30 December 2017

Home on the range

I'll admit, it's often been the case this year that I only have time to blog about the latest tour.  It's been a fun but very busy year!  However, here's a rare post about some downtime BETWEEN tours.  After all, technically speaking, I'm home for at least half the year.

I'll start things off with a bird I saw right after landing in St. Louis late in November.  This SNOWY OWL at the Riverlands north of the city completely startled me; I had no idea it was there until I saw a white head swivel around and look at me right in the eyes:
You might already know, but this fall/winter has been exceptional for finding these northern owls; they're showing up in greater numbers and at locations farther south than normal.  What was interesting about this owl was that, unbeknownst to me, it was actually in Illinois by 100 feet or so (the state line does funny things there including a jaunt across the river, etc).  

From the same spot as the owl, there was this WHITE-WINGED SCOTER swimming around:
But, same as with the owl, it was technically swimming in Illinois.  Shoot!  I still have never seen one in Missouri.

On a different day trip, this time to the center part of the state, Ashley and I spotted this continuing NORTHERN SHRIKE near Columbia:
Nevermind that it wouldn't look at me!  This was a new state bird for both of us although I expect we'll find our own soon enough.

A different day brought news of a couple of SNOW BUNTINGS at Long Branch State Park west of here.  We spun over to have a look... turns out, they were rather tame!
This northern species breeds on the Arctic tundra and only occasionally wanders south to Missouri.

Remember the Snowy Owl earlier in this post?  We were just getting started.  Here's one just a few miles from Hannibal!
As "luck" would have it, though, this one was ALSO in Illinois!  A birder who lives in Illinois spotted this bird on the commute to/from work and posted about it.  We caught wind of the sighting and realized it was RIGHT ACROSS THE RIVER from where we lived.  Duh, it was a no brainer to go see it!

On a different day at a different place... Ashley and I were birding at Long Branch State Park again one afternoon and we spotted this distant LONG-TAILED DUCK:
The digiscoped photo isn't great but there is no doubt about the ID.  Excellent, another state bird!  This was the 1st time this species had been eBirded from this lake.

Earlier this month, I ventured west to Thomas Hill Reservoir to have a look around and came across this MERLIN:
It's a gorgeous falcon, when you look at it.  This is a pale male, it had no dark cheek marks... it's of the "Prairie" subspecies.

This is the kind of caution sign I like!
But who knows, maybe this 4900 acre reservoir might just sneak up on you?!  Beware!  Birding options are ahead.

While out that direction, I swung by Long Branch Lake again to just have a looksy.  There was an AMERICAN PIPIT on the rock jetty still:
This continuing pipit is actually getting quite late; most AMPIs should be south of here by now.  Speaking of the rock jetty, guess who was STILL there... yep, the SNOW BUNTINGS were still sneaking amongst the rocks:
Elsewhere on the lake, this COMMON LOON was flagged in eBird for being late (so I took a picture with my phone through my scope):
From there, I meandered back roads all the way home, hoping to find my own Snowy Owl.  I crested a hill and..... well, although this isn't an owl, it's always fun to see a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK:
This northern species only visits Missouri during the winter months when it can sometimes be found over open areas and grassy fields.

I struck gold shortly after when some SHORT-EARED OWLS materialized out of thin air and proceeded to waft about.  One landed briefly:
Although not a Snowy Owl... this bird was still another target of mine.  Turns out, this was the first SEOW I'd ever seen in the state.  I chuckled when I proceeded to find 4 more of them in quick succession after that!  Here's one that flew RIGHT BY me... 
But alas, no Snowys on that drive.

Back home, we had some beautiful December mornings (before it went and got all cold).  Here's a golden morning from the driveway:
In the yard, we've been having great success with our feeders.  On a daily basis, we draw in 100-200 individual birds.  Usually, the most numerous species is AMERICAN GOLDFINCH with numbers that peak at around 75 individuals.  Second place is usually PURPLE FINCH which is always a pleasure to have around.  Working the ground below the feeders, we of course have a lot of DARK-EYED JUNCOS and NORTHERN CARDINALS, a few WHITE-THROATED SPARROWS, and a single WHITE-CROWNED and FOX SPARROW as well.  We were quite pleased when this COMMON REDPOLL showed up:
This was a state bird for both of us... and it was at our own feeders.  This little visitor was reliable at our feeders for more than a week.  It might have departed recently, we're not sure yet.

Ash and I wandered back out to the west to see if we could relocate those SHORT-EARED OWLS.  Before we got there, though, we paused to check out this WESTERN MEADOWLARK rummaging in the corn stubble:
And then Ash paused and said "hold on!".  She had just found this SNOWY OWL!
Woo-hoo, we finally had bumped into a Snowy that hadn't been previously found by someone else.  It was our "own" Snowy, if you will.  Oh, and yes, we ended up seeing a nice SHORT-EARED OWL too.  :-)

Last but not least, Ash and I were recently visiting family up in Iowa when, on the return drive to Missouri, we swung by a spot that was supposed to have, you guessed it, a SNOWY OWL.  We found it trying to blend in with the snowy field:
Wow, this was our 4th Snowy in the last month.  It makes you wonder how many more of them are out there just waiting to be found?

Anyway, that's what's happening in our neck of the woods.  Back to you....