Zion Crossroads, VA 12/29/11

All photos are Marshall Faintich


Regular reports of Short-eared Owls at dusk along route 640 in Zion Crossroads, VA prompted me to make the 45 mile drive each way to see if I could photograph them. Alice joined me on this venture, although she is not a birder, but she likes owls. The only other time we have seen a Short-eared Owl was the Hawaiian sub-species (Asio flammeus sandwichensis) while driving up to the top of Haleakala volcano in Maui, and as I was driving the car then, I was unable to get a photo of it.

As soon as we turned onto route 640 just before 4:00 p.m., we saw Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks in the fields on both sides of the road. We parked just across from Bracketts Farm to look for the owls. There were two Red-tailed Hawks, one adult and a juvenile, and at least two Northern Harriers, possibly more. The low sunlight added a golden glow to the raptors as they flew low to the ground searching for dinner.


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk


Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk


Adult Red-tailed Hawk


Sub-adult male Northern Harrier


Sub-adult male Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier


Sub-adult female Northern Harrier

Around 4:30, John R. from Charlottesville arrived with three other birders. John had seen Short-eared Owls here before, and his spotting scope and expertise were very much appreciated. By 4:45 the sun was almost below the horizon, and we saw a large flock of Eastern Meadowlarks take off from the field and head towrd the setting sun.


Eastern Meadowlarks

And then John spotted a Short-eared Owl perched in a tree quite a distance away from us. The dim light and far distance made photography a real challenge, but I captured enough detail to positively identify the owls. This owl soon flew out of the tree, and I could see the buffy patch on its wings. The owl was either hunting along with a Northern Harrier, or was being chased by it. The owl's bold dark underwing bars can be seen in one of the photos, and its dark breast indicated a female. We then saw a second Short-eared Owl flying around and one of them landed back in the same tree where we saw the first one. A couple of more birders arrived at 4:55. Alice and I left at 5:00, and with my luck, the Short-eared Owls probably flew right up to the remaining birders soon after we left :-) But, mission accomplished!


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owl


Short-eared Owls



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