Last Saturday, I took a day trip to southwestern Missouri for an interesting program (“Birds of Prey Field ID Tips”) at Prairie State Park, followed by a field trip to nearby Shawnee Trail Conservation Area. The program was sponsored by the Missouri Prairie Foundation (of which I am a 2-year member) and conducted by a regional specialist with the Missouri Conservation Department (MDC). The indoor program was excellent and we all walked away with more identification knowledge and some great resources (pamphlets, identification guides, and even a wonderful book!).
After the indoor program concluded, some of us headed to nearby Shawnee Trail CA to view Short-Eared Owls (Asio flammeus) as they began to forage for food over the prairie:
These images were all made after the sun had fallen below the horizon, handheld (TGIS … “Thank God for Image Stabilization”!) so it was very difficult to get good, clean images. I placed my camera’s ISO at 3200 and even 6400 (the highest I can go) for these images, to get as high a shutter speed as possible, and used a noise reduction program in post-processing.
Short-eared owls are no longer a permanent resident on Missouri’s birding lists. In the summer, they reside in Canadian, and maybe some of the northern US states. But come winter, they make their way to Missouri’s prairies. In times past, the short-eared owl did nest in Missouri, but the loss of prairie land was a likely cause for them to move northward in search of large, habitable prairies.
As we arrived at the prairie just before sunset, the scene played out just as predicted by our MDC leader. There were an estimated 7 Northern Harriers (Circus cyaneus) circling over the prairie, but as the light began fading into dusk, the harrier activity dropped off and the short-eared owl activity began. We counted an estimated 10 short-eared owls flying low over the prairie.
This trip was so much fun! I’m already planning on another day trip ( hmmmm, maybe 2 days?) to be with these wonderful birds again … and to try to photograph some during the daytime hours when they are sitting in the prairie grasses!