Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hawk Owl; Sandemar; 14th January 2013

Today was truly one of those special days out in the field where you get unforgetable views of a very special species you have longed to see well. Lately I have made several trips to see Hawk Owl without success. My only two previous experiences with the species were both distant and dissapointing. The first came in Canada in 1998 when I had a brief view of a Hawk Owl ghosting across a motorway into the forest at about a kilometre range. Try as I might, I simply could not relocate that bird in the thick conifer woods on Northern Ontario. By then the species was at the very top of my wanted list, a dream species. As a bird, Hawk Owl has a combination of factors that makes it very special indeed in most birder's minds. It lives in the far north, in vast empty wildernesses across the taiga and is generally not seen without a committed effort by a travelling birder. Furthermore the species is nomadic, its movements are unpredictable as it ranges over huge areas as it seeks out areas of the highest rodent densities. Every now and then, though, a crash in rodent populations brings a wave of this enigmatic owls from the north and east and it becomes possible to view the species across the far north. My second experience of this species came last November after a seven mile hike to see a bird in Tyresta National Park. I was rewarded with a very distant view at over a kilometre again, the bird resting on a pine ridge, before flying to the west and dissapearing. Since then, I have tried for two other individuals and narrowly missed both birds. Today I attempted to see a bird at Sandemar that was found over the weekend. I got there at 10.00am as the sun was rising over the cloud, a glorious day. I made my way to Hoggarn, stopping to scan the trees in the distance occasionally. On arrival at the Hoggarn, my hopes were raised, two birders were stood on the highest viewpoint peering through telescopes. I hurried to the position and they pointed to a large tree...

 
My first view of the bird, perched high in a tall Birch tree. What a bird...
 
The bird was perched high, surveying the entire area. I set up the scope and enjoyed my first real views of Hawk Owl, they didn't dissapoint. A simply stunning bird in every possible way. I simply enjoyed the views for a while before grabbing a few shots. It seemed quite settled and oblivious to our presence. I was soon alone with the bird, though three birder's soon joined me. I was incredulous to find that two of them were irish and that one of the was Barry Ryan, a birder I have not seen in perhaps twenty years or so! Barry and his friend, Brian, were being guided by a swedish birder, Stefan, whom I had also met previously. Greetings were exchanged and soon we were all enjoying stunning views as the bird became more focused. The owl received the unwanted attentions of a Jay, earlier it had received a mobbing from a Great Grey Shrike. After some time the birds head whipped around suddenly and it took off, darting past our position as it made a beeline to a spot on the forest floor a hundred metres away..
 
The bird launching itself into the air as it locates a Vole 100 metres away, initially, by hearing it perhaps. The head shot around, the bird then located the source quickly and took off, making a beeline for the woodland floor one the other side of the clearing, right past our position...
 
 
The birds flight was fast and direct. A remarkable experience to see this bird hunting...
 
The bird simply powered into a direct, shallow dive and before long it spread it's tail to break, adjusted its position in mid air and plunged to the ground. The result was a sucessful hunt!
 
 
 
The bird on the ground with its prey, a vole, which can clearly be seen in this photo.
 
We watched as the bird quickly transfered the Vole, from talons to it's bill, before it flew up to a low branch were the animal was quickly swallowed. The bird then continued into the woods and we had little trouble relocating it atop another tree, the sunlight now lighting the bird up. It then retreated into the woods where it continued to hunt actively, to my suprise...
 
Scanning the woodland floor from a bough in the woods...
 
 
One of the best shots of the day, the bird sitting out in full sunshine. a glorious winters day today..
 
The bird moved a short while later, flying right past us and settling not far from where we stood. The light was quite fantastic by now and it was becoming clear that this bird was completely unconcerned by our presence. It proceeded to demonstrate this lack of concern by stooping again and landing on the ground just a few metres from us, beside my camera bag on the bridge, a magical experience! It took another vole and began again to hunt, this time from atop a large conifer...
 
The bird was hunting very successfully indeed today and we witnessed three kills in a couple of hours! The last kill however, led to a most unexpected observation..
 
We made our way towards the observation tower, only to find the owl had beat us there and was still hunting. We could resist watching this spetacle and soon it plunged from a perch and captured another vole. This time the prey was gripped in the talons and carried though the woods to some Witches Broom, where we watched as the bird began to behave oddly. It quickly dawned on us that the bird was caching its prey in the Witches Broom, saving the meal for later! None of us present were aware that Hawk Owl cached food and it was quite amazing to witness such behaviour. Obviously after eating two voles the bird was not hungry, but had not wanted to pass up the chance of taking more prey whilst hunting conditions were good. Storing prey in this way is a remarkable survival strategy and makes sense, conditions in winter can change suddenly and rodents may become much tougher to locate in blizzards and darker conditions...
 
 
 The bird caching a dead vole in this growth of Witches Broom on the treetops!
 
 
The owl adjusts the dead voles position to make sure it is well hidden. Quite remarkable for all present to witness this behaviour today..
 
 
A last shot as the bird leaves it winter larder and we left it to itself....

We left the bird after that point, after quite incredible views and insight into this species survival strategy. The day was not over by any means, and we had some Smew, a White Tailed Eagle and a large flock of 1500+ Tufted Duck offshore. We spent the evening looking for Crested and Willow Tit, but to no avail.

1 comment:

Crl Z Ò Mlln said...

Dear Sir,
Thank you so very much for this interesting report from your successful encounter with the Northern Hawk-owl and even to in all detail describe its behaviour by storing up rodents for future days in a witches broom! Beautiful light in the photos too! I was out there and it was such a special experiences to see this species of owl for first time in my life! I read all of your blog-text with keen interest! Thank you again! Wishing you a Happy Easter and many more nice moments in the wild with the beautiful birds to be seen and enjoyed!
All the Very Best
Charl Mellin