stacey then drove us up to the spot where the owl landed.  I stuck the long lens out the window and shot about a hundred frames.  We continued down the dam and saw another near the end.  Stacey parked while I walked up and tried to get close.  It flushed and went down toward the lake.  Another photographer and I walked down to get more shots of it.  What I didn’t know was that Gretchen had barfed again, and Stacey was forced to clean it up.  Stacey has a strong aversion to vomit and is a known sympathy puker.  It took a lot for her to get this done.  After one more attempt at the bird on the dam, we went to the motel in Kearney where we were staying.  Though the Super 8 is “dog friendly,” we suspected we could be evicted if our dogs were not well behaved.  Unfortunately, Big Guy decided to bark at almost every little noise.  He’s big.  His bark is deep and loud.  He’s normally not that vocal, but it was a noisy hotel, with other dogs in it.  We got him under control, but he still woke us up a few times in the night with the occasional bark.  And Gretchen threw up again. 

In the morning I left at the crack of dawn to make another attempt on the owls.  I saw two on the dam and another in a tree on a golf course.  The latter was a juvenile, and I would have loved to have gotten some shots up close, but it would have required two wrong things: 1) trespassing on the golf course, and 2) almost certainly flushing the bird.  So I confined myself to the dam birds and headed back to the motel.  We packed up and headed for home.  Gretchen had had some evil bowel movements, and rewarded us with the most horrid farts all the way home.  We still don’t know what she got into, but she seems to be over it now.  We’ve never had so much difficulty traveling with the dogs, even on the much longer trip to Nebraska last year.  We’ll chalk it up to experience.  Meanwhile, here are all the recent photos (direct link followed by slide show):

Misc. birds and needle ice:

December 2011

Snowy owls only:

2011_12_27 Snowy Owl

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