Friday, January 27, 2012

Owl City

My life owl score:
  • May 1959 to December 2011: no owls seen in the wild. Not a one, as far as I am aware.
  • January 2012: Three owls (individuals and species) seen so far.

Go figure.

One trick is: go where the owls are, when the owls are. Hmmmm. Very smart.

Three weekends ago we went to the airport in search of a snowy owl that had been reported there. And there it was, with a group of birders with binoculars and spotting scopes all pointing at it. (I forgot to take my camera. Rats.)

Two weekends ago on one of those nice mild days, we went for a walk near the pine plantation in the Carleton arboretum, hoping to see a great horned owl that a couple of people had spotted there in the day or two previously, and one flew out of the trees right over our heads. (I had my camera, but didn't have time to do anything with it as the owl suddenly appeared.)

This evening, an "owl hearing walk" led by two of the arboretum student naturalists was publicized, and about 22 people showed up for it, mostly students. They told us they couldn't promise any owls, but they would take us to some likely areas. Before setting off they played sound clips of the calls of the owls we had some chance of hearing, and we were shown photos of the owls as well.

 Well, off we marched, in two straight lines just like the little girls in the book Madeline, because we were staying clear of the groomed cross-country ski trails down the the middle of the path.

Our guides took us to the floodplain alongside the Cannon River, where some of the larger and older trees in the arb are found. And there, before long, we came abruptly to a halt, because there was a barred owl 20 or 30 feet off the ground in a tree right next to the trail.

 Back at the orientation talk before we set out, we learned that a quick way to tell whether you are looking at a barred owl is to look for very dark eyes (it's the only owl around here with dark eyes) and a yellowish beak. Yep, a barred owl is what it was.

And there you have it. Owl species #3 for the month, and the year, and my life. And the very first owl I have photographed. It posed nicely, didn't it?

After a short time it flew to a tree a few dozen yards further from the trail, and we stood and watched it as best we could for a while. We didn't see or hear any other owls on the walk, but that one great sighting was well worth the rather vigorous outing -- except for that one long pause and a couple of brief ones, we walked very briskly indeed over variable terrain in increasing darkness for considerably more than an hour. Thanks to Carleton senior Emma, who kept me company as I straggled at the end of the line for the last 20 minutes or so of the walk.

Then I went home and fixed myself some nice hot mulled wine.

Thanks, Jared and Owen, for leading the outing and teaching us some things about owls. Here is some more good information about looking for owls in this area, from the Carleton naturalists.

1 comment:

Deb said...

So glad you got to see a Snowy! I was hoping to look for one in Duluth tomorrow when I was going to take the boys to baseball camp, but with my car situation it looks like I won't be able to.