Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Snowy Owl Creating Quite a Buzz in DFW

The Snowy Owl has made headlines over the last few days in the DFW area. Non-birders who saw the news coverage over the weekend went to see the Harry Potter-like owl.

The sighting is only the 6th record in Texas, thanks to a Dallas police officer who first spotted the rare tundra visitor. Thankfully, the officer is a bird watcher who recognized the bird right away and made an effort to get the word out to birders. (you can read the story here). If it wasn't for him, it could have been missed entirely. According to some birders, a security guard of Robertson Park had seen the owl for several weeks, but didn't recognize its importance.

Non-birders seeing the news coverage of the owl claim they saw an owl like this before in the last few years, but were unable to find the right source to report it. Who knows how many Snowy Owls have been in the area over the last 50 years, but never got reported. There's probably owls out there right now going unnoticed.

So far the owl hasn't been seen in the last two days. When it was first reported last week, it disappeared several days before being seen again last Thursday. It will be interesting to see if it shows up again.
I'd love to think of a way to make it easier for people who don't know much about birds to share their sightings so birders and non-birders alike can enjoy the experience of seeing something rare and beautiful like a Snowy Owl.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Search for Lone Star Snowy Owl a Success

When I saw a Snowy Owl in Oklahoma on New Year's Day, I was satisfied to see one from more than 100 yards away. Getting to see a Snowy in my home state in the same year from just 20 yds away is a huge blessing. It's more than I could ask for. (Praise God for that!)

On Sunday, Marcin, Daria and I left San Antonio around 4:30 a.m. and headed toward Robertson Park in Rockwall, TX. The trip took about 5 hours. We dreaded the drive back since it was just a day trip. But when you want to see an unpredictable creature of the wild tundra hundreds of miles out of its context, it's worth the trip.

When we got to the marina, we saw a host of birders and photographers all gathered in the parking lot near a utility pole where it was seen the previous day. There was no sign of the juvenile female Snowy Owl. We waited for about an hour when suddenly, Marcin called out, "There it is!" as he pointed to a pale, shadowy figure perched on a sailboat mast.

The owl got the same treatment as a female pop star taking the stage in front of crazed fans. But instead of loud applause and cheers, there was a chorus of camera shutters. She didn't seem to mind and flew farther into the spotlight, literally. She landed on a light post with its back facing the crowd of birders rushing into position to get some prized Snowy shots.
Me and a few birders tried our luck on a small extension bridge to the docks that led to a locked gate. A few boat enthusiasts saw us pressing up against the gate and were kind enough to invite us through the gate to get a closer look at the owl. It was like getting backstage passes to a favorite show.
While we got a closer look and snapped photos, the owl went about its business, resting and preening.
She was so comfortable on the light post that she stayed there all day. We left after about 2 hours of looking at the owl and went to Lake Tawakoni State Park to find some additional species. Some of the highlights included White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creepers, Eastern Towhee and a flock of Smith's Longspurs. (A difficult species to find.)

After a nice afternoon of birding, we dropped by the park again to get one last look at the owl.
As the sun set and the lighting got worse for photographers, the group of birders disbanded. Marcin, Daria and I set out for the trip home. It was a whirlwind trip, but at the end of the day, all of us had Snowy Owl on our life lists.

Marcin and Daria Kojtka

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Crazy Day of Birding Ahead for Texas Snowy Owl

There's a Snowy Owl in the Dallas area and I plan to head out early tomorrow morning with some friends to get it on my Texas list. There are only a handful of Texas records for this arctic bird, so seeing it in Texas would be a lifetime experience. I started off the year with a Snowy Owl in Oklahoma, but I could never get close enough for photos. Here's hoping I can get close enough for some decent shots. My friends from Poland, Marcin and Daria, have never seen a Snowy and they plan to leave for home before the end of the year. Hopefully the Snowy decides to  stick around.

There are also some target birds we hope to find, including White-breasted Nuthatch, Canada Goose and a Little Gull that's been hanging out at White Rock Lake! Lot's of exciting stuff, so stay tuned...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jackpot on Mountain Plovers

Most thrill seekers heading westbound on Hwy. 57 toward the casino in Eagle Pass wouldn't pay much attention to a drab sod farm out in the middle of nowhere. But for me, the sod farm was worth an hour drive to add Mountain Plovers to my life list.

If I was willing to wait long enough, I could probably find plovers in Bexar County. However, just like a gambler is eager to cash in his chips, I was eager to follow a week-old Ebird Alert for the plovers. (In case you're wondering what Ebird Alerts are, they are the most recent reports of sightings of a particular species in a certain state or country.)

I usually peruse the Texas Alerts on a weekly basis just to see what birds have been reported in my area. Tripp Davenport, a birder from Uvalde, reported seeing at least 150 plovers at the sod farm. Seeing Tripp's report got my hopes up since February is usually the last chance you get to see plovers until next winter. Even though the report was about a week old, I figured there would be some plovers still around. So... I rolled the dice and headed south.

When I got to the field, I spotted my target bird within 5 minutes. About 28 plovers were scampering about the fields, each darting in different directions. Each plover ran about a foot, paused for a few seconds, and then continued running. The plovers exercised this the whole time I watched.

One of the plovers darted toward me and came within about 40 yards.
After enjoying the show, I decided to drive down the road a bit to see what I could find. About a half mile down, I saw a group of at least 100 Sandhill Cranes foraging in an Ag field.

Earlier that morning I visited the Medina River Natural Area in San Antonio and got some photos of some more common birds. Watching Cedar Waxwings feeding on a cluster of mistletoe berries is a classic sight in winter.

The chilly morning had this Pyrrhuloxia (Desert Cardinal) bundled up to conserve energy.

He wasn't the only South Texas resident braving the cold. I found these two Inca Doves huddling next to each other in my back yard before I left.