My Bird Blog: A blog about my birding discoveries, bird feeders, birds on my life lists, and all things bird related

Sue's Bird Blog Archives

Unusual Winter Visitors and Some Regulars

Published January 11, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Eastern Towhee, White-crowned Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Snowy Owl, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Harrier, White-winged Scoter, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye

A rare day of sunshine pulled me from my office the other day and I joined Celeste on a joint mission of birding quests.

We began at a private residence in Medina, where we knew an Eastern Towhee was frequenting the feeders there. We found a couple of other surprises while we were waiting for the towhee to appear: White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. Wow! I thought my White-throated Sparrow was a rare winter treat, but maybe it's not so rare.  And white-crowneds were here too - both adult and immatures! The adult male towhee soon showed and we were very happy to get to see this unusual winter treat.

Off to Orleans County we drove next, hoping for some interesting ducks at Point Breeze. On the way, we saw Eastern Bluebirds and a single Ring-necked Pheasant. Then, passing a field, a white lump caught my eye. A Snowy Owl! This owl had the darkest cap either of us had ever seen. A young female, perhaps? The more I read about it, the more I see that determining the sex of Snowy Owls is more complicated than what most people think. So, we're going with MAYBE a female... We took a few photos from the car and were off again to Point Breeze.

Stepping out of the car into the icy sunshine, the harbor offered a beautiful Hooded Merganser along with several Red-breasted Mergs - and one gorgeous White-winged Scoter. It was the closest I've been to this duck and I had such a nice view - too bad I hadn't even taken my camera out of the car yet!

I had a difficult time with the next scoters I saw.  Heading towards the lighthouse, we were met with several hunters carrying out their kills. Hanging by their feet, the bleeding White-winged Scoters, who, only minutes earlier were freely swimming and enjoying the beautiful day with hundreds of other ducks, now flopped lifeless from the arms of their killers. I'm not going to discuss the pros and cons of the "sport" of hunting, but I must say, it wounded my heart and dampened my day to see this.

Moving out to the lighthouse, the first thing we did was scan it for a possible Snowy Owl. A white lump! A second Snowy! We enjoyed our scoped views of this amazing Arctic raptor for awhile and then turned our attention to the lake. There were literally hundreds of beautiful White-winged Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, all three mergansers, Scaup, and Common Goldeneye bobbing and diving as they enjoyed this rare day of sunshine.

We moved on to scouting the nearby fields for a Northern Shrike with no luck. Then, when a rare bird alert came in, we abandoned our quest for the shrike and headed over to the Niagara River to see the reported Tufted Duck. A long walk out onto Bird Pier yielded many, many more ducks, but not the would-be life bird for both of us. The Tufted Duck had flown behind some huge blocks of ice a little while before we got there and never reappeared during our stay. Hopefully, this European scaup-like duck will continue to hang around the river for awhile and we will still get the opportunity to see it. Jim Pawlicki showed us the nicely scoped photos of the duck and it has the coolest little tuft of feathers on its head!

Ending back in Monroe County, we treated ourselves to the awesome aerial displays of the Short-eared Owls. This night's pageant was performed by EIGHT Short-eareds as well as one Rough-legged Hawk and 2 Northern Harriers. As long as I live, I will never tire of watching one of nature's most spectacular shows that is simply routine in the lives of these beautiful creatures. In the setting sun, I so enjoyed the close fly-bys, the twisting and turning of two owls cavorting, the dive-bombing of the owls to the harriers, and the lone hunting of the hawk. My heart is lifted and thrilled each time.
bird photo
Eastern Towhee (male) - an unusual winter visitor
bird photo
Eastern Towhee
bird photo
White-crowned Sparrow
bird photo
A young White-crowned Sparrow behind a Mourning dove
bird photo
White-throated Sparrow (tan race)
bird photo
Northern Cardinal (female)
bird photo
Snowy Owl
bird photo
Snowy Owl - looking at the back of her (?) dark head
bird photo
Long-tailed Duck hen
bird photo
Short-eared Owl (male)
bird photo
Short-eared Owl
bird photo
Short-eared Owl
Reply from: Jim Pawlicki on 1/12/2014 9:18 AM
 Hey Sue. The black on the head of that owl looks unnatural to me and I think it might be some spray/die that was put on the bird to track it by a raptor bander. I believe they were using pink die on a few of the birds near Rochester, but perhaps they switched to black. Might be worth looking into that some more.
Reply from: Sue on 1/12/2014 3:42 PM
 Very cool, Jim. I never heard of spray painting heads as part of a banding technique. I'll do some looking around to see what I can find about that. Thanks for the info!