Wednesday 24 January 2007

Breaking a Habit

Some of the positive things about New Year's Resolutions is that apparently they are also common practice amongst birds.
Let me explain:
Most birders will have what they call a Nemesis Bird, a bird that everyone else gets to see before they've out-grown their first pair of binoculars but this one birder, amongst all the birding crowds of the world, will never manage a sight even if it was a matter of life and death!

I have two Nemesis bird groups: rails (shame on them) and owls.
Take my birding trip to Michigan and southern Ontario in May 2005 as an example. I recorded 230 species, saw all 5 regular eastern Empidonax-flycatchers on the same day, had a Black-backed Woodpecker and Spruce & Sharp-tailed Grouse on the Upper Peninsular, a Summer Tanager, Kirtland's Warbler, great views of Henslow's and LeConte's Sparrow but ... not a single owl, neither heard nor seen.
Or my European owl list: lousy and half of them heard-only's.

But this year - for a reason I will surely never learn - one single owl in Canada's far North decided to have mercy on my soul. It sat there, somewhere on the coast of Hudson Bay on the first of January and solemnly decided that some Bell Tower Birder had suffered long enough and that this year, this one owl would make a change and break a habit of all owl-kind, which is to avoid Bell Tower Birders.
It took off and headed south until it found a suitable construction site right between an Interstate and the parking area of a shopping mall in South-East Michigan. Here it presumed there was a good chance some birder would spot it while waiting in the car for his wife (who'd be shopping), and the owl was right!
A few days ago the News spread that right at the site described above, a pristine and wonderful Snowy Owl had been spotted (without doubt by a genius birder, I don't know though if this was done waiting in the car for their spouse or what other reasons lead to the discovery).
It entertained a huge crowd of birders over the weekend and was photographed wonderfully, e.g. here (click on "next" and next and next, then skip a great Cooper's Hawk pic and go on for a real photo feast) and here (also check his amazing gallery for more pics of the owl and other magic photography).
Man, it was even filmed and can be watched here, here, here and here.
Fame's easy if you're a Snowy Owl!

Well, but this site is 30 minutes east of Ann Arbor by car and car-less I had to wait completely calm and relaxed (no, I always bite my fingernails, thank you) until today when the one and only Laurent of Gallup Park fame gave me a ride. It hadn't been found the previous day so I was even more calm and relaxed when we got there today around 9:30 a.m. and full of my usual optimism when in search of an owl.
Laurent on the other hand is relatively new to birding and it was probably his untainted enthusiasm that allowed him to spot the owl even before he had stopped the car.
Yes, no typo: he - and eventually we - spotted, not dipped the owl.

It was still there.

For me (and others).

To see (not only hear).


It was at first perched on a street lamp looking around drowsily with eyes half closed and we watched until our feet got cold and - yet again - Laurent came up with a great plan to save the day:
Next to the parking area was a "Panera Bread" bakery with a large window front towards the owl. But this wasn't all, nope, they also had good coffee with free re-fills and a huge supply of great food and two comfy armchairs were placed right there at the windows.

Man, this must have been the most decadent birding I have ever done: watching a Snowy Owl through my scope from the comfort of an armchair with hot coffee and a supply of donuts.

Finally it flew around a bit and landed on the ground not far away, giving the whole observation a more wild and natural feel. Eventually, after two hours of owl-worshipping, we drove - make that levitated - back to Ann Arbor.

Birding just doesn't get any better than this!

Oh, but don't worry, that's not all, not over yet ...

This afternoon I had two hours to kill while my wife attended some seminar in the south of Ann Arbor. There's a Golf Course right next to the seminar building and a Merlin had been seen for a few days along the eastern edge of this golf course in December. It hadn't been seen for quite a while but with nothing better to do, I asked at the office building and was granted free excess.

"Well, the Greens,... are you a Golfer? Do you know what Greens are?"
"Errr, no, I am not a Golfer."
"Hmm, never mind, just walk around freely, no problem, just don't fall into one of the ponds."

And so I did and didn't.

OK, it is a golf course, not a wilderness area, so I didn't expect Great Grey Owls or an as yet undiscovered population of Bobcats, but it was pretty nice with my first Red-breasted Nuthatches since moving here last October (gosh, they were so common all over the place in May 2005, what happened?), a Cooper's Hawk chasing around the city pigeons and in the midst of a thick flurry of falling snow (yes, falling, not zipping through!), there it was, perched high in a tree and looking around like the lion king: the Merlin.

Life, not birding, I meant life in general: it doesn't get any better than this.


Anonymous said...

Ah. Does it mean that not ALL owl watching are done from the inside of a coffee shop, and are so easy to spot?
Too bad. I thought this hobby was definitly getting very cozy.
Thanks for the trip Jochen, as well as your expertise.
The long eared is on my target list now......only problem is to find the right
Laurent from Galup Park

Jochen said...

Hmmm, I don't like starbucks coffee that much, let's rather try and find a Northern Hawk Owl next to a Bruegger's branch!