The Snowy Owl

Snowies are starting to show up around the northern U.S. Here in Western  New York there are three birds hanging out at the Finger Lakes Regional Airport (0G7) in Seneca, NY. The airport staff allowed us on the field where a friend of mine and I got many wonderful shots of a juvenile on the ground by the runway. The owl didn’t seem to mind so long as we walked

Juvenile Snowy Owl
Juvenile Snowy Owl

slowly and kept our distance. However, the bird finally tired of us and flew a short way down the field, our shutters continuously snapping as he/she launched.

We then drove to the nearby Empire Farm, and wouldn’t you know, there was another juvenile sitting on a metal roof. We were able to photograph it from both sides of the building, all the while sitting in our car. It was just a great photo op.

The juvenile birds are more likely to fly south during the winter since food is more plentiful here, as the young birds are not yet skillful hunters. However, every several years there is a great irruption of Snowy Owls (the last was two years ago), the birds sometimes going as far south as Alabama. These irruptions include far more mature birds and occur in those years when the tundra’s lemming population crashes, the owls’ staple food.

Although the Snowy Owl population is decreasing, according to the Birdlife International Data Zone:

The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

You can see more Snowy Owl photos at my gallery.

“Shrinking Bird Populations,” now available from my bookstore

Available through PayPal
Available through PayPal

This book is a collection of photographs of birds, started by my late wife and me, whose populations have been declining over the past 30 years. Taken in western New York, the Everglades, and Greater Sacramento areas; the book was peer reviewed by an ornithologist for factual accuracy and interpretation. You can find it at my bookstore.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl

These little fellows are transient in our area during March and April as they migrate to Southern Canada.  We have been looking for these birds starting last year in the small conifers in “Owl Woods” located in

Saw-whet Owl
Saw-whet Owl

the Braddock Bay area. Everyone seemed to have reported seeing them, except us. This year we made a more determined effort, carefully examining all the small conifers–no luck.  However, things changed last Wednesday when we  received “tip offs” from people coming off the trails as to where the two birds were.  Even with this knowledge it took some time to find them in their separate trees where they were sitting slightly above eye level.  One had its eyes almost closed, seemingly not put off by us, the other with eyes wide open.  They sat nearly motionless, allowing as many photos as we wished–some with fill-in flash.

Most owls sit motionless during the day and will let you approach, providing you don’t go into or up the tree. They blend in miraculously well, but once you find them they seem so obvious. You can find more photos at my on-line gallery http://stephenfieldingimages.slickpic.com/ .

The Red Crossbills

Red Crossbill (male)
Red Crossbill (male)

We went on an automobile caravan field trip with fellow members of the Rochester Birding Association in mid-January (each with a hand-held two-way radio). It was one of those winter overcast days so common here on the Great Lakes. These trips are always a bit frustrating for us bird photographers because the true birders are happy to spot with binoculars and high-power spotting scopes.  In contrast, I’m limited to my 100-400mm auto-focus lens, which extends to 560mm with the 1.4X tele-converter (without auto-focusing). The result is I get far fewer bird opportunities.

Red Crossbill (female)
Red Crossbill (female)

As we drove down a farm road someone spotted a flock of birds high in the trees so we all pulled over.  Shortly afterwards one person announced that it was a group of Red Crossbills feeding, with a few Pine Siskins mingling among them. Female Crossbills have no red, instead consisting mostly of olive-green. Found mostly across southern Canada Red Crossbills fan out to the Northwest Territories and into Alaska.  They wander irregularly, depending on the availability of cone crops. What we saw was an irruption into the northern U.S.; sometimes they fly to the deep south. Their population has been stable over the past several decades.

Since cloudy skies reflect more light than blue-skies I over-exposed by +2/3 to minimize silhouetting. The settings for the shot below are: 1/500 sec. @ f / 11, ISO 500.

Red Crossbill with Pine Siskin
Red Crossbill with Pine Siskins