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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Great Horned Owl, Rusty Blackbird and White-breasted Nuthatch

[Lake St. Clair Metropark, MI. Jan 2015]

Most of our songbirds prefer to nest in the Spring and Summer, Owls, however, start much earlier -- typically beginning their nesting in winter. Presumably, this is because their prey items (rodents, birds, etc.) will be more abundant by the time their owlets fledge. 

Thus, it was not wholly unexpected when the foolhardy act of braving the freezing temperatures, brought on by a quick excursion to Lake St. Clair Metorpark, was rewarded with great sightings of  Great Horned Owl as well as other (mostly) familiar species such as:
  • Rusty Blackbird
  • Nuthatch
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Black-capped Chickadee
Great Horned Owl is an imposing owl that is found across the US. This blogger's first "close encounter" with this renowned raptor was at Lakes Park in Ft. Myers several years ago where it was observed, accidentally, superbly camouflaged in the trees:

Great Horned Owl seen at Lakes Park, Ft. Myers
In Michigan at this time of year the trees are bereft of foliage and spotting the owl is thus made considerably easier:

Great Horned Owl seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Lake St. Clair Metropark hosts a devoted pair of these owls and every year visitors delight in watching these owls nest, feed and fledge their young.

Great Horned Owl seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Unlike the owl, the Rusty Blackbird was entirely unexpected at the park this time of year:

Rusty Blackbird seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
A perfunctory look at this Icterid could easily result in grave misidentification. The yellow eye and overall black plumage are temptingly similar to the Common Grackle:

Common Grackle seen at Corkscrew Swamp
However, a more considered examination will reveal, to the discerning observer, a couple of key differences: the thicker bill on the Grackle and the distinctive rusty markings on the Blackbird.

Rusty Blackbird seen at Lake St. Clair Metropark
Classified as "Vulnerable", this population of this charming blackbird is in free fall -- with an 85% decline over the last few decades. This species is observed well at Magee Marsh in early Spring.

Commoner species observed included:

White-breasted Nuthatch:

This is a year-round resident at the park but generally manages to evade attempts at photography.

Black-capped Chickadee:

Downy Woodpecker:

A striking Northern Cardinal:

.. and a Song Sparrow itching to sing:

With the advent of February, the renewed activity of birds -- starting with the nesting of raptors -- betray the first stirrings of Spring; that, within a couple of months, will be fully underway.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Another great chapter of storytelling, Hemant.