Monday, January 16, 2017

Snowy Owls in Michigan

Yesterday, I experienced the Rudyard Loop for this first time.  The Rudyard Loop is a 14km rectangular route, just west of Rudyard, Michigan and is where many Snowy Owls can be found during the winter months.

In the morning, seven of us traveled down to Rudyard from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, which is about about a 30 minute drive.  I was joined by Rob Routledge, a professor at Sault College, and five students (one of which was my girlfriend Lindsey) from various Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies programs at Sault College.  We made our first pass around the Rudyard Loop and we lucky enough to come across 13 different Snowy Owls.  Unfortunately, none of them provided any good photo opportunities.

Next, we traveled a variety of back roads in search of more owls and what other interesting birds we could find.  While we didn't find more owls, we did see a good variety of birds, including Wild Turkeys, Evening Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches and a Rough-legged Hawk.  Just before stopping in Pickford, Michigan for a break, we saw the non-owl highlight of the trip, which was six Horned Larks getting grit from the road.  This was a lifer for me, so I was very excited.  I tried to get a good picture, but they flew away before I could get close enough.

After Pickford, we drove throughout the surrounding farmland in search of Sharp-tailed Grouse, but were unsuccessful.  We did manage to see another Rough-legged Hawk though, which was a dark morph, the first one of those I'd ever seen.

Our next stop was at the Dunbar Forest, located just north of Barbeau, Michigan.  This was definitely a very interesting spot.  There is a residence that has put up dozens of bird feeders and allows visitors to come onto the property to see all the feeder birds they attract.  This is where I spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker high up in an oak tree, which was only the third one I've ever seen.  There were also many finches, chickadees, nuthatches and sparrows enjoying the free food.  A few Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers were around as well.

We then started heading back towards the Rudyard Loop.  On the way, we saw our third Rough-legged Hawk of the day and a Northern Shrike.  Our second stop at the Rudyard Loop, didn't provide as many owls, but it did provide many photo opportunities!  I managed to get shots that I liked of five different Snowy Owls, which can be seen below.  At this time, there were many other people driving around and looking at the owls.  A couple people had camera setups that looked more expensive than my car, so I'm sure they were getting better photos than me.

After we had got enough photos of the owls, we made our way back north to Canada.  I definitely had a great experience and it's a day that I'll never forget.  Hopefully I'll get back down there soon to see the Snowy Owls and other birds again.

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