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A Mixed Bag: Waterfowl, Ravens, and Owls

Published February 23, 2014
Tags: General Observations, Common Raven, American Crow, Horned Lark, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Harlequin Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead

A male Harlequin Duck in breeding plumage was seen along the Niagara River the other day. I went down to see if I could get a glimpse of this beautiful bird - and, thanks to Jim Pawlicki and Bill Watson, I had a few clear seconds where he was very visible in my scope. It was tough because the Harlequin Duck is a diving duck and they spend a lot of time diving for food. The duck's behavior pattern was to float along with the current while continually diving for food, then fly back up river to do it all over again.  I tried for closer views of this handsome duck by walking out Bird Island Pier, but I didn't have any luck for a photo before the rain came. While I waited, though, I enjoyed watching the Canvasbacks, Redheads, Scaup, Common Goldeneyes, Bufflehead, and mergansers.

The next day, Celeste and I tried again and we both got short views with no photo opportunities again. At least, somewhat satisfied that we saw this gorgeous bird, we decided to go further north to see if we could find the Common Ravens that are known to frequent that area.

Sure enough, within just a few minutes, we found two ravens going about the business of nest building. This was my best view of a raven to-date and I was happy to see the shaggy throat, the wedge-shaped tail, the sweptback wings, and the heavy bill. We watched them fly around with their more hawklike flight, but we never did  hear them "croak",  which would have been nice to combine that with the great visuals.

Earlier in the week, I went up to Point Breeze to see if I could find the Barrow's Goldeneye again. It took me almost three, frigid hours, but I finally found him floating among the Common Goldeneyes with his head tucked. The darker, more spotted pattern on his back gave him away - and when he finally woke, I was able to confirm the ID by the elongated, crescent-shaped white patch on his cheek. A beautiful bird and worth nearly losing my fingers and toes to frostbite!

On the way back, I happened on a field of Horned Larks and, while photographing them, I witnessed - what I'm 99% sure of - a Sharp-shinned Hawk charge through the flock! Wow! It came up empty and took rest in a nearby tree. I photographed it, instead, since all my cute, little subjects had dispersed!

Then, while running an errand this morning, I visited an owl I'm familiar with: an Eastern Screech-Owl. I enjoy watching him sun himself on cold, sunny days; it's always a treat.

Oh, and sadly, I heard from another birder friend that a Great Horned Owl nest he was watching was disrupted during a windy night this past weekend. He found the eggs broken on the ground and the adults were nowhere to be found. The word from another couple of birders is that was the same nest I've been watching. I'll get down there soon to check to see if it was. It's very disappointing, regardless. A couple experienced birders have offered some hope that it may still be early enough in the season that the pair may could attempt to re-nest. I choose to be somewhat hopeful. Below are photos of the nesting pair I photographed.
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Common Raven
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Common Raven with nesting material
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Common Raven at nest site
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Barrow's Goldeneye at Point Breeze - center (2 Common Goldeneyes at the top and White-winged Scoters at the bottom)
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Horned Larks
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Horned Lark
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Horned Lark
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I'm 99% sure this is Sharp-shinned Hawk: small head, eyes about halfway between the front and back of the head, the tail feathers close to the same length... I couldn't see if its head was more hooded or capped at this angle, though. Thoughts?
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Common Goldeneye (male)
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Red-breasted Merganser (male)
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Red-breasted Merganser (immature male)
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Song Sparrow - out on Bird Island Pier - I don't know how he's finding food out there!
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Momma Great Horned
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Papa coming in to visit his bride
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It was pretty cool watching him swoop in!
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Together
Reply from: Karen Lee Lewis on 2/28/2014 11:18 AM
 Darling Pictures of those Horned Larks!
Reply from: tim on 3/2/2014 8:40 PM
 Great series of photos Sue,you have my vote for a sharp shinned hawk, but then again I am no expert.The tail does it for me.
Reply from: Sue on 3/6/2014 8:18 AM
 Thanks Karen and Tim. And thanks for the input on the hawk, Tim; I agree the tail is pretty classic SSHA.