Monday, March 9, 2015

Mercer Sod Farm IBA 3/9--Short-eared Owl, American Kestrel

I was almost the sacrificial birder this evening.

I drove over to the Mercer Sod Farm (despite the name, located in Burlington County) because numerous Short-eared Owls have been reported there for the last few weeks and I wanted to see them before their season ended. Finding shorties is end-of-day birding and I haven't been able to get out there for various reasons; today, I made the determined effort. I got to the Burlington Fairgrounds parking lot, the only safe and reliable viewing area, around 4:15, giving myself a 6 o'clock deadline to see the owls. They had been showing up fairly early for a crepuscular bird, but daylight savings time was not in my favor. There were a couple of birders I knew there and the weather, finally, was pleasant, so I didn't mind standing around waiting. Another stake-out. There were enough birds around to keep me interested--hawks, blackbirds, a Savannah Sparrow, and my first Burlington County Eastern Meadowlark, that I saw through Jim Schill's scope. But 6 o'clock came and there were no owls. I extended my deadline. Around 6:25 I saw a bird flying at speed and got it in my scope. Brief excitement from the crowd (there were about 15 people there) but it turned out to be "only" my FOY American Kestrel. I figured that and the meadowlark were going to be the consolation birds for the day.

6:30 came and 6:30 went and I extended my deadline a little longer. I had to get home to make dinner. Finally, at about 6:45 I announced that I was officially the sacrificial birder (a birding superstition that one birder has to leave unhappy before anyone else can see the target) collapsed the tripod legs and headed to my car. The gates to the lot close at 7 o'clock anyway. Then, just as I stowed the scope everyone started calling my name and there, flying over the bleachers, was one gorgeous Short-eared Owl, showing all the field marks. I high-fived Jim and got in the car. I only need one bird, so I don't feel bad that, from other reports, at least 3 more showed up this evening. Two year birds and a county bird is not a bad pay-off for standing around for 2 1/2 hours.

Here's the full list of what I saw/heard:
Canada Goose  150
Turkey Vulture  1
Northern Harrier  3
Red-tailed Hawk  2
Killdeer  1     Heard
Mourning Dove  1
Short-eared Owl  1     Buff-colored owl with dark wing-tips and buff-colored patches on wings
American Kestrel  1     
American Robin  5
Northern Mockingbird  1
European Starling  100
Savannah Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Eastern Meadowlark  1

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