Saturday, February 2, 2013
An Epic Winter Hike!
This Saturday I had planned to go out hiking around the park with a friend and fellow birder who enjoys Palmer Lake just as much as I do. We got started at 9am when the temperature was still just 1 degree above zero! Little did we know what good luck we would have and how much interesting wildlife we would see on such a cold day. The sun was out and although it didn't do much for the temperature at least we had great light for taking photos. The very first thing we spotted right off the bat was this Coyote who was right out in the open! He definitely knew we were there but we were still far enough away not to be a threat. And besides that he was more interested in hunting rodents and we both got to see him pouncing on something in the snow. Later when we had hiked back around to where we started we actually found the spot where the action had taken place. After the Coyote we first heard, then spotted a Northern Shrike. Like they have been lately, it was making quite a bit of noise from the tree tops and was hard not to notice. Shortly after the Shrike we came across a pretty amazing sight. I say "amazing" because this particular species of Owl –though fairly common it it's range– is rarely seen; and now I know exactly why. The "Long-eared Owl is also a brand new species for me that I'd never before seen so it was quite exciting. Not only did we get to see one, but five of them together at the same time! They were truly a beautiful and fascinating Raptor on many levels. For starters, we must have been looking right at them without realizing it until one of them swooped down out from it's perch. Only then did we grasp just how well they blended into the trees they picked for the day. Even then it was hard to pick them out as they truly looked like a piece of bark until they moved or turned their head. In this photo are 4 of the 5 -see if you can spot them! Whenever one of them would decide to move perches, they would drop down and swoop through the air just above the ground without making ANY noise whatsoever. They seemed almost mystical in their ability to move so quickly and so quietly at the same time. Their flight was also pretty neat as they would tend to rock back and forth even in the quick little jaunts we witnessed. Eventually I got in just close enough to one in order to get a decent photo without all those branches in the way. Something I noticed about their unusual face is that they sort of have this white "puff"of feathers in the middle of their face which can kind of look like a mustache just above their beak. They were rather funny looking at times especially when they would alternate between having their eyes sleepily closed and then open them widely to stare at us. Once we were both happy, we retreated fairly quickly as we didn't want to intrude on them for too long and possibly prevent them from returning. Later as we hiked along Shingle Creek, another large Raptor came flying straight towards us and we looked up to see a mature Bald Eagle right above us! I've rarely had the chance to catch a good photo of an Eagle in flight but the timing was just right this time. I didn't even get my zoom lens out all the way before he was right above me, but again he wasn't all that high up! As if that weren't enough for the day, we then went in search of a Great-horned Owl in an area I have been seeing them lately. All my previous sightings in that area however were always at dusk and I honestly didn't expect to see one today. But our luck just get going as there, in almost the same spot was a Great-horned Owl. We made a couple attempts to get closer but this Owl just kept flying back and forth and perching further and further up in the trees. I managed one shot just to say what we saw him.