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Sunday, January 01, 2017

Birdy Bait and Switch

Honestly, one has to wonder if there's ever been a better start to the personal New Year for a casual birder. Yes, I said casual and I'm sticking to it. One's posterior was seated on the center console, a nice hot cup of java on the dashboard, poising itself to tip over and scent the car with the rich aroma of  'cafe de cheap motel'. Redwood forest nectar - known in other regions as 'gadamned, heavy as crap deluge' - making pitty pat noises on the car roof. Off in the distance, the far off distance, a hungry Great Gray Owl, unknowningly under surveillance by five souls, sat on a limb. Honestly, the humans were better off than the poor hungry raptor.
Off in the distance, a hungry Great Gray Owl
The thing is, I was spending Christmas with a buddy in Monterey County, with thoughts of the Common Pochard , i.e., rare duck, haunting my birder's noggin. Finally, when the holidays were nearly over and the duck seemed to be staying put, an early 'adieu' was bid, and my tattered old Honda began the trek north on Highway 101. The duck search was afoot! When the hours of northward driving concluded late on December 31st, this was the view where the duck was said to be visible.
View of Oxbow from opposite shoulder on Hwy 101
Did you not the blue splotch on the left of the photo? It's the bigger bit of the oxbow curve that continues beyond the right side of the pic. Eve with ten power binoculars you could just make out the blue of the oxbow river curve and tiny black dots one knew to be ducks. And me bereft of my missing - possibly stolen - spotting scope. Realizing futility was knocking, a motel room was procured, a Chinese Buffet eaten and it was off to bed.

Next morning, about five minutes in on the 30 minute drive back to the duck site, I turned around and headed south. It was drizzly & gray when even with the best weather and lighting seeing the duck was probably not going to happen. Why not go for the owl species I turned my nose up last winter?

cutout from distant shot
Thanks to eBird and GPS, my Honda was soon parked on the lonely back country road. Two lady birders, from Winters were there, and spying me, they motioned 'hurry up, come on over' as they had
the bird. They'd spotted it the previous evening and it hadn't moved far. The skies opened up and that's how my butt found it's way onto the console for some slightly comfortable Owl viewing. A lovely couple of birders joined and eagerly stood in the rain watching the anxious owl.

The bird was classic - the round Great Gray Owl face with it's white bow tie (neck feathers) and long tail. It frequently scanned the grass around it, and a time or two took off, then returned to its perch. Then the sun came out, in more ways than one.

The Great Gray flew, landing where it was tough making out the bird from the Spanish moss it sat in. Keep in mind this photo was lightened via photoshoping.

Let's play 'can you see the bird, dead center in this shot?'
One of the ladies from Winters said wistfully, 'I wish it would land in this tree, and she pointed to the tree closest to us'. Yeah, right. And the bird flew to a closer tree, up in the dark.

Here... birdy, birdy, birdy...
Hey, it's almost in the tree... we all thought. Then suddenly, it WAS.  SOMEONE's New Year's dream had come true - for ALL of us.

Owl face

and notably, its best side.
The photos above are full photos and frankly - I was so excited I hadn't even noticed my lens wasn't on it's highest setting. DUH. 

Now talk about excited birders, we were birder drunk on a great bird that was obviously showing off its stuff. Ok, maybe at best it totally ignored the gawking humans but that's just as exciting for us. I got maybe five minutes of the prize bird on video, when it swooped down for a stab at a rodent which it presumably missed. I hope it got breakfast sometime in the morning. As god is my witness, I wanted to go to a pet store, get some mice and hold an owl buffet. Not even sure if that would be legal without permits. Ages ago I got to feed a white mouse to wild Spotted Owl - one of my top birding memories. 
Now we're talkin'!
The last photo just above is the entire photo taken at 400mm showing how close that fluffy, massive, golden-eyed beauty was. *heavy, happy sigh*
Thumbs up
And that my friends is how you get 'baited' with a lifer duck, and 'switched' to a lifer owl.

Here is a victory shot I took of my fellow happy birders.

And below is nearly a minute of Great Gray Game.

UPDATE: Thanks to the splitting of the Western Scrub Jay into two species, California Scrub Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub Jay, turns out this beautiful Great Grey Owl is my 650th bird species for the ABA area. Wooo HOOOOT!

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