Cold Day to Look for Birds



December is well under way, which means I only have a few days left to see how many birds I can find in my home county. Last year my count was 174 so I wanted to best that this year. I reached that goal months ago but kept going. I figured 200 was just a little too far out of reach but as I inched closer I thought it just might be possible. Yesterday I was at 193. Today I got up to 194.

I had heard that snowy owls had been seen on the lake and I wanted to try to see one myself. I have tried to find them, but I have struck out. I headed to Sand Bar State Park early this morning even though it was cold–18 degrees–and it was windy. With ice on the lake, and the wind blowing in right off the water, it was bitterly cold. I started off well by seeing a Rough Legged Hawk. They are not common but head south to our area in the winter. I got a really close look at it so felt the morning was a win already. I also saw ten Northern Pintails, beautiful ducks with a brown face and white neck. Again, I got close enough to see them well, and ten is a lot to see at once. So I was happy enough.

As I was watching the ducks (and there were many other ducks there as well) I missed a Snowy Owl glide in and land on a log nearby. I looked up and couldn’t believe it had landed right there. I watched it through binoculars and through my spotting scope and then figured I might as well try to get closer. I walked toward it and it did not fly away. I got close enough to get the above shot.

I watched it for a while. I had seen one last winter but this was a much better sighting. The sun had come up by then and was low in the sky, so when it peeked out from the clouds, the owl was bathed in golden light. But mostly it was cloudy, and did I mention the wind? I had on lots of warm duds, including snow pants and a down jacket, but the wind managed to creep in. My hands, especially, got cold. I kept warming them and they kept getting cold. Apparently t is time to break out the thicker gloves.

The owl, and the Pintails, were still there when I walked away; I was too cold to observe any longer. I warmed up in the car and headed to the corner store for a cup of hot coffee for the ride home. The owl was still on that log, a white ghost in my rear view mirror as I drove off. All those people driving by on Route 2 couldn’t see it, but there was an unusual and beautiful creature right there if they slowed down and looked. It is easy to miss things of beauty as we race along. It was seriously cold this morning, but I am glad I slowed down to look. Six more species by the end of December? I’ve got a bit more slowing down to do in these next weeks to reach that goal.

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