snowy owl

January 20, 2007

in Birds, Me

Snowyowltree20jan06It has only been a week since winter rudely and abruptly arrived in Michigan.  And what more appropriate bird to ease our transition to Arctic-like weather than a Snowy Owl? This bird was found by a friend who was driving through a big shopping center, in front of an incomplete big-box store, only a few miles from my house.

It had been flying around, landing on the TJ Maxx, a “For Lease” sign, and a chain link fence, before I arrived.  When I got there, it perched briefly on top of a cedar tree outfitted for safe sex, then settled in on the lee side of a fire hydrant where it remained until I left an hour later. Ah, urban birding! We kept our distance, so I was able to produce photos just as crappy as the ones of the Purple Sandpiper. But others were digiscoping; I leave bird photography for those with better gear, patience, and expertise.

This shopping center is being built on an old landfill which received only construction debris such as crushed concrete. I had done one or two bird surveys there, and it was mostly a large, elevated grassland, although due to the compacted clay soil and concrete substrate, the vegetation was quite sparse and very dry.  I don’t think it was quality habitat for grassland birds, as some closed landfills can be, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Snowy Owls wintered there in the past.

There are a bunch of large retention ponds on the perimeter of the shopping center which attracted a number of interesting shorebirds last fall, including a Red-necked Phalarope. Interior migrating shorebirds may be following the Detroit River, which is within eyeshot of the shopping complex and its (so far) naked muddy ponds.

I’ve seen a great bird each weekend this year!  What’s next?

Roger B. January 20, 2007 at 4:56 pm

We're still waiting for the snow to arrive on this side of the Atlantic. I've never heard of a Snowy Owl turning up on an urban site before. Occasionally they make it to the UK, usually the wildest and most remote parts of Scotland.

Nuthatch January 20, 2007 at 5:05 pm

In southeast Michigan, typical sites for Snowy Owls include airports, landfills, farmland (what's left), and coastal spots.

This centimeter or so of snow is the first that's stuck, and most of it fell the last few nights.

bob January 21, 2007 at 1:18 pm

whoa! Keep me posted — I'm thinking I'll be in next week or next — maybe you could show me the owl!

Nuthatch January 21, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Still here today…hurry!

wengchun February 3, 2007 at 10:04 am

wow….seems like so easy to the owls over there

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