Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bird Quest

Since the weather report said this would be a nice weekend, followed by cold and rain, we decided to join our friends from the Kentucky Society for Natural History on a trip to Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. This NWR is only an hour or so north of Louisville, and an easy drive. Traditionally, we would go there in the fall and winter looking for water fowl of all sorts on the many lakes. However, they now have a new property manager, who has a different plan for the refuge, and most of the lakes we saw had more plant growth than water in them. We saw about a dozen Canada Geese, and only one male Wood Duck on one of the larger lakes, but none on any of the others.

Muscatatuck is the first place I ever saw a Red Headed Woodpecker, and I'm glad they are still around, along with the Yellow-rumped Warblers. But even the Bluebirds seem to have moved elsewhere.

I would have to say that the Refuge is now being managed for Turkey Vultures, since we saw more of them than anything other kind of bird. I'm sad to say that I am removing this NWR from my list of favorite birding spots in this area.

I subscribe to the Kentucky Birdlist, and read the postings, even though I'll probably never post anything myself, just to see what other birders are finding. This weekend, a couple reported seeing a Short-eared Owl and some Harriers in nearby Western Kentucky. It's only an hour and a half drive, I thought. I could make that and would sure love to get a photo of a Short-eared Owl!  They even provided an address (in the middle of farm country) for my GPS. I daydreamed about the wonderful closeup I'd get of that owl sitting on a fencepost all the way there.

I got there shortly before sunset, and found Harriers swooping over a field on the next ridge. Golly, they sure fly quickly from one end of the field to the other side! Then as I peered through my binoculars, I spotted FOUR of them in the air at once - an adult male, a female, and probably 2 juveniles -- the entire family! What about the owl? I did see a different bird, in a closer part of the field, but it flew so quickly away from me that I didn't get a close look. I'm going to say it was the owl.

Harriers are hawks, but they fly with their wings tipped in a dihedral, like Turkey Vultures. They have a facial disc like an owl, and use their hearing to help find prey. When they turn, you can see a large white rump. I never see them where other hawks are found, since they seem to require large open fields in which to hunt and won't come near the city. But they are definitely exciting birds to watch!

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