Wild Times: Winter residents move in

In case you have not noticed, the winter season has arrived. The last several weeks have been a little colder than the normal temperatures expected at this time of year.

It is usually around this time of year that people flee for warmer climates. They either move there temporarily or they take a vacation to soak up some sun rays. I really don’t mind winter weather but as I get a little older, it isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I am out in it quite a bit when feeding the cattle, and I hate to say it but one almost gets used to it.

A few days ago, the wind chill was around -25 degrees below zero but I did not think it was that bad. I think that is a bad sign. As people flee for warmer climates, we have some residents who actually move into our area to enjoy the winter weather. The residents that I am referring to have feathers.

The arrival of winter weather brings about a whole new scenario of wildlife viewing. I mentioned that I was able to observe a mink a few weeks ago and this past week I observed three birds in the area that one does not normally see. The first winter visitor that I was able to observe was a Short-eared Owl. I have seen these owls before but they are really unique and special. They are actually present in the state all year but we do have spring and fall migrations that bring them through the state. These owls have short, stubby ear tufts that barely rise above the head. They are so small that it appears that they do not have any ear tufts at all. The neat thing about these owls is that you will see them during the daylight hours.

Most owls are not spotted during the day unless something disturbs them. The Short-eared Owl usually hunts after dawn and before dusk hours which allows one to be able to observe their hunting methods. The sure fire way to be able to identify a Short-eared Owl is to watch them fly. They fly low over the grasslands with an erratic flying motion much like that of a moth or a bat. They fly one direction and then dip their wing and change directions in the blink of an eye. They are really quite fascinating to observe. These owls prefer the open grasslands or prairies to do their hunting. I spotted the owl last week on a section of prairie grassland northwest of town. The other winter resident that I spotted last week was a Rough-legged Hawk.

These particular hawks move into our area during the winter months. They actually nest in the arctic tundra! They move down here during the harsh winter months up north to take up hunting. The easiest way to spot these buteos is to watch them hunt. They will soar the skies like most hawks do but when they spot some prey they will drop down and hover over the spotted prey.

The hawk that I spotted the other day was about 15 feet up in the air and was just hovering over something it had spotted in the grass down below. The hawk that I spotted was out around the All Star Complex. While the hawk was hovering over its prey, a lady had actually pulled off the road and was taking pictures of the hovering bird.

The final winter visitor that I spotted this last week was a Northern Harrier. Like the Short-eared Owl, this hawk hovers low over the ground while it is hunting. As this bird flies it rocks its wings back and forth. It’s flight characteristics are easy to identify. The Northern Harrier is a winter migrant that moves into the area around September and then vacates around April. It sports a beautiful pale gray plumage with white underbelly feathers.

These visitors that I spotted the last week are unique and different birds that you will miss if you don’t get out and do a little cruising of the countryside. Embrace the winter weather and get out there! You might find out it is not that bad!

Tim Kellenberger107 Posts

Tim Kellenberger serves as Owner, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for The Sabetha Herald since 2004. He specializes in sports reporting and column writing, as well as sports photography. Tim is a Grace University graduate with a dual degree in agricultural economics and human resource management. He lives in rural Sabetha with his wife and has four grown children and two grandchildren.

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