I heard through the Illinois Birding List, that if you visit the Bartel Grasslands after 3pm, your chances of seeing a short-eared owl over the field this time of year is pretty high. Well, that’s all I needed! So yesterday I jumped in the car and headed out to the Bartel Grasslands for a hike.
Bartel is huge and currently being restored by many hard working volunteers. It’s beautiful and vast and on a day like this one (32°F with hazy sky), I was the only one there. Can you see a plot of pine trees in the background? Several sections of pine dot the landscape here and there. It is the perfect habitat for owls, pines on the edge of a field.
From looking at this scene, you would expect to hear many things: birds, the wind, dry grasses, right? Nope. Not a sound. Total quiet and tranquillity. There was no wind and nothing rustling around. At first, it seemed too quiet with no wildlife but then…
Peering out over the grasslands, I see it! Movement! Silent movement! I grab my binoculars and sure enough, a short-eared owl. I watch as I try to control my shaky hands. He flies low, real low, back and forth in a pattern….searching. As he gets closer to me, he looks right at me. A circle of white surround his face, his eyes put me in a trance. He takes a lightning fast glance down at the ground and then back at me. Wow! I couldn’t talk if I wanted to, just frozen in awe. Behind him much further out I see 3 more flying above the field. They are so far, I can’t tell whether they are owls or northern harrier hawks.
My fingers are numb and my view in the binoc is fogging up. It is well worth it, but I know it’s time to turn back and start my hike towards the car.
It was an amazing hike and my very first time spotting a short-eared owl. I will never forget this day.
Speaking of hiking, make sure when you go out you are dressed for the weather, warm, with multiple layers, also remember to always stay hydrated. Check out the CamelBak Water Bottle! Neat find.