Tag Archives: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

SHORT-EARED OWLS IN OUR MIDST!

Melded to the grass as he was, in monochromatic winter pasture shades of taupe, buff, and gray, it was nearly impossible to spot the impostor posing in the dry stalks and twigs. But there he was, a small mound resting along the thicket edge. You can barely see him in the photo below.

He sat up for a brief moment and even from a great distance his wide-eyed, and only seconds long, golden-eyed look was unmissable.

I’ve read the Short-eared Owl flight described as erratic, but I would call it anything but that. They swoop gracefully over fields in multi-directions, with great intention, listening for the sound of voles, moles, mice and other small mammals scurrying through the tall winter grass and phragmites. Flying low while hunting, their wingbeats are smooth and steady.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)  is called as such because of the little tufts of display feathers atop its head, which aren’t really ears at all. The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a cousin of the Short-eared and it has longer feather tufts. Owls have a highly developed hearing system and their ears are actually located at the sides of their heads, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc.

Unlike many species of owls, which prefer forest and woodland, the Short-eared Owls is a bird of open country. They require fields, grasslands, marshes, bogs, heaths, and dunes. Shorties are crepuscular, which means they mostly feed at dawn and dusk.

Short-eared Owls are found the world over on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. Sadly, in Massachusetts, breeding pairs have been driven to the brink of extirpation. There may still be one or two pairs that breed at Nantucket’s Tuckernuck Island but, because of loss of habitat, the Short-eared Owl was listed as endangered in Massachusetts in 1985.

Listen for the Short-eared Owls wing “clapping” in the video below, and some adorable chicks, too 🙂

From Cornell: “Hawaii’s only native owl, the Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis), is a Short-eared Owl subspecies found on all the chain’s major islands. Pueos may have descended from Alaska forebears, taking hold in the islands after the first arriving Polynesians brought owl food in the form of the Pacific rat.”

Short-eared Owl Range Map

OWL FEVER!

This past weekend’s glorious and record breaking mid-January 70-degree-plus weather encouraged everyone to get out doors and it was wonderful to see. On both Saturday and Sunday there was a line to get into Parker River Wildlife Refuge. Many were enjoying the beaches and hiking the trails while quite a few were there to see the Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

There are currently two Snowy Owls and several Short-eared Owls at Parker River. Folks are asking where the owls can be found specifically. I can only share where I have seen them and that covers almost the entire refuge, from parking lot no.1 (where the gates are) all the way down to parking lot no. 6. The photographers and birders out shooting at the refuge are super helpful and if you see a bunch, park  your car (intelligently please, so that you are not blocking traffic) and ask. Many of the birders will also share a look through their scopes.

 

SNOWY OWL ALERT! AND BALD EAGLES, TOO!

It was a beautiful morning at Parker River despite mostly overcast skies and a strong wind. This first day of our “January thaw” was made even more beautiful by the presence of the Snowy Owl.

I believe she’s a female, although the lightest females can look like the darkest males. She appeared largely unperturbed by the gaggle of photographers that came and went. The Snowy flew across the dune for a few moments, but then flew back to roughly the same spot; in both locations she was somewhat protected from the blustery wind.

I have it on good authority that there are currently SIX Bald Eagles at Parker River, two hatch-years, two that are roughly three years old, and two adults. I have only seen one youngster this week, in a battle with a crow, and I couldn’t tell who was chasing who 🙂

RED-TAILED HAWK: THE URBAN-SUBURBAN-EXURBAN RAPTOR KING

Chances are that if you see a hawk, it is most likely a Red-tailed. Unlike so very many bird species, the Red-tailed Hawk population has increased over the past one hundred years. The global population hovers around 2 million and its success is due largely to the bird’s ability to adapt to a wide range of habitats, including urban, suburban, and exurban developments. As long as their is some open space, trees or tree-like structures for perching, and small mammals, you will find Red-tailed Hawks.

The Red-tailed Hawk seen here was photographed at Parker River on the luxuriously warm Saturday afternoon last weekend. There were loads of people out walking and enjoying the sunny skies. It was difficult to tell if the Hawk was simply extremely tolerant of people or if he were struggling with an injury or illness. He stayed for a very long time in a small area, over an hour, but flew periodically to hunt in the thicket below (unsuccessfully), and then flew easily back up to the phone lines and trees. At one point, he almost flew into a car driving into the refuge, missing the windshield by inches. I hope that after the gates closed at sundown the Red-tailed was able to right himself and find a tasty dinner.

FIRST SNOWY OWL SIGHTING OF THE 2019-2020 WINTER

Far, far down the ridge sat a little white wedge-shaped dot. We were all wishing he would fly our way, but alas, he was content to stay in place while washing his face and preening his flying feathers, with the crowd standing comfortably behind the rope set up by the refuge.

There are two Snowy Owls currently at Parker River and one has been spotted at Salisbury Beach. Hopefully, more will call the North Shore home this winter. The photo below was taken with a 400mm lens and very closely cropped.

ENCHANTING ENCOUNTER WITH THE BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN BITTERN

Taking advantage of whatever sunshine can be had at this time of year, I took Charlotte to Plum Island for the day this past Thursday. We began at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and were immediately enchanted with an American Bittern stealth hunting in the marsh, a regal buck, Pintail Ducks, and hawks. Next we made sand castles at Sandy Point and then spent a great deal of time exploring a seemingly abandoned bulldozer in the parking lot there.

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Our little sponge ❤️

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Lunch was a shared lobster roll from Bob’s Lobster Shack, which is located on the causeway heading out to Plum Island. We then stopped at the refuge headquarters to see the Snowy Owl, Piping Plover, and Monarch displays.

Charlotte’s day was made perfect when we learned that homemade cupcakes could be found at the Buttermilk Baking Company.

Last stop was one of my favorite shops for wonderfully unique and vintage home decor, The Barn at Todd Farm. The shop is decorated beautifully for the holidays and is bursting with Christmas gifts and treasures.

The American Bittern hunting in the marsh at Parker River was not at first easy to locate. Not only do the brown and buff colors of their feathers meld perfectly with the surrounding vegetation, but this heron has adapted an additional, highly effective method of camouflage. The Bittern stands motionless with its neck tilted upward, mirroring the tall reeds where the bird forages for fish, crustaceans, amphibians, insects, reptiles, and even small mammals.

The Bittern was beautiful to watch, perfectly poised in striking mode and waiting for the exact moment to attack. He wasted not an ounce of energy and did not miss a single strike.

American Bitterns breed in our region however, they generally migrate further south for the winter to regions where the water does not freeze. Managed wetlands such as those found within Parker River Wildlife Refuge play an important role in the survival of the American Bittern, especially during migration and the winter months.

 

HANDSOME BUCK OF THE MARSH

Charlotte and I spent the morning at Parker River Wildlife Refuge this past Thursday. We saw some beautiful wildlife and I am especially excited to share about one special bird, which I will post tomorrow when I have time to write.

This handsome White-tailed Deer buck briefly appeared at the marsh edge before bounding back under cover of brush.