A New year of bird watching with Short Eared Owls.
For the first day of the new year we decided to visit the Leque Island Unit to see if the Short Eared Owls were out hunting. The Short-eared Owl is one of the most widely distributed owls in the world. They hunt day and night mainly at dawn and dusk during winter in the open grasslands. If you are not familiar with Leque Island, it is located west of Stanwood between Port Susan and Skagit bays, also known as Eide Road to the local birders. Legue Island was once entirely salt marsh, but today it consists of wetlands and diked agricultural fields. This makes Legue Island Unit one of my favorite location to view Short Eared Owls and Northern Harriers. To can get directions and more information about Luque Island you can visit the Washington Department of Wildlife website.
The best time to be there is around 1pm and this is the time that we arrived at Eide Road. The lot is not that large and the location shared this time of year between birders and hunters. The Owl activity usually picks around 2pm and continues until sunset. On this day there were more birders than short eared owls, however there was some nice close up views of Northern Harriers. On some days you do not even need to leave the parking lot to view the owls, however on this day we had to walked through the fields meandering around the ponds. Luckily the night before was freezing and most of the soil was still frozen so you didn’t have to worry about sinking too far into the waterlogged ground. As stated before there were lots of Northern Harriers flying; all that we saw were female on this day. The condition in which males and females of a species are morphologically different in Northern harriers is exceptional among birds of prey, with the male Northern Harriers being beautiful gray and white and are sometimes called the Grey Ghosts, while females are brown and white.
When the Short Eared Owls appeared you would know instantly as everyone repositioned and scurried around attempting to get a view of its acrobatics. It flies low over the open ground, locating its prey by ear. We participated in this dance for a few hours and started to head out and this is when we got the best views of a short eared owl perched in a snag of bushes over a irrigation ditch as the sun began to sink below the horizon. The very top photograph is one out of the series that was taken as we were leaving. Legue Island is quickly becoming one of my go to places to take photographs of birds. In the summer it has abundant shorebirds and in the winter it has produce stellar viewings of Owls and Harriers. This is also the same location where we were able to see Long Eared Owls roosting and hunting in January of last year. You can read about that amazing sighting in a previous article on this blog at L-E-O-W. For some other birding areas around Stanwood you can check out this page from the Port Susan Snow Birding Festival.