Meet Hootdini … the Disappearing Snowy Owl!

I had decided to name the Snowy Owl I found yesterday “Houdini”, but when my wife Molly heard about my birding escapades, she came up with a better name, Hootdini! You may ask if this is a strange name for an owl. Normally I would answer yes, but not for this owl. While watching it hunt yesterday morning, 15 minutes into my time with the owl, it got mobbed by crows. Within 20 seconds the Snowy had had enough, and dove for cover from its high perch.

I was watching the dive from a distance of 100 yards. Said Snowy disappeared behind a mound like a magician, and even though the habitat was fairly open … never reappeared to my eyes. The crows also seemed to lose track of the owl’s location, landing in a distant pine tree. For another 15 minutes I tried to relocate the bird to no avail. I scanned every nearby tree with my binoculars. Perhaps this Snowy Owl has learned how to burrow! (very doubtful).

Regardless, I hope this owl has a happier ending than Silver. Agonizingly, this bird represents the second Snowy Owl I have seen and it was only November 16th. I am really beginning to believe this will be a very good winter for Snowies.

Here is one more owl pic. It is just one of eight of my photographs which will soon be on display as part of an “Owls of the Northland Exhibit” which I have created for Perk Place Coffeehouse. This great java hangout works with Destination Duluth photographers to decorate their walls.

The Stare: Great Gray Owl (voles beware!)

Foxes Meet the Skunk! (video)

I think I need to have my readers help me name my two friendly foxes. These two canines (one male and female) have been visiting our yard every evening about 40 minutes after sundown for the past ten days. I feel like I need to get on a first name basis with my friends.

Two nights ago, the fox couple met the skunk. They know who is the boss!

In addition, the Trumpeter Swans are now gone, but I captured these images just before the last open water disappeared … also two days ago.

Pine Grosbeak Northwoods Explosion

There has been an explosion of pine grosbeaks entering our area. These beautiful birds are everywhere!

Find a berry or crab apple tree, find a grosbeak!

Drive a dirt road two hours after sunrise, find a grosbeak eating grit.

During my hikes I also found Wile E. Coyote loping along some railroad tracks. He wanted nothing to do with me, but did stop briefly to check me over!

Finally, a quick update on my book … But That Is Not Me! I just edited the Birding With Children Page. Each bird featured in the book now is listed with links to videos, songs, map ranges, etc!

Northern Lights, Bird Irruptions and Boats!

These topics might not seem related, and generally they are not, but over the past 48 hours I have had a phenomenal run as a outdoor / wildlife photographer up here in the Northland. I’ll discuss each outing in turn but first mention I am in desperate need of some sleep!

This morning I awoke at 5 am (normal). While eating my bowl of cereal I checked my marine app which gives me the location of every ship on Lake Superior. I noticed that the Saltie, the Eldeborg would be passing under the Duluth Aerial Bridge sometime before dawn. Thus, even though I had been out last night photographing the Northern Lights, and also out during the wee hours of the previous night for another Aurora display, I quickly got dressed and grabbed my camera.

Arriving on site at Canal Park I turned on my camera, ready to photograph the freighter passing through the Duluth Ship Canal. Suddenly I notice my camera’s LCD screen was flashing “No Card, No Card”. Arrrgh! I realized that when I had arrived back from photographing the Northern Lights last night, after transferring the images to my computer, in my tired state, I forgot to put my simm card back in my Sony A6000.

I looked down the Canal, and I hoped that if I ran fast … completing my fastest 800m dash since junior high, I grabbed another simm card out of my card and ran back to my planned POV. I made it with about five seconds to spare, just beating the ship to my spot. This image was the result.

Why did I photograph a ship at dawn this morning? There are two answers:

  1. I am a boy, and I love boats!
  2. The Northern Lights display that has been active over the past 48 hours, finally calmed down

Yes, over the past two nights I have spent a significant amount of time at Stewart Lake, which is a wilderness lake ten miles north of Two Harbors, Minnesota. Each trip to the lake has been different. In this first image, I photographed the Aurora Borealis under an almost full moon at 4:45 am. The moonlight was so intense it washed out most of the Northern Lights display, but provided great lighting for this composition.

Later the same day, yesterday night, I returned to the same location. I timed my arrival to get to Stewart Lake well after dark, but before the moon rose. Lady Aurora danced over the frozen lake ice! For over 20 minutes the lights shimmered and danced, easily viewable to the naked eye. The first photo was taken of the Auroral Arc just before the dance began.

Okay … the blog’s title talks about birds, and my outings have not neglected our fine feather friends. Over the past two weeks the number of Arctic birds which have appeared in NE Minnesota has been amazing. Quite a few Snowy Owls have already been seen, including by me.  Given it is only November 8th, the numbers of Snow Owls is very unusual. Normally, we might start to see Snowies sometime after the 1st of December. The numbers of Rough-Legged Hawks, Redpolls, and Pine Siskins have been huge. Hawk Ridge recorded the largest number of Roughies ever seen anywhere in North America during the Fall migration. Personally, I am beginning to wonder if the winter of 2017 / 2018 will be an irruption year.

Here are just a few photographs from the past several days:

Hoary Redpoll

Red Crossbill

Red-Throated Loon (winter plumage)

Long-Tailed Duck (female)

Common Redpolls Eating Tansy