the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Owls at last at Rollins Savanna

Rollins Savanna
Lake County just north of Hwy 120 on Rt 45

February 7, 2006, 445-6pm

After finishing a visit with a client in Buffalo Grove, I decided I had enough time and light left in the day to make a quick trip up to Rollins Savanna to make another attempt at seeing the SHORT-EARED OWLS that were wintering there. They usually came out near dusk, and that would be just about when I could get there.

But before I left Buffalo Grove, I was literally right next to the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve, and I decided I should at least stop there quickly to know the place. It was very quiet, just some Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks and a Blue Jay feather on the path. This didn't appear to be a great winter birding area, but I counted over 20 bird nests in my short walk, it would be a good place to check out in migration and summer I decided.

Instead of parking at the main parking lot at Rollins, I decided to try the parking lot on Drury Lane on the savanna's north west side at a play lot that didn't have a gated parking lot incase I was there past sunset. I was.

As soon as I got onto the path I spotted a large bird on a tree just west of the path, a short walk south of me. It was a Red-tailed Hawk (photo Jeff Skrentny), juvenile I think, most willing to let me watch him. I took a few photos of him, mainly to study later because I still can't ID my raptors confidently. I'm looking forward to receiving in the mail a new book I ordered that will hopefully help me with that, "A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors."

Suddenly, I was startled by the familiar barks of a Short-eared Owl just over my right shoulder right above me. How could these have been familiar barks if I had never seen this owl before in my life? That would be thanks to BNA, or my
Birds of North America Online subscription that had a recording of this barking call which I had been listening to every night for a week. I wanted to see these owls. I wanted to be prepared to find them.

Before becoming a birder, albeit, still a rookie one, I never understood why experienced birders saw so much more than I ever did. Now I know why:

1) They are prepared and know what they might see

2) They watch, or listen actually, with their ears first
They watch with their eyes second
4) They look with their binoculars third
5) They look with their scopes last

I had been training my ears for this owl, and now it was barking right over my head. It appeared to be harassing this hawk out of its feeding area. The hawk didn't take long to get the message. One swoop in by the owl, nothing too threatening, but the second swoop was right at his face, and he got the message and left to the southwest. That was a drag, but right here in front of me at close range was my SHORT-EARED OWL (photos Matt Fletcher). It was the best look I would have of this owl all evening. The dark triangles around the eyes were just like the photos I had studied prior to my attempt to see them in the field.

Almost immediately after this one owl flew back toward the center of the savanna, I heard another bark, then a third from the south east middle of the open area. Almost immediately there were three, then 4, then 5 owls in the branches of a tree or two in the middle of the savanna, or flying with long stunningly quiet glides over the field.

Two of the owls in the south area chased out two grayish colored hawks to the northeast in a most amusing show. After reading another birder's IBET posting that night, I would learn of a spat over a vole one of the Short-eared Owls had caught that a Northern Harrier tried to steal. The owls chased the two Northern Harriers out of the central savanna after that. That is what I watched. These birders noted 6 owls, I only noted 5; three on the north which I watched for almost an hour, two on the south that I watched chase away the Northern Harriers.

Five or six, I didn't care; I was watching these wonderful dusk kings of the savanna. I felt honored to be in their space, and I was thrilled to watch their scouting of the savanna. Add that to the 40 White-tailed Deer I also saw, you can be sure I had a great ride back into the city after this sighting of my 61st life bird, and my 41st Illinois bird:



Post a Comment

<< Home