Melody came to pick me up at O’dark:30 to go owling.
With a warning about possible snakes and illegal drug smugglers, we stalked off into the pitch black desert under more twinkling stars than I have seen in a long, long time. Shivering in the cold pre-dawn hour we stood in the darkness listening, straining to hear. We waited. Fortunately we only were out for a mere half an hour, when the first Western Screech hooted, far in the distance. Others soon answered from the right and left of us. As the darkness paled, we saw a flicker of movement into a tree behind us. Melody snapped on the flashlight to spot the small gray owl. I held my breath and whipped up my bins to get a look, then she snapped off the light. My first Western Screech Owl.
We needed to move further up the mountain for the Whiskered Screech. In parking lot after parking lot we tried for the owl but came up short. Finally in the third lot we tried, we hit pay-dirt coming across a family. Standing in the dawning day, I heard from the distance a screaming or maybe a howling. My first thought was coyote. I cocked my head trying to place the sound. Melody whispered, it was a young Whiskered Screech. Within minutes we had 6 owls all around us. She spotted tree after to tree but we could not find them. Finally we left the parking lot and went into the woods. There again, we saw something silently fly into a copse of trees above us. We had found the small gray owl. We watched as it hooted to the others.
I did a happy dance on the way back to the car. Owls are so amazing.
The third owl, I heard from across a ravine at the end of the day. Searching for a mixed flock that might have the Mexican Chickadee, we went higher and higher in the Chiricahua mountains. We never did find the flock, but there off in the distance came the faint but clear hoots of a Northern Pygmy Owl, a diurnal hunter of other birds. No wonder the birds were keeping a low profile. I would too.