The Ballet of the Shorties

Short-eared Owls have been on my want list for Pennsylvania for quite some time. I had several opportunities to see them while in college in northern Indiana and greatly enjoyed that. Then I got a tip on where they might be in my own county. My own county! Now some people might not understand that thrill, but having just recently hit the 200 mark in my current county, I am enjoying the growing number.

So anyway, there is a fantastic piece of grasslands not 20 minutes from my house. I decided to hit it late afternoon in order to be there for the most productive time for the owls. I was elated when I arrived, 2 were already flying around. After several minutes of viewing the antics of these two birds with my bins I whipped out the scope for a closer look and when one cooperatively perched about 80 yards away I pulled out the digiscoping setup and snapped a few shots. I was happy with the results so I pulled the camera off the eyepiece and looked back at the owls. Wait…what was that diving at the shortie?

Definitely a falcon. Hmmm, small and dark….could only be a Merlin. I watched as the Merlin repeatedly stooped on the owls, harassing them as only a Merlin harasses. This was my third falcon species for the day, pretty good for a January day in PA. As the Merlin exited the scene, a Northern Harrier gracefully floated onto the stage. There is something about harriers and shorties, they always go together. I have not once seen short-eared owls and not seen a harrier. This was a beautifully plumaged juvenile.

I noticed something about their flight, harriers have such graceful flight, bouyantly floating around on their long spindly arms. Short-eared Owls on the other hand have such a stiffness to their flight, almost like they are afraid to bend their wings.

I stayed put, watching the interactions, the pouncing and listening to their raspy barking call. Now there were four in the air at once. Trying to get some last images before the sun disappeared I managed the flight shot below. I had to do some tricky stuff to the photo to bring back the colors but I think it turned out nicely.

All photos © 2007 Drew Weber