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The girls.

Two days ago, the girls and I took a road trip to visit Spring. And a little bit of Winter. Our, well my, main goal was to see a Snowy Owl and I managed to do that after one hundred miles of driving. The girls’ main goal was to walk on dirt instead of ice. They managed to do quite a bit of that and enjoyed all the smells of wet dirt and early spring. The snow had just melted in parts of Douglas County and left moist ground, sometime just plain mud, and water all over the place. Water was laying in wheat fields, crossing roads, pouring over coulee walls. Oh, and it was cold enough that much of it was ice-covered.

Sadly, much of what we saw was burned down to dirt in last Labor Day’s Pearl Hill wildfire. Much of the ash has already blown away or been washed away. The vast landscapes look barren with little sagebrush remaining. I had hoped for a few Spring birds but there was nowhere for them to perch or take cover.

The skies were incredibly blue. The snow-covered mountains on the horizons were lovely. Sunshine warmed us. The coulee walls were lit up with lichens. We enjoyed walking on dirt and getting away from our ice and snow-covered world at home.

I saw 54 bird species scattered over numerous habitats. Nothing rare. They were:

Canada Goose

Tundra Swan

American Wigeon

Mallard

Canvasback

Redhead

Ring-necked Duck

Greater Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Bufflehead

Common Goldeneye

Hooded Merganser

Common Merganser

Wild Turkey

California Quail

Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Rock Pigeon

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

American Coot

Common Loon

Great Blue Heron

Golden Eagle

Northern Harrier

Bald Eagle

Red-tailed Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk

Snowy Owl

Belted Kingfisher

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Northern Flicker

American Kestrel

Northern Shrike

Steller’s Jay

Black-billed Magpie

American Crow

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Black-capped Chickadee

Pygmy Nuthatch

American Dipper

Varied Thrush

European Starling

House Sparrow

House Finch

Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

Song Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Meadowlark

Red-winged Blackbird

Remember the long warm days of summer? Night skies full of endless stars and a comet too? T shirts, shorts and sandals? Oh yeah. This is the time of winter when it seems that summer will never come. Living under pandemic rules for nearly a year, making each day seem more or less the same, doesn’t help. Well, here’s a memory of summer.

Lewis’s Woodpeckers nested on our hill last year. It was a first for us. The dead trees that burned in 2014 must have finally reached the point of good rot for easy cavity excavating. There were probably four of the colorful woodpeckers but I never saw more than three at a time. There were at least two different cavities that were in use. I photographed them over the course of a couple of days in July til I got distracted by the comet and camping activities. Just yesterday I finally got round to processing those images. There were over 400!

I think it’s worth it to click through all of the images to enjoy the colors and movements of the Lewis’s Woodpeckers. They are an exotic looking bird for this part of the world.

 

All the birds need to eat so I try not to get upset when I see a pygmy owl or an accipiter gazing at the feeder birds. Today there was a Merlin, a small falcon, quite a distance from the feeders, fifty meters or more, and all the little birds were gone for hours. A couple days ago I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk, an accipiter, in the same snag. I managed to digiscope some photos of it and then walked out of the room. I returned a few minutes later to find all the feeder birds gone and the hawk was right in the midst of the feeders. You can see she was intent on a meal of her own. I did not see if she caught anything when she blazed away.

Digiscoped pictures of the Cooper’s Hawk and the Merlin

Last month, as we longed for 2020 to end, I was inspired to put up a 2020 Christmas tree in the snow. It was a dead, burned pine from the 2014 fire. It had finally fallen over and I dragged it home through the snow and set it up where I could see it from the house. I even put a few decorations on it. It still stands out there. We also had a lovely evergreen inside the house.

Two days ago, as the dogs and I returned from a walk, I noticed something new in my tree. Not any bigger than my fist, it was a Northern Pygmy Owl. We were going to have to walk near it to get in the house and I was surprised that it didn’t leave its perch even though we were barely social distancing. My camera was inside ready for this moment. I have seen a pygmy owl here a couple of times in the last month and had hoped for a good opportunity to photograph it. Many others are seeing them here in the valley. I wonder if there is a bit of a pygmy owl irruption this winter? Last year I did not see any. Yesterday I saw one from the ski trail and couple weeks ago, I saw one while walking in the hills across the valley.

I saw it again late yesterday afternoon as dense fog rolled in. It was perched in a live pine with a fine view of the bird feeders. These tiny owls generally weigh less than 2 1/2 ounces and are ferocious predators, sometimes taking California Quail and Northern Flickers. The Cornell Lab has more info on Northern Pygmy Owls here.

 

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