Wednesday, 25 January 2012

2 Long Hours of Searching for 2 Long-eared Owls

So, back I went to Claireville Conservation Area.  I knew there was a Long-eared Owl in the woods, and this time I was bound and determined to find it.  If only this time there were kind strangers to guide me in the correct direction.  How nice it would be to run into a nice man, putting out seed for the birds, or, perhaps a kindly older woman, with binoculars from WW2, who might just know where it was.  Too much too hope for?  Well, in Big Years, as in Life, some dreams do come true.  Well, not precisely.  Turned out the nice man couldn't make it today, as his dog was ailing, and the older woman turned out to be a man.  But the binoculars were from WW2, at least.

From a previous encounter with a kindly Englishman with a camera lens as long as my leg, I knew the Owls to be out to the eastern part of the park, so, off I went.  As I got deeper into the woods I half expected to see Little Red Riding hood or the Wolf.  As it turned out I met a nice woman who was filling the bird feeders.  Well, not exactly filling.  Much easier to spread the seed on the ground below the feeders.  I am sure the regular guy had a system that worked for him.  Apparently all these dog walkers know each other, though today, it seemed, not all of them had dogs.  Long story.

So I followed the bird seed lady around.  No, I wasn't stalking her.  She seemed to enjoy the company and wanted to talk.  Again, long story.  And I figured, hang around someone putting out bird seed, you're bound to see birds.  Well, no.  Squirrels.  Cute little grey ones and big black ones and medium sized red ones.  But no birds.  Well, yes birds, if you count the Black-capped Chickadees.  I am not usually a bird counter, so I just estimate a gazillon of them.

Eventually the nice lady directed me down a very long path into the deeper depths of the forest,(you can see why this took two hours), and I was once again on my own.  At one point I did see an owl of some sort take off from a tree and fly away, but as I learned from the kindly older gentleman, it was the Great-horned Owl, he had seen not 3 minutes before in the tree he guided me to, in which was supposed to be the GHO.

As I already had one on the Big Year List, I was not deterred.  I asked if he knew of the resting place of the Long-eared Owl, as that was the one I had come to see.  And yes, this kindly older gentleman was quite willing to show me where the LEO liked to hang out, as long as I didn't use his name.  You see all these dog walkers apparently dislike all us birders coming out and spoiling the tranquility of the park by quietly training our binoculars on a bird, while their dogs loudly smash through the underbrush.  So, if I outed him, there might be a lynching.  Again, long story.

Getting back to the LEO.  That looks dumb.  Won't use short forms any more.  So, getting back to the Long-eared Owl, it was necessary to look for owl barf on the tree and and ground before straining one's neck to look for owls in the tree.  Once identified, see photo below, it was just a matter of scanning the tree with the binoculars until the owl came into focus.  And it sure did.  It was quite the sight.  Once again I forgot how cold I was, and just basked in the warmth of finding a cool bird, and number 115 for the year, as well.

At this point my intrepid guide with no name,(I know it but am not telling - I hope the mention of WW2 binoculars is not a give-a-way), left me to my own devices with brief instructions on how to get back to civilization.  I stayed for about half an hour and snapped many photos.  I was able to spot a second one, but it was mostly hidden by branches and I wasn't able to get it to pose for even one photo.

I did eventually have to head back and though I got myself going in the wrong direction for a while, I did finally make it back to the car.  Snapped a photo of a Goldfinch at the feeder on the way out.  Fingers numb with cold, my feet nearly as cold, I hopped in the car and sped to the nearest Tim Horton's and ordered the large coffee, even though that is now the size of what used to be an extra large, and with the heat blasting me on the outside, warmed my insides with the Tim's.  Though really, the memory of seeing my first Long-eared Owl, was worth any discomfort from the cold.

Moral of the story?  Non dog walkers are more trustworthy than dog walkers.  Yesterday a dog walker directed me to a Falcon that turned out to be a Hawk and today a non dog walker helped me to find a Long-Eared Owl.  But that might not be true in every case.  Don't take my word for it.

And now for your enjoyment, Owl Barf:
Okay, technically, Owl Pellets.

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