Friday, June 26, 2015

The Latest Owling Expedition-Back to Coon Bluff

It's obvious.  Plain obvious.  2015 is all about studying owls for me.  It seems like it has been most of my birding this year as I have "tanked" a lot of my usual birding due to taking a break from it much of this year.  But when I've gone out into the field, a high percentage of it has come from owling excursions.  This family of birds is epic, and it is sheer fun to go out into the field in darkness to try and find secretive birds.  Birds like this are what make this hobby fun, and finding owls gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I am able to find them.  Eventually, I want to see and photograph all of Arizona's 13 owl species in their different plumages.  Short-eared Owls don't breed in Arizona that we know of, so that is the only exception.  I've photographed all 13 birds personally, but I still want a variety of observations and shots for each species.  For example, I've photographed adult Elf Owls and Western Screech-Owls well this year.  As June has come around, I've wanted to get out in the field to photograph fledglings of these two species.  Super hot weather has pushed me back for a few weeks as well as being hesitant to go out to the Bluff alone (no one wants to go hiking in June, c'mon).  But last night, I said "bust it" and I took my birding equipment with me to work.  After getting off at 9 P.M., I headed out to Coon Bluff at the Salt River, where I would spend the next three hours searching for owls after I arrived at 9:40 P.M.  The goal was to find one of even both fledglings of the two owl species I have targeted out there several times this year.

Things started out rather quiet, but they did come to life when I heard Great Horned, Western Screech, and Elf Owls start to call at once.  I walked to a different area at Coon Bluff than I have on previous outings.  A silhouette caught my eye on top of a dead tree, and it was a Great Horned Owl.  I tried to get closer, but the large predator vanished into the night before I could get within better range of it's location.  The night was muggy and hot to start off with before cooling down to a much more tolerable and pleasant temperature.  Things got interesting when I heard an Elf Owl chattering.  Upon approaching the sound, I caught movement and located two Elf Owls perched side-by-side in a mesquite.  I thought immediately that one was going to be a fledgling bird.  They both turned out to be adults, and one of the pair was extremely cooperative.  These may be the best shots I have gotten yet of the world's smallest owl!

It's funny to think of a bird this small as being a parent!  After watching this pair for a few minutes they moved on.  Minutes after, I heard the female giving her station call a few times.  This may have been a clue to young being around somewhere.  The owls seemed to be moving around quite a bit, and I failed to find any Elf Owls further within this sequence as well as the rest of the night.  I had already been looking for over an hour.  One of the big glasses of water I brought with me had fallen on split open on the ground, which left me very limited on water.  I was very thirsty and in need of a drink, so I headed back to my truck.  After filling up on water, I headed to the western side of Coon Bluff to look for Western Screech-Owls and hope for any potential fledglings that would be around.  There is a place near this western end that I have consistently viewed Western Screech-Owls at on every visit I have made to Coon Bluff this year.  This time would still be no different.  After a little whistle given, Mr. Screech flew right in!

After looking at the usual Western Screech-Owl for a few minutes, the next twenty minutes were spent walking around in a dark mesquite bosque.  I then heard a Western Screech-Owl giving a "barking" like sound and it was very weak.  It sure sounded interesting!  I walked in the direction of the source and the calls were sounding more and more like fledgling calls.  As I came up on the owl, it was just above my eye level on a stick, and it was indeed my first ever look at a young Western Screech-Owl!  I was stoked.

While adult Western Screech-Owls have vertical barring, fledgling Western Screech-Owls have horizontal barring.  This little bird just sat there and called often.  It seemed to be very helpless.

Fledgling owls will sit in one place for hours waiting for their parents to come and feed them.  I would have loved to wait and see the adult come in, but I also didn't want to disturb this bird very much either.  The time I spent with it was great though.

Things got even better when I heard a second fledgling nearby and only thirty feet away.  I spent some time looking at this one for a few minutes too.

Before the night was said-and-done, I mission was a success after getting a fledgling of one of the two species.  

And for fun, here is my favorite song.  Give it a listen!

1 comment:

  1. Man you are the owl master! And I'll head out there any time with you to go owling. I'm trying to go next week. Those crushes are EPIC!