Owl Be Seeing You

Northwoods Journal
Sunday, May 24, 2015

The weather did change just like the forecast predicted and we woke to gray skies and high humidity. It was very warm when I put out all the bird feeders.

Mark’s first priority for the day was rebuilding the pump house before the rain came. I had no priorities at all and made good use of it. It was warm enough to eat lunch out on the porch and then we got around to take the dogs for their hike.

The low pressure system made both of us less than enthusiastic about walking, but the dogs need their exercise. Mark drove west of town and then turned north on Thornton Road, past this ratty horse farm/riding stable to where Thornton turns into Meaford. We have hiked this area before and there are some real dark cedar swamps in this area, perfect for black bear.

I don’t know if the low pressure was affecting the dogs or what, but they were all fairly badly behaved. We had to keep putting them on the short leash, which works but doesn’t make for a fun hike for any of us. We could hear plenty of black-throated green warblers but couldn’t see them. We did see a couple of northern goshawks, so that was a new bird to add to my 2015 Big Bird List. Mark wanted to take more time looking for the birds, but the beagles would have none of it. He got so annoyed that we cut our hike short and went back to the cabin to leave the dogs and go do some birding instead.

After leaving the dogs, we headed toward Brush Creek where there is a watershed area perfect for warblers. Mark was cruising down Brush Creek Truck Trail at about 40 MPH when I spotted something in a tree on the side of the road. I threw out my arm to grab at his shouting, “Wait, wait, wait! That was an owl!”

It took several seconds for him to come to a stop, then to back up to where I had seen it perched back in on a tree limb. I thought for sure it would have flown away, but thankfully it was still there – a barred owl!! I was so excited!! Of course, now we were enveloped in a cloud of dust that we had to wait a moment for it to settle, then I started clicking away with my camera.

There was a branch right across the owl’s face, so my first photo looked like this.

Barred owl with branch across its face.

Barred owl with branch across its face.

I asked Mark to try and pull forward just a little, but that didn’t help much, the branch was still there but the leaves were in a different spot.

Barred owl, still with branch across its face.

Barred owl, still with branch across its face.

Finally, I handed Mark the camera and slid out through the open window to perch on the door. Mark handed the camera back and I was able to get a few clearer shots.

A clearer view of the barred owl. :)

A clearer view of the barred owl. 🙂

Of course, the lighting was not very good — mid-afternoon on a cloudy day and the owl was sitting back in the shadow of the trees, so I had to edit these quite a bit with my limited software.

I have had quite the “owl envy” of Bob Zeller down at Texas Tweeties, he has gotten the most magnificent owl photos! Mine cannot come close to comparing to his masterpieces (check out his blog for the most amazing bird photography!) but I sure was a happy camper having gotten a few shots of this barred owl, a first for me.

The owl soon tired of being photographed and flew off so we continued on to Brush Creek with high hopes.

There is an earthen dam across Brush Creek that creates a small floodwater. The dam is topped with plenty of brush and bushes and there is a very narrow trail, used mostly by deer, along the side. You have to really watch your step or you will end up in the water!

Earthen dam across Brush Creek with narrow trail.

Earthen dam across Brush Creek with narrow trail.

Brush Creek where it flows out under the dam.
Brush Creek where it flows out under the dam.
Brush Creek flowing on down the river.
Brush Creek flowing on down the river.

(I have to confess I took the above 3 photos the next day when we went back, and didn’t see any birds!)

We were pleased to see plenty of small birds flitting about, but the brush was so thick and the warblers so quick that I was unable to get any photos at all. We saw a Wilson’s warbler with his distinct black cap, what I believe was a female American redstart, common yellowthroats, and northern water thrushes. We went all the way across the dam and then made our way through the marsh to view the opposite side. It wasn’t until we were headed back across the dam that a warbler came out in the open enough for a few photos.

Female yellowthroat?

Female yellowthroat?

Female common yellowthroat?

Female common yellowthroat?

After consulting all our various field guides, Mark and I believe this is a female common yellowthroat. At first I thought it was a female Wilson’s warbler, but the beak doesn’t look exactly right. Feel free to give me your opinion in the comment section below!

On our way back up the hill, this chipmunk posed on a tree stump.

Chipmunk posing on tree stump.

Chipmunk posing on tree stump.

I decided to see how close I could get. 🙂

She let me get pretty close!

She let me get pretty close!

I have considered myself neither a “serious birder” (those people are crazy!) nor a serious photographer. But now that I willingly risk foraging through tick-infested marshlands – and trust me, we came out covered in plenty of ticks! – in search of elusive warblers, I think I can classify myself as a “serious birder” (and just a bit crazy!). And after climbing through the passenger side window to perch on the door of our vehicle to get shots of the barred owl, maybe I am a more serious photographer than I thought! 🙂

This will be the last journal entry for this trip. Nothing of much consequence or interest happened the rest of our stay. Tuesday morning before we packed up, we did meet with a builder/contractor/handyman guy to discuss having some improvements made to our place. After three years of searching we are pretty much giving up the thought of buying someplace new and have decided to invest a large chunk of change into this place. We are going to get the well, septic, electric upgrade, hot water heater, and several other projects like some repairs to the roof, a new window in the kitchen, the outside painted, etc. The man we met with came highly recommended by two different people but Mark and I did not come away from the meeting with giant feelings of confidence. I mean, he didn’t even take any notes!! So, we’ll see what happens. Now my job will be securing the finances for the well and septic, which will be the biggest expenses.

As we were on our way out to come home, we stopped in Elk Valley to give the dogs a hike before the long drive and we saw a black bear!!! That was pretty exciting, and maybe just a teensy bit scary. We have never seen one while hiking before! The dogs didn’t give it any mind as it crashed up the hill, but later as we looped around they must have gotten the scent because then Ruby really set to howling and carrying on.

So, I didn’t see an elk all week, but I did see a bear, which is just as good. If only I had gotten photos!!! Yeah, I guess I really am crazy!  🙂

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12 Responses to Owl Be Seeing You

  1. Bob Zeller says:

    “……in owl the old familiar places….” Love your title. Great photos of the Barred Owl. I have never seen one of those, and thanks for the shout-out. 🙂

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  2. Tiny says:

    Very nice shots of the Barred Owl! Love the little chipmunk too, he must have gotten posing lessons 🙂

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  3. Congratulations on the barred owl! This time of the year, when they have young to feed, they may be out in daylight.

    I believe that you’re correct about the female common yellowthroat, but I have enough trouble with the males. 🙂

    It’s easy to see that you’ve been bitten by the birding bug, it’s a great excuse to get outside, and challenging enough to make it interesting.

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    • I’ve always loved feeding the birds and bird watching as a general hobby, but never took it as seriously as I have this year. It’s been a fun interest for Mark and I to do together, and he’s been bitten just as hard as I have, if not even more so! It has also been fun having a species goal, this has made me pay more attention to what I see and also to look harder for new places to go to see different species. So, all the way around it has been a positive thing.

      I always love learning something new and it’s been cool learning to identify from songs, which I was never very good at before. Also, when we look things up in the field guides, we always learn something new. Like on Monday when we were out hiking, we saw and heard a bird high up in the treetop. I thought for sure it was an indigo bunting (from the song), but Mark kept insisting it was black like a cowbird. Well later he looked it up in the field guide and we learned that indigo buntings don’t actually have any blue pigment in their feathers, so when they are in bright sunlight, they look black! I never knew that and found it fascinating. There’s always something new to learn, which makes life a lot more interesting IMO!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kate says:

    Your photos are gorgeous! The photos of the owl are so beautiful! Its funny what a photographer will do to get the perfect shot, but in the end it’s always worth the awkward positions 🙂 It’s very impressive how many types of birds you can identify! To me, they are all just “a bird” LOL.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kate! I am new-ish to photography but I have loved feeding the birds and watching them for a long time. I got more serious about it this year, after following several blogs that got my interest peaked. One blog I follow, he sets a yearly goal for the number of species he wants to see. I thought that was a neat idea, so I borrowed it, and it has made birding a lot more interesting and has meant I have to research proper identification. As Hercule Poirot would say, it “stimulates the little gray cells”, which my old brain needs! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jane Strong says:

    Hello, I came across your blog when reading your comment on another. I’ve never even been to northern Michigan nor heard of the Polar Equator before. It is all fascinating to me. I enjoyed your trip text and photos immensely. The birds and their portraits are impressive. I’ve come face to face with a bear on the trail. We both reversed direction very quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Jane, for stopping by my blog and for leaving a comment! I love northern Michigan — it is definitely the “home of my heart”! This was our first time seeing a black bear while hiking, we have seen one while driving and twice we had them right in our back yard! Once it was a momma and three cubs! They were raiding my birdfeeders which I had foolishly forgotten to bring in at night! 🙂 I hope to hear from you again sometime!

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