Snowy Owl . . . . that is!
Who would have believed that a bird discovered in November would remain all through the winter and still be easily seen on a sunny March day! Yes, this is the Snowy Owl at Merrill Creek Reservoir. If you have not gone to see it yet, do not delay. I'm sure hundreds of people have seen this particular visitor from the tundra by now. I was probably one of the few "local" birders who had been unable to find the time to make the trip, but my luck finally changed on St. Patrick's Day. After the 1.5 hour drive, we parked at the gate on Reservoir Rd and made the short and easy walk down the paved access road to the base of the dam. Our quarry was napping in plain view on a fallen tree at the edge of the woods on the right side below the dam. Occasionally it would turn its head or stretch its neck, but mostly it just rested peacefully. (Snowy Owls are not known for high levels of activity during the day.) Never before have I seen a Snowy Owl under such pleasant conditions. The last one I saw was on Cape Cod a few years back, after having tromped a significant distance down the beach through the snow. I was bundled in several layers with only my eyes peering through the opening in my face mask as the wind brought tears to my eyes. Shirt sleeves and 62 degrees definitely increase the enjoyment factor. It hardly seemed right that Kristen's first Snowy Owl could be that easy!
Besides the owl, we had a calling Eastern Phoebe (spring meets winter), a singing Brown Creeper (from the trail along the top left of the dam) and a flyby Pileated Woodpecker. Kristen and I hiked up the left side of the rocks, walked across the top of the dam and came back down the trail on the right side. Be advised that this loop is rather steep and will leave your legs aching. (Karl wisely remained at the dam base "guarding the scope" and showing the owl to all passersby.) He enjoyed the blooming Coltsfoot, pictured above. This alien herb, used for cough suppression, is so-named because its leaves resemble a colt's foot. (The leaves only appear after the flowers.) We also noticed a hatch of some species of caddisfly. The individual pictured below landed on my camera case. Following our visit to the owl, we made a quick stop at the inlet/outlet lot and walked the trail to see Mrs. Bald Eagle sitting on her nest. (Stop where the large tree has fallen over to the left and look down toward the water.) She turned her head but did not seem concerned about foot traffic within sight.
The visitor center at Merrill Creek has a chart of "first" dates for a variety of species (flora and fauna) which was intriguing to examine. They also have nice facilities and several fine exhibits, including classrooms used for education.
All in all. . . it was an enjoyable day
For more information visit: merrillcreek.com
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