A Short-eared Owl hunting over the fields in front of us

Ross's Goose among the Canada GeeseMostly sunny skies held promise as we met at 12:30 to carpool to Killdeer Plains. Yes, it was cold, but the warm glow of the sun was a welcome change from cloudy days earlier in the week.

Arriving at Killdeer Plains after an easy drive from Columbus, we started looking for raptors. We were off to a good start almost immediately as several Rough-legged Hawks made an appearance, soon followed by Northern Harriers. Already on a raptor high, we made our way to the large ponds on the west side of Killdeer, where we quickly realized that we’re in for a very special day. We spotted the rare Ross’s Goose before we were even out of the cars, and things just got better and better as we located Greater White-fronted Geese, Snow Geese, and a variety of other waterfowl.

Thoroughly frozen but also thoroughly satisfied, we checked Washburn Road for winter field species. Finding the well-camouflaged Horned Larks took awhile, but eventually everyone had good looks.

Sharp-eyed members of our group spotted this Saw-whet Owl hiding in the branchesWe then worked our way toward the traditional owl grove. Here we had great looks at a Saw-whet Owl and heard a Great Horned Owl in the distance, although we dipped on other owl species.

A Short-eared Owl hunting over the fields in front of usWe weren’t quite done, though. As it was getting late, we headed toward the Sportsmen’s Center, often the best place to look for Short-eared Owls. Before we even arrived, we spotted one – no, wait, two or three – wait, look there, many! – Short-eared Owls perching then hunting as they flew over fields on both sides of the road. It was a spectacular show with a dozen or more owls in sight at any given moment.

As darkness fell, we made our way back toward Columbus with memories of a truly great day in north central Ohio.

Here’s a list of the birds that we found:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Canada Goose
Tundra Swan
American Black Duck
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Bald Eagle
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
American Coot
Ring-billed Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Short-eared Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
American Kestrel
American Crow
Horned Lark
American Robin
European Starling
American Tree Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark

All photos courtesy of Rick Stelzer