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A BOS Owl Prowl

Published March 03, 2013
Tags: Life List Happenings, Snowy Owl, Great Horned Owl, Short-eared Owl, Barred Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, BOS, Buffalo Ornithological Society

I came home on a real high after today's BOS (Buffalo Ornithological Society) Owl Trip. The goal of our guide was to find 6 owls: the Snowy, Short-eared, Eastern Screech, Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Saw-whet. Astonishingly, we got them ALL!  I picked up three lifers: the Snowy, Barred, and Eastern Screech. I laid eyes on the Northern Saw-whet, but it was too brief a look to claim him as a life list addition.  But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning of the trip...

Our group of about 20 started at the airport in Wheatfield where a Snowy Owl was sitting a considerable distance out in the field. Had someone not pointed him out, I would've taken him for a lump of snow! He sat fairly still, presumably waiting for a rodent to grab. For some reason, I thought Snowies hung out by water, but that's completely false. They frequently come inland to hunt mice, moles and voles during the irruptive years when they've traveled south of their favorite dish, the lemming. Open fields and corn fields are apparently good places to look for a Snowy Owl.

During our stop at the airport, we also enjoyed watching a Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk hunt. The 2 raptors actually had a little interaction when the Red-tailed harassed the harrier for a few moments!

Next, we went to the home of a falconer who allowed us views of a Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest. I took a few photos, but the distance was too great for a decent shot. This time you can see both ears, though! The falconer had a female Red-tailed Hawk that he brought out to show us. It was amazing being so close to this magnificent bird of prey. Beautiful.

After the Great Horned Owl, we attempted to call in a Barred Owl. Chuck led us to a wooded area where he called out the Barred Owl's "Who cooks for you" call. There was a reply and, soon the enamored owl swooped in. He must have taken a good look at our group and decided we weren't what he had in mind because he left just as fast as he came in - before many of us had a chance to get a look at him. I'm pretty sure we all were thrilled when a Pileated Woodpecker flew across where we were standing, then "laughed" at us a few moments later too!

We called it quits for the Barred Owl and headed out to an open field to look for Short-ears. Sure enough, as we pulled alongside the field, there were 2 or 3 flying and hunting. They completely disappeared as we parked, but someone spotted a lone owl sitting out in the field. Everyone was able to get some very nice scope views of the owl as he posed nicely for us. Success!

Saw-whet owls were next on the agenda - my personal hope for the day. The group split up and browsed the pines in Four Mile Creek State Park. Chuck, our guide, taught us what signs to look for that showed the presence of the diminutive owls. We saw fresh evidence on many trees, but no owls. We did hear the musical song of a Carolina Wren, though - and a couple of people got to see it fly by. When we re-grouped, Chuck used his amazing owl calling skills again to try and whistle in a Saw-whet, but eventually, to my disappointment, we gave up that search to pursue the Eastern Screech Owl.

The screech owl, a red morph, was easily found sitting in a nesting box on the property of friends of our guide.  The couple came out and asked Chuck to see if he could engage the owl in a "conversation". Chuck called out and a little later, the owl responded! Very, very cool!  They conversed for a little while as we took turns looking through the scopes. By this time, it was quite dark and photos were out of the question.  Some of the group left, but there were those of us who were free and able to follow Chuck to once again try for those Barred Owls.

Back at the same remote road in the woods, we grouped around Chuck in the dark. I held his red spot light, Joe and Doug held the white light, Celeste got her scope ready, and Chuck began his owl calls, starting with the Saw-whet. I was astounded when we heard two Saw-whets answering his calls. Next thing I knew, I saw one cross between myself and some of the group in a rush! Wow! Another came in as Chuck continued to call. I never saw one long enough to claim on my list, but I not only heard them but also got a quick glimpse as it flew by me.

As if the Saw-whets weren't enough, Chuck's next attempt at calling in a Barred Owl brought two replies just a few yards down the road. This time I got fantastic looks. As the owls and Chuck called back and forth, Celeste got her scope fixed on the first and then the next owl. The views in the soft beam of light were absolutely wonderful.  And hearing "who cooks for you" deeply resonate in the night by the real McCoy was nothing less than exhilarating.

I guess this post is a bit longer post than usual, but I guess I was enthused more than usual!  Thank you, Chuck, for sharing your time and skills with us all!


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Red-tailed Hawk at the falconer's
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Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest
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Red-tailed Hawk we saw en route
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Short-eared Owl sitting in the field