This week’s photo, taken January 2, 2013 in Stanwood, WA, features a SHORT-EARED OWL gliding nearby in the late afternoon light.
For the sixth time in less than two months, I drive an hour north to Stanwood, that wondrous area of farms and fields where raptors rule. In the early afternoon, I walk the Boe Road levee, where I see 3 SNOWY OWLS, 3 BALD EAGLES, a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK, a NORTHERN SHRIKE, a few NORTHERN HARRIERS and 2 SHORT-EARED OWLS. I add all 6 species to my recently hatched 2013 Washington State Big Year list.
I then drive to the western edge of town, where at least 7 Short-eared Owls are working the field that borders Eide Road. These owls are masters of aerial multi-tasking. While they are skimming the ground hunting for rodents, they never miss an opportunity to perform a spontaneous inflight dance with a fellow Short-eared Owl or to playfully harass a harrier or hawk that happens to pass by. With their keen eyesight, the Short Ears are also hyper-aware of the bird photographers lurking in the fields, and the owls don’t make it easy for the paparazzi. The first time a Short-eared Owl flies toward me, I rapidly raise my camera to my face, and the owl abruptly turns around and flies away. After my quick motions cause two more owls to alter their flight paths, I finally realize that if I move more slowly, the observant owl will be less likely to leave the scene.