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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Arctic Highlights: including the "White Ghost" (Snowy Owl), Snow Bunting and Common Redpoll

[Macomb Co. Hotspots. Late Fall and Winter 2020]

Detroit is probably the only major American city from which Canada is South of the border. It is no understatement then to state that Michigan winters are cold and harsh. Yet, even these conditions are balmy for species who call the Arctic their home. 

And, thus in this post, we highlight species such as Snowy Owl, Snow Bunting and Common Redpoll who are winter visitors to Michigan when most of the temperate avifauna has long since fled.

We start with the avian "White Ghost" -- the Snowy Owl (seen at Harley Ensign Memorial Boat Launch in Macomb Co.):

This individual is heavily barred thereby indicating an immature female. All sexes and ages, however, show a pure white face and yellow eyes. 

In the above picture, the adage "form follows function" comes instantly to mind. The owl is all legs and talons. The latter are as big as the owl's face while the legs are muscular and run the length of its body. Hallmarks of a true raptor.

The owl's bill is covered in tiny feathers and the piercing yellow eyes are distinctive.

The owl's flight is as silent as a ghost; unlike hawks and falcons, the Snowy Owl relies on stealth rather than speed while hunting.


Next, Common Redpoll. This hardy finch of the arctic is capable of withstanding temperatures down to negative 65 F. It is seen in Michigan in irruption years and travels in flocks that can sometimes be over a hundred.

Here at Harley Ensign a small flock of about a dozen individuals relished the seeds on the small plants and grasses.

The red crown, pointed bill and pronounced streaking are clearly visible. The male is gloriously resplendent with a rose-pink breast.

These finches consume two-fifth's of their body mass every day in seeds.

Finally, Snow Bunting:

These songbirds are also an arctic species. Here seen in basic plumage at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

Like the Redpolls, these birds are seed eaters and are typically found foraging on the ground. 

It is universally acknowledged that the twin events of Spring and Fall migration bracket the main birding calendar; indeed, this time period offers the best opportunities for observing songbirds and shorebirds. 

However, outside this main birding season -- late Fall and Winter -- should not be underrated. For it is in winter that a truly unique assortment of species may be found. And, the intrepid birder shall not be deterred by winter's biting chill in pursuing the White Ghost and other elusive artic specialties.

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