Short-eared owl, 11/21/13

So there I was last night, sitting on the hood of  my car peering into the thickening dusk, looking for a owl I just KNOW isn’t going to be there. Why do I bother? Anyone else goes to this spot, the bloody birds zoop back and forth across the road like commuters running for a train. Me? Five tries, five strikeouts. Why do I even bother? Why…


Wait. Rewind.


It’s Thursday morning, so I’m getting up at the edge of dawn, layering on the thermals and scraping hard frost from the car windows. Upriver, searching for waterfowl. All quiet on the riverfront: the Canada Geese are probably all out in cornfields foraging. Up in the Washington County grasslands, only a few raptors present yet. But it’s 40F, no wind and sunny, so you don’t waste a November day like this.

Reports from Saratoga Lake suggest a chance to pad our year numbers. I haven’t often birded around there — there’s not a lot of public access to the waterfront. (That was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to when we moved up here, that I couldn’t just walk along the shore. The first thing any of us kids learned on Long Island was the High Water Mark Rule: anything below the wrack line is public property, be damned to fences and ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Doesn’t work up here…) So I get an extensive guided tour of how to sneak legal peeks at the often frustratingly-distant waterbirds, where the Purple Martins nest, and the secret password that gets you in almost anywhere. Want to know what it is?

“I’m looking for The Eagle.” Yup. No one takes you seriously if you say you’re looking for gulls or sparrows. Mention an eagle and previously suspicious people will jump out of their cars to point out the exact tree The Eagle perches in.

I pick up a Horned Grebe at the extreme edge of scope range for my year count — 212 for the state, 202 for the region!

At 3:30 I’m back at my car in Mechanicville. You know the thing about Mechanicville? It’s about halfway between home and the grasslands, where in an hour or so Short-eared Owls hunt in the winter dusk. (You thought I’d never get back to the owls, right?)

And that’s where we came in, me on the hood of the car, increasingly frustrated, almost ready to pack it in as the last light fades. Then a gliding form ghosts along a hedgerow, color almost the same faded dun as the grasses, wingbeats soft as it courses just above the brush.

It stays in sight for perhaps three breaths before vanishing into the treeline. My life look at a Short-eared Owl. At last!

(year count: 213 for the state, 203 for Region 8)

Categories: Field trip, Life lists, New bird, NYS 2013, OMG bird, Species count | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Short-eared owl, 11/21/13

  1. Naomi,

    What a coincidence, I was out last night looking for Short-eared Owls. However, not like you, I came up empty. I was in the vicinity where I have seen them before, but last night they did not show. I’ll keep trying. We don’t have much suitable habitat around here. So when I find a spot where they are hanging out for the winter, I get pretty excited.

    Congrats on another lifer.


    • Thanks! There are a few spots in this area that are just about guaranteed to have SEOWs, but before this I just hadn’t lucked out.
      Hoping for a better look, too.
      Good luck on your search!

  2. Betty Mulligan Frezon

    Naomi, Ik loved your write up. But really loved the video. So beautiful. Soaring around like that in flight.
    I loved it. Thanks.

  3. Upstate Ellen

    I didn’t know that would be a lifebird for you. Congratulations!

    Great commentary about the “secret password.” Non-birders are also easily impressed by “known” raptors like eagles; gulls and sparrows and even warblers are far too obscure for them.

  4. What a nice blog you have here in upstate New York!

    Good show on your SEOW! We don’t have them here so I am quite jealous!
    I look forward to returning for more of your wonderful writing.

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