05 March 2015

Mar 2015 MICHIGAN Kalamazoo - Car Birding

This week I went on my first dedicated bird watching adventure. My friend Anne (actually Bella's foster mom) became an avid birder over the last few years and she especially enjoys photographing them and displaying those photos online at 365project.org/annepann

Bella actually turned me into a beginner bird observer. After we took a trip to NYC in 2013, we were watching everything NYC on TV. We spotted a video titled "Birders: The Central Park Effect" about the wide variety of wild birds who live in the park and the people who track them. 

So we rented the video. While we watched, it caught the attention of Bella's eyes and ears. She was glued to the TV. So to appease Belle, we started watching bird and other nature videos. Bella was hooked.

Now she watches anything and everything--commercials, Jon Stewart, B&W art flicks, Superbowl, our fave show Euromaxx (she comes running when she hears their theme song), Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, nature shows, design shows, animated movies, car chases, even the on-screen TV guide on occasion when I'm flipping through it. If you don't believe me, check my 365 project at 365project.org/annrico1 or the blog WatchBellaWatch. You will see dozens of photos of Bella watching TV.

I told Anne about this Bella-watching-TV phenomena and as a result we got to talking birds. Belle and Anne peeked my interest in the topic and now I am a neophyte bird observer. Anyway back to the topic of today.

Anne has been "photo-hunting" snowy owls in the area. One was recently recovered due to being too close to the Saginaw airport and was released a few miles south of us near Schoolcraft. It was fitted with a transmitter to track its flight patterns. This will help with research in understanding and protecting the species. A second snowy was also spotted in the area.

Coincidentally Mike and I had recently seen a TV show on the unusual characteristics of owls (one being that you cannot hear their wing flaps when they are flying).

Soooo Anne and I got to talking owls, specifically snowy owls and she invited me to join her to spot the ones known to be in the area. It's been really cold, so we were going "car birding" (that's a real birder's term!!). You drive around trying to spot birds. If you see something of interest, you take a photo from the car or quietly get out of the car to take a photo, hoping the birds aren't startled and fly away.
We drove around for 45 minutes or so. Snowy owls perch on tops of telephone poles, those long irrigators that wheel across a field of crops, or on tops of buildings or barns. Alas, even with some excellent binoculars, we did not see any. But we did spot some horned larks (Anne got this great shot) and a mixed group of little wren / finch / sparrow type birds at a feeder.
It was not a wasted day, however, just because we did not spot a snowy owl. We chatted and I learned a lot about birding. We came across a cool old cemetery, had a close encounter with a huge snow plow, waited for a loud and fast moving train at a crossing, and had a hearty lunch at Fieldstone Grill in Portage. It was an enjoyable couple of hours and I'm glad I got to know Anne just a little bit better.
Later we learned that the snowy owls had migrated out of the area. The people who track the transmitters delay offering the information on owl whereabouts. If they gave up-to-date info, birders would be out "chasing" the owls in hordes. Not the natural, kind, or common sense thing to do.

Learn more or get info on tracking snowies at: projectsnowstorm.org/posts/stay-at-homes-and-wanderers/