I had to take a break from our travels in Costa Rica to make note of some interesting things happening here in Ohio. It has been such a cold, snowy winter that I haven’t gotten out much. I have always been a back-yard birder here in Ohio and I guess I still am. I enjoy my feeders with all of the usuals taking their turns. My favorite chickadees as well as the cardinals, juncos, blue jays and all the rest that I can watch from the comfy warmth of the house. Still, there are so many birds here in Ohio that I have never seen that it had to happen sooner rather than later, that I would find a new lifer. Sometimes, it is just a matter of paying attention to something that you have never paid attention to before and it helps to have your binoculars close at hand. Nevertheless, I was super excited to see my first Lifer for Ohio in about ten years, the Horned Lark. I was always quite eager to see one of these, and I imagine that they were always close at hand but I had never paid them any attention before and they were always too far away to identify properly (I don’t have the best eyesight).
Horned Larks seem pretty easy to find this winter. They are typically the bird that I see flying off the side of the road as cars go zooming past. It has been fun to discover as much as I can about them. Usually I see them where there are empty fields on both sides of the road, away from any trees, bushes or houses. They fly low to the ground most of the time, and I don’t see them take cover in bushes but instead fly far away and land on the ground again when they have been startled. Maybe that seems like pretty basic info to lots of people, but I know next to nothing about larks. I grew up in the mountains and they are not really the typical bird there.
Female Horned Lark:
A week or so later, I was fortunate enough to hear from a friend about a reliable, nearby location to see a Snowy Owl. I had seen a Snowy once when I was a child (probably between 10 and 14 years old, though I am not sure) so this wasn’t a lifer for me but since it was so close we agreed to try looking for it. (There needs to be a word in birding lingo for a bird that isn’t a lifer but is close to it.) We went out on Wednesday afternoon and drove to the small, country airport where it was regularly seen and then drove slowly around about a two mile block surrounding it. We had absolutely no luck. We spent much more than an hour and decided we had better head home, figuring that it wouldn’t be long before the owl would be spotted again, and that we just happened to miss it.
I was fortunate enough on the way home to spot a hawk. We were later able to identify it as a Rough-legged Hawk. Ohio Lifer #2. Another common bird that I had probably seen before but had never bothered to stop and identify. No Snowy, but I couldn’t complain when I got another lifer.
Sure enough, the next afternoon, my friend called me and told me to drop everything. She had decided to just pass by the nearby airport and, of course, the owl was there. Jonathan and I headed out for a quick trip to get some photos. It was bitter cold. I only got out of the car briefly, got a good look at the owl on the roof and then retreated back to the warmth of the vehicle. Jonathan, on the other hand, had the unenviable position of trying to get a decent photo in high winds with temperatures only a bit above zero.
The owl sat pretty calmly for us for a good while despite several cars stopped to look at it. Eventually a hawk came by and startled the owl. The owl retreated to a nearby snow pile. He was much too far away now to get a decent picture, but I like how he is perfectly camouflaged on a dirty pile of snow in the pictures that we did get.