Tuesday, January 18, 2011
January 17, 2011 2-4pm sunny and freeze-ass, Trustom Pond South Kingston RI
It was a frigidly beautiful day with a rich blue sky. A perfect day for an owl I thought to myself - last year at around this time we had come across our very first owl sitting on a branch right on the side of the path, that Barred Owl was very tame and let us photograph from only feet away from quite some time. None of us had quite gotten over the thrill of that day, so we look for owls every time we visit Trustom (especially in January, because that was the lucky month we saw it).
Today we were looking for a Short-eared Owl. a meadow bird which is occasionally reported here. Short-eared Owls breed in the Western US and in Canada and the Canadian ones come South to the US every winter. They are more diurnal then most owls and can often be seen soaring over the meadows like Harriers.
The Trustom bird feeders were fairly uneventful, the only highlights being a few Purple Finches. We came across a flock of robins, while I was watching the robins my brother discovered a Gray Catbird suspiciously watching us from the bushes. The Gray Catbird is a good bird for this time of year.
We rounded a bend in the path and were afforded our first view of the pond. Damn! It was completely frozen with not a bird in sight. Usually there are patches of open water in the winter months that are filled to overflowing with cold waterfowl. We got to the look out platform where we scoped the pond there was nothing in sight except for one frozen goose carcass way out on the ice.
My gorilla brother pointed out a Northern Harrier soaring over the distant sand dunes I scoped it out, while doing so I noticed a hunched form perched on a post. There was no mistaking what it was. I freaked out - it was a Short-eared Owl! I turned away to tell my family what I had found when I looked back it was gone. Suddenly the gorilla freaked out grunting and yowling wildly. I clearly heard him say "Short-eared Owl". I had my scope on the spot instantly, there on the ground was a Short-eared Owl tussling with two female harriers! (Peterson says that the Short-eared Owl "often tussles with Northern Harrier"). One broke free stood on the ground for a moment then flew off. The fight was quick and only lasted a few moments. When it was over the two combatants separated and took a quick rest on the ground. Then the harrier took wing and soared of. The owl stayed on the sand for a minute or so more then it too took to the air only flying a few feet before landing on a post. It switched posts a few times while we were watching it.
What a bird he/she was and a lifer! Soon my mother noticed a dark form perched on one of the sand dunes, looking closer we were able to identify it as a Turkey Vulture - a good bird for this time of year.
There was a man on the platform that we were scoping from he told us that he was a wildlife cameraman. He said that was waiting for the sun to set and hoping that some Coyote spook a deer onto the ice where the deer would be unable to run or walk due to its lack of claws and would be an easy meal for the scheming Coyote. What a horribly amazing spectacle that would be and one that the man says he has seen three times at the ice covered Trustom Pond. We left him waiting for the action of the evening. He probably will be frozen to his bench by the time he tries to leave.
Back at the feeders we found a Brown Creeper, another year bird. In total we had 4 new birds for my year list for the day: the owl, the catbird, the Turkey Vulture and the creeper.
We then stopped by Moonstone Beach but found nothing of interest other than two Northern Harriers. Though we didn't see any Bald Eagles at Trustom (which is odd for eagles winter at the pond) we did see one flying over the highway on our drive South to Trustom which made up for the lack of them at Trustom. We had a great day at the refuge though we didn't see many birds, usually we see hundreds of swans, geese and ducks.
Today we saw a Fox Sparrow in our backyard! A new bird for our yard list and year list!