Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Great Evening

On a whim I stopped at Stewart Park, in Ithaca, on my way home this evening. While the portion that abuts the southern end of Cayuga Lake is mostly open grass with picnic tables and other park-like facilities, there is a patch of bottomland forest that hosts woodland birds. Among those woodland birds are a pair of Great Horned Owls who nest in a tall Cottonwood tree. If you know where to look you can often see the female snoozing while incubating the eggs.

Great Horned Owl in Cottonwood cavityA photo from early March, the female sits inside the crevice - a cozy nesting site.

April in NY is late in their breeding cycle. Recently I was thinking the eggs must have hatched by now, and voila! a post to the local listserve mentioned three chicks could be seen in the cavity. I wasn't in a huge rush to get home so I stopped, hoping to photograph three cute baby owls peering out of the only home they've known.

I found the tree easy enough, but didn't see anything resembling an owl. While photographing some debris at the bottom of the crevice, trying to make it into the back of an owl head, a birder approached and asked if I saw the chick.

"I'm not sure, but I think I'm looking at the back of a head, I think . . . "

"You're going to get a great picture," she cut me off. "Look there."

There was an unmistakable baby Great Horned Owl about 50 meters away from where we stood.

Great Horned Owl chickA branchling Great Horned Owl, likely the first day out of the nest.

We didn't stay long, it didn't move much. A slight swivel of its head, a slow blink of the eyes. After a few minutes we backed out of the woods, leaving the owl its privacy. Plus, I had one more stop to make.

Fellow Horseheads residents, bloggers, and nature enthusiasts Jan (of Scattered Seed) and George (of I Love Trucks) happened to drop by Sapsucker Woods this afternoon. We got to meet face-to-face and talk birds, birding, and about a Great Egret they found over the weekend, a good sighting for our area. They let me know it was still around, assuming it's the same bird, but not in the same expansive marsh near Watkins Glen where they originally found it. Now it was near "the Domes," the sports complex owned by Elmira College, which happens to be less than two miles from Horseheads Marsh and less than one mile from our house. Easy enough to stop for a look.

Thanks to their great directions I found the bird almost immediately. My only delay was explaining to the trooper what I was doing and why - the NY State Trooper station is less than a mile from the Domes, too.

Great EgretGreat Egret foraging along Catharine Creek, obscured by branches.

Great Egrets are uncommon in Chemung County, NY, something I base on eBird submissions and my own experience. In the past six years I've only recorded one, a fly-over at Horseheads Marsh in August. (Incidentally, through eBird I discovered there was another sighting, farther south, on that same date - perhaps the same bird winging it's way to an evening roost in Queen Catharine's Marsh near Watkins Glen?)

Regardless, all other observations from our area are late summer or fall sightings: post-breeding dispersers and migrating birds heading south. A spring sighting is certainly interesting, and I suppose the bird will continue on its journey as soon as the weather is conducive to migration.



nbalike said...
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jan m said...

How neat that you were able to see the young owl! That's a great picture.
Glad the egret stayed around so you could see it, but sorry about the trooper. He probably had heard of suspicious activity there, with George and I prowling the area the past couple of days.
And thanks for stepping away from your work to come and say hi. It was nice to meet you!

noflickster said...

@jan_m - great to meet you guys, too! Feel free to call up anytime your in Sapsucker Woods.

The trooper was very cool, not hostile or obnoxious in anyway. He was just making sure I hadn't broken down or needed help. I suspect he was out on a gas run, he pulled up behind my when I first stopped (northbound) while scanning for the bird, then a few minutes later he stopped while I was pulled over in the southbound lane. That's when I was getting ready to go shoot pix since I had actually spotted the bird.

Thanks again for the tip and the great directions!

And a general comment: for the first time I deleted a comment on my blog since it was a cigarette advertisement, nothing constructive. If you want to order your cancer sticks from Taiwan you'll have to find a different gateway.

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