Winter Rapture
Owl Prowls and Eagle Spots

     After the excitement of the holidays, the hustle and bustle of our daily lives subsides. I look forward to these quite months of winter as a time to reflect on the year past. It is also a time I enjoy spending outdoors despite the frigid temperatures and the abundance of overcast days. Nature displays a mystic quality in winter, especially after a good snow fall. Enter a silent woods or windswept field or walk along the frozen banks of any river in winter and you are sure to feel a sense of wonder and serenity. The great cathedrals of the world move us to both awe and humility. On winter days crisp and bright, or still and stark, I venture out into the wild places in search of inspiration, and the chance to watch wildlife.
     Contrary to popular belief bird watching does not end with the passing of summer. Native birders would tell you that some of the most exciting birding of the year occurs after the last House Wren has left and the Orioles are safely in Central America! The Upper Mississippi River is host to thousands of wintering Bald Eagles. Eagles congregate near open water, waiting on the edge of the ice and perching in trees along the shore. The fishing here must be very good, sometimes as many as several hundred can be seen in one spot! Warm water discharge from power plants and the confluence of the Chippewa River in Wisconsin keep great stretches of the river open all winter providing excellent fishing for this magnificent bird.
     There are many good places to view Bald Eagles on both sides of the river. Colvill Park in Red Wing offers “Eagle Spot” every weekend from mid December until mid March. Volunteers from the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center staff the area from 1 pm to 3 pm and provide interpretation, spotting scopes and binoculars. Not only does the bay at Colvill Park attract good numbers of birds, these are some of the closest views of Bald Eagles to be had along this part of the Mississippi River. As many as two hundred birds have been counted using the area in one day! In addition to “Eagle Spot” viewing at Colvill Park, the city of Red Wing will be hosting the second annual Eagle Spot Festival in February. Mark your calendars for the weekend of the 28th and 29th when Red Wing celebrates our national symbol of freedom with special events throughout the day. Guest speakers will present at the historic Sheldon Theatre. Programs featuring live birds of prey are also planned. For more information, visit the Red Wing web site at www.redwing.org.
     The National Eagle Center in Wabasha provides the best information on the conservation and recovery of the Bald Eagle. The Center provides educational programs throughout the year, reaching thousands of people with a messages of river stewardship. If you want to have a nose to beak experience with a live Eagle, the National Eagle Center is the place to come! Harriet, Angel, and Columbia are three non releasable Bald Eagles that now work as education birds. They live at the National Eagle Center and often travel to do programs for schools and special events. Wabasha also operates a winter observation deck on weekends. For more information you can visit their web site at www.eaglecenter.org.
     Another raptor takes center stage in winter. Great Horned Owls are on the prowl, the first birds to breed in the new year. Courting and nest selection begin in December. Some individuals are already incubating eggs by January! Two to three chicks will hatch in February and March sporting an extra thick layer of protective downy feathers. Great Horned Owls are common, adaptable and quite large. Finding their nest can be fairly easy. They often raise young in city parks, cemeteries, and golf courses. This large owl lacks proper nest building skills. Instead, they borrow the nest of another raptor, (often a Red-tailed Hawk) or sometimes a crow.
     If you want to experiences owls this winter here are some tips for locating them. Look for large stick nests as you drive past parks and wooded areas. Check these nest sites every week or so. If you see an owl sitting in the nest remember to keep your distance, use binoculars and try not to disturb them. Chicks will remain in the nest for at least three weeks and will stay close to the nest site for several weeks after fledging.
     State parks and forests are another great place to find owls. Most parks close at dusk, but several have special candle light snowshoe and ski events throughout the winter. These events offer the novice a comfortable, safe way to connect with our wild places after dark. Frontenac State Park will hold a candle light ski in February on the 7th. (651-345-3401) Whitewater State Park will offer Moonlight Snowshoeing on February 6th under a nearly full moon. (507-932-3007) Visit the MN DNR web site at www.dnr.state.mn.us.
     Start listening now for lots of hooting, especial at dusk. Males are territorial and will fly in to ward off a potential rival. A great way to get a good look at large owls is to imitate their calls and wait for them to call back. Once you have a good conversation going, the owl is likely to move in close, looking for that “other” owl. For those who might feel a little foolish walking around a city park in the middle of the night hooting there is the Festival of Owls in Houston, MN, March 5th and 6th. Learn about owl habits, meet several resident educational birds and go on an after dark owl prowl to call in the locals. Explore the myths and discover the truth about Harry Potter’s owls! Daytime activities include story telling, puppet shows, origami owls and lots of great food. For more information: 507-896-4668
Online at www.owlstuff.com


Kelly Larson
Northern Flights Wild Bird Store
Bemidji, Minnesota 218-444-3022