Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Owl" be seeing you in all the old familiar places...

From home base, Kim writes: Yesterday I spent a wintery day with a bunch of friends and colleagues at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area (KPWA) in Central Ohio. We were meeting to discuss plans for our Ohio Young Birders Club (more on that later) and we used the excuse to get out and do some birding.

We were hoping to locate the White-winged Crossbills that had been reported in the area, but missed them. They're such nomads. I really admire that about them in spite of the fact that it makes them so darn hard to see. One neat thing we did see yesterday was a group of 20+ Eastern Meadowlarks. (These were the Eastern-Eastern Meadowlarks, not the Southwestern-Eastern Meadowlarks that Kenn discussed in an earlier post.) KPWA is one of the few places where you can reliably see them in Ohio in winter. They hang out near a barn that's used to stable horses, and roost inside the barn when the weather gets really rough. Really cool to see that splash of sunshine-yellow against a pretty bleak and wintery landscape.

"Killdeer" is my favorite birding spot in the world. Big words, eh? Especially when you consider that, thanks to Kenn, I've been blessed to travel to some pretty far-out and birdy places. So, what’s with the bold statement about KPWA?

When my interest in birds started to get a little out of hand and beyond my backyard, someone suggested I go to this place called “Killdeer Plains” to see the Bald Eagles that had a nest there. They had read something about it in the local paper, and since I had become a bird-crazed maniac, they thought I might want to see something like that. I was like, “WHAT? No way are there Bald Eagles in Ohio.” Crazy, right? How could there be Bald Eagles in Ohio without me knowing about it? But, off I went to check it out.
Sure enough, about a half a mile beyond a “cars with scopes cluster” was a big black mass in a sycamore tree. The folks behind the scopes were thrilled to show a newbie the ropes and I got the lo-down on Bald Eagles and KPWA from that great bunch of birders that day. The KPWA Bald Eagle saga is a story to be told, and I’ll share it with you soon.

Over the next few years KPWA became a place of refuge for me. I was birding alone at that point, and that’s exactly the way I wanted it. I was searching my soul for answers to some pretty tough questions and “Killdeer” provided a place of solace for me at a time when I desperately needed it. I could spend hours out there without seeing another soul, save the occasional fellow birder, and I could lose myself in this prairie paradise until the sun started to slip away and remind me that it was time to return to “reality.”

My first visit to Killdeer was in early winter, which was perfect, since winter is a great time to bird the 8000+ acres of prairie that spreads itself out in central Ohio and gives you a tiny taste of what wilderness might have felt like. Spectacular birds spend the winter here, and I got acquainted with many life birds during my early visits.

When you’re wrestling with life challenges, what better way to clear your mind than to stand in all-out, jaw dropping awe as 42 Short-eared Owls engage in little dog fights 8 feet away from you?

Or, looking up along the trunk of a gnarly old cedar tree and staring straight into the glaring eyes of a Long-eared Owl as it casually sizes you up and dismisses you from its twisted fortress?

Perhaps searching for the elusive little sprite of the forest, the Northern Saw-whet Owl. In the midst of a small group of pines, I came face to face with this adorable creature for the very first time. Searching in vain from the outside of a small stand of white pines, I eventually crawled up into the center of the branches, and in the instant that I stood, I locked eye-to-eye gaze with what is arguably the cutest bird in the world. In a moment that I pray I will never forget, this astoundingly sweet little bundle of feathers simply tucked its face into its wing, closed its eyes, and went back to sleep. Pure magic! I stood there until I couldn’t feel my feet any longer before prying myself away.

Kenn and I are poised to depart on what I'm sure will be the trip of a lifetime for me, ANTARCTICA! In spite of hours spent studying the field guides, searching the internet, and picking Kenn's brain (he's been there 4 times leading tours), in my mind I still can't really imagine what it will be like there.

Not like Killdeer ~ All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see that Saw-whet tree; I can smell the sweet tang of pine needles under my feet and feel the sting of winter on my cheeks; I can hear the soft sweet notes of the tree sparrows in the hedge along CH 71, and experience the same sense of comfort that this place has always given me. All I have to do is close my eyes....


  1. Killdeer sounds like a wonderful place...Have a great time in Antartica!

  2. Hey Kim,
    I grew up in Ohio but was not a birder at that point. My cousin lives next to Killdeer Plains (no doubt you drive right past their house every time you go). Since I'll be home for the holidays next week, I'll have to plan a trip to her house next week and leave early to get a chance to look around. Thanks for the Heads up.

  3. Kim,
    I'll agree that Killdeer Plains is one of the favorite places that I have ever birded. When I lived in OH, I probably birded there at least 12 - 18 times a year. Absolutely the best place to enjoy Short-eared owls! and long-eareds before it became know for the species. At that time it was not unusual to see half a dozen on winter day in their roost.