Dec 21, 2008

Practice Estimating Flock Sizes

With temps well below zero and a biting wind, I opted to do some birding from the comfort of the Mighty Tundra this morning before attempting some Christmas shopping.  A Snowy owl has again been sited at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, so I prowled Cargo Road (with a few other bird nerds) to see if I could find it.  Snowy owls are seen fairly consistently at the airport during winter.  

Many are surprised about owls at the airport, but in fact, a lot of my best bird watching has been at fairly urban/disturbed sites rather than in what your would think of as "natural" settings.  Favorite spots include a sewage treatment plant near Shakopee for Barrow's goldeneye and other waterfowl (I also saw a Northern shrike and Long-eared owl there once as well), the grain elevators on Hiawatha Ave. for an occasional Prairie falcon, and the metal recycling place north of the Wakota Bridge for migrant waterfowl. Before the airport expansion, the Richfield community gardens that were located at the eastern end of 66th Street were great for Sparrows, and a Short-eared owl was seen there as well.  Eastern screech owls are present in the oaks along West River Parkway south of Lake Street.

No luck today on my Snowy owl quest, although the owl was relocated later this afternoon sitting out in the fields near one of the runways, so it's out there.

The Iowa Ornithologist's Union (IOU) has a link on their site to help practice estimating the number of birds in a flock.  This is surprisingly difficult, but with a little practice I was able to get my failure rate to around +/- 10% on most tries (with some spectacular over- or under-estimates thrown in).  Here is the link if you care to give it a try.

That's it - stay warm and pay attention, owls are everywhere this winter, it seems.

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