Gretchen and I went to the airport last evening to see a Short-eared Owl that's been making regular appearances there each day between 5:15 and 5:45. Sure enough, the owl appeared, flying low over a grassy area near the end (or beginning?) of the runways!
Unfortunately, I got no photos; I couldn't even see the bird unless I had my bins up, even when it was flying against the orange backdrop of the sunset. I watched the bird fly back and forth, making a lot like a Northern Harrier, looking for food.
I did note the white underwings, the lighter trailing edge of the wings, and the rounded head that said "owl" rather than "raptor." Pretty cool! I wish I'd gotten a photo, but I'm just glad I finally saw another owl. It's been years since I saw or heard anything other than a Great Horned Owl or an Eastern Screech Owl.
That, combined with a recently discovered Sandwich Tern on last year's photos from South Padre Island, TX, makes 320 lifebirds!
Perhaps you're wondering what I was doing looking at my photos from the beach in Texas from last year. I'm studying, naturally -- I'm taking my third annual February Texas Birding Trip next month! And Gretchen's coming with me! More on that later -- but for now, I've been studying to prepare for the challenges that I experienced last year: terns, gulls, and shorebirds. Baby G and I have divided it up, with me studying terns, the hooded gulls, plovers, and sandpipers.
While I was studying, I decided to take a look at my photos from the beach last year, and I discovered the Sandwich Tern! The black bill with orange tip, shaggy crest, white forehead (non-breeding plumage), and black legs. That's how I knew this----was a Sandwich Tern!
It's been helpful to look at those old photos again, for many reasons. I've learned that this year, I need to get closer to get better photos, and I need to spend more time looking at individual birds rather than letting the flocks overwhelm me and just taking group photos to look at later. (yeah, yeah, I've said that before, but this time I mean it!)
Further, and reading Bill Thompson III's Identify Yourself has taught me that I really need to focus on learning the more common birds so that I'll recognize ones that don't match. That book is such a great resource; if you don't own it, you should!
That book, along with my Crossley, my Sibley, my Shorebirds Guide, and my new Stokes guide (beautiful!), have been my textbooks for the last couple of weeks. I'm taking notes, highlighting, putting little Post-it tabs with more notes, and reading reading reading -- and looking at my old photos -- to really burn these birds into my mind.
I've also been monitoring the daily Texas bird alerts (thanks, eBird!) and the Rare Bird Alert to prepare myself for the crazy birds that are showing up down there this year. The Black-vented Oriole is back (hoping for better photos this year!), along with Crimson-colored Grosbeak, Brown Jay, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Black-legged Kittiwake, and others. We're hoping to get at least FIFTY lifers for Gretchen (it shouldn't be hard--she's never been down there), and I'm hoping for at least ten, plus some good photos.
Bonuses are that I'll get to see my parents, my brother, and good old sister Mary again. She's been able to go on both of my previous trips, but this year she might only be able to spend a day or two with me, so Baby G is coming along for the trip of a life(bird)time!