As the sun sank lower, cars started to arrive at the Liberty Loop parking lot. They pulled in by ones and twos. I had been standing there for hours with my feet ice cold in the snow jawing with some bird photographers. We watched Harriers, Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawks, a Merlin and loads of Canada Geese and Sparrows. A Barred owl started to inquire about our dinner arrangements.
One of the photographers had been coming to the marsh for weeks and had not seen a Short-eared Owl in all that time. I had not seen one there since mid-December. As people arrived asking about the Owls, we all just shrugged. Many people left, heck, I left. But after a tongue-burning cup of cocoa, I came back to resume the vigil.
Friends of mine from Long Island arrived bubbling with news of having seen Long-eared Owls. As they told there story again and again for new arrivals, I idly scanned the marsh. They must have brought owl luck with them for as the sun inched further in the west and the sky’s pastels turned fiery, a Short-eared Owl rose from the marsh and started to course back and forth. I whirled around shouting at the photographers chatting in the parking lot. “We’ve got owls!” Everyone hustled up to the upper level.
In the end there were 4. The cool thing was that it was light enough that you could easily see the differences between the male and females and tell them apart.
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.
Here is the list for today. I saw many of the same birds as yesterday; but did add a few lifers. We spent time in the grasslands since the rain had stopped before heading down to the Chiracuahuas to look for the Mexican Chickadee, Yellow-eyed Junco and the Olive Wabler. I only saw the Junco. What a terrific bird!
Great Blue Heron
Western Screech Owl
Whiskered Screech Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Dark-eyed Junco – Gray capped form