The first year PSU natural history class wandered into the middle of Quincy Bog onto the local beaver lodge at about 10am today, 3/30/17.
We had came to this spot originally to float about the area and gather fun and mildly interesting questions and about the "real" natural world (as opposed to the classroom). We found lichen to be a mutualistic symbiosis between algae and fungus; the bog is full of "leather leaf", but is not acidic enough to be completely full of this plant, as real bogs around here are; we also saw a few crows mobbing a raven.
And: A peregrine falcon...
...And (what to my knowledge is) a short eared owl.
There have been between three and five short eared owls in the main portion of New hampshire in the last decade (besides at the seashore near the northeast tip of Massachusetts). According to the eBird, we can see in 2013 and 2014 there were around two or three short eared owls migrating up to their summer home in far north Canada. After reviewing a few migration routes from around the web, I can say there is a good chance a few short eared owls will be coming from the "middle of the east half of the west"- likely farms and fields emanating from Tennessee- at this time of year. Obviously, this owl is vastly more important than anything else I could have done today, so it will occupy the remainder of this spot review.
Firstly; things pushing against the evidence I do have for this owl. The owl like to float around 10 feet over the grasses in fields to snatch mice and voles. This owl was about 700 feet up in the air. Additionally, it is likely there were two of these birds seen up there soon after we arrived. After that initial glimpse however, there was just one.
Reasons this is a short eared owl:
- We were standing in a prime hunting spot for a migrating short eared owl-an iced over bog should be riddled with yummy critters. A group of 20 people milling about the middle of this bog could be a good reason to do some gliding at some distance, waiting for the people to leave and the mammals to emerge again.
- The bird was a light grey color, with distinct black wing tips. That is the first mark we saw. A fat "buteo"-like (think a soaring red-tailed hawk) tail, creating almost a complete semicircle, was really built into the bird's body. This is totally different than a flared harrier tail, which is long.
Additionally-the real kicker in my opinion- are the black slashes on the medial and greater coverts on the short eared owl. The two photos I have included here are enough to show these unique field marks. I have never seen a bird with that pattern; just a flat matte white with two black marks parallel to the body, and black wing tips. Many birds of prey have black wingtips or interesting patterns/markers under the wing. In fact, this is an outstanding way to learn big birds who usually fly overhead/don't usually hang around on a perch.
In summary: unless we find another bird with this wing shape and color pattern, this is a short eared owl.
...(And it may have a migration buddy!)