On the Prowl for Snowy Owls
The snowy owls have descended from the tundra.
I’m not a hardcore birder, but I do think it would be pretty neat to see a snowy owl, and this sounds like it would be the year to see one.
The word on the street was that owls were being reliably seen around the old Interstate Bridge under the Blatnik bridge and also near the Aerial Lift bridge in Canal Park.
Here’s the old Interstate Bridge, at the far end of Garfield Ave:
[Here’s a nice article about the history of this bridge: http://attic.areavoices.com/2008/11/28/interstate-bridge/]
I had also heard that some folks had seen otters down around the pilings at the far end, so if I was lucky, I might see fur and feathers!
There was no one else around. Temperatures were around 5°F, and it was breezy. Sure – who else would want to be out on a day like this?
First, I walked out to check the ice. It was heaved and variable, so walking too far out was out of the question. This was on the St. Louis River, and although I didn’t figure there was a lot of flow under the ice, ships were still coming in and out of the port, so the ice was getting pushed around pretty regularly. So instead, I followed the shoreline for a while just to see what was around.
Found a jawbone and these leg bones. Based on the teeth in the nearby jaw, I’d say these was from a deer:
This part of town is very industrial, and there are only a few places you can go where you don’t feel like you might be trespassing. Eventually, I headed out onto the bridge itself.
At the very end of the old Interstate Bridge, the only birds I saw were pigeons. And since I was seeing pigeons, that meant that there probably weren’t any owls around. The pigeons were mostly roosting up in all the nooks and crannies of the structure of the bridge:
Except for this one – I’ve got to say – it made me strangely happy to see this pigeon choosing to hang out on the ice:
It didn’t seem as though it were finding food, and it was obviously very exposed. Maybe this was a pigeon who wouldn’t be around for very long, but for the moment, we were simpatico.
I ambled around for a while, but never saw any owls (or otters). Oh well.
Since Canal Park was en route to home, I swung by there to check things out briefly.
There were crowds of goldeneye ducks:
Note the difference in the ice level and the waterline. Lake Superior is down.
As I came around under the bridge, I was quite surprised to see a crowd of birdwatchers. I consider my birdwatching to be a pleasant diversion – I certainly make no claim to being hardcore about it. On the other hand, there I was, out on a cold and breezy day, camera in hand and looking for a bird…
You can see a couple of the real birders in the corner of this picture:
Those are mostly mallards and goldeneye in the above picture, but I guess the birders were looking for some glaucous-winged gulls – a saltwater bird very far from its normal range. They’ve been reported down in the canal park area for a while. I’m obviously not a serious birder, since the chance to see a glaucous-winged gull doesn’t set my heart all atwitter.
On the other side of the pier were more mallards along with a pair of bufflehead. Seeing them with these mallards gives you a good idea of how tiny bufflehead are (they are about a foot long):
Pigeons, goldeneye, mallards and bufflehead.
No snowy owls. Maybe next time.
Even so, you can hardly call it a bad day, when you get to spend time outside enjoying the world.