Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Saw Going Off at Night

Saws aren't supposed to be used at night.  But if your in a forest at night, you might hear something that sounds very similar to a saw being used up in the trees.  It all started when early explorers would camp out at night only to hear a strange sound that sounded to them what was spot on similar to a saw being whetted (which means sharpened).  They were curious as to what it could possibly be.  After some thought and searching, they realized it was a small owl.  It wasn't using a saw, but it commonly gave a high pitched call note that would descend in pitch to really sound reminiscent of the tool being used.  Contrary to the use of the saw, this owl wouldn't cut through anything larger than a bird or a mouse and it is quite friendly towards people.  It was given a very appropriate name, the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are found in North America and are pretty widespread.  Their range is very solid throughout western North America, ranging from southern Alaska south to Mexico.  They are present throughout the lower half of Canada and northeastern North America, and are widespread migrants and winter visitors elsewhere in North America.  Northern Saw-whet Owls favor a variety of forested habitats, especially mixed-conifer forests.  Prior to July 20th, 2015, I had seen this bird twice in the field and only have heard it two other times.  While I had great observations of fledgling birds on Mount Ord, my adult views in Prescott were very quick.  I've been longing for another shot at this owl that is very tame-acting but is yet very hard to find at the same time.  Fledgling shots of this species are great, but I've really wanted shots of an adult.  I'm in Greer, Arizona right now on my annual vacation with my family, and I decided to go out owling at night on a forest road in Greer in an undisclosed location.  Long story short, I detected four Northern Saw-whet Owls in less than a mile.  Perhaps this is the best location in Arizona to find these birds.  Who knows, the White Mountains aren't owled very much.  Long story short, I managed to see and get excellent looks at one of the owls (an adult!) at roughly 8:50 P.M.  After following him a few times through aspen and pine forest, he turned out to be very cooperative for me.  It was an unbelievable experience, and I hung out with this Northern Saw-whet Owl for fifteen minutes.  The bird was very curious about me, and the cool thing is, I left him sitting there.  I could say a lot more about this sighting with words, but I really can't right now (plus I don't have the time to write more, I have birding to do).  What is being left here is a selection of photographs of my time with a Northern Saw-whet Owl.  Perhaps the friendliest owl I've ever met.

Chubby bird, isn't it?

I remember in the science subject when I was in fourth grade in elementary school, we had a unit on owls.  The class split into teams and we each had an owl species we did a report on.  This went along with dissecting owl pellets and learning about their life and natural history.  My group's owl was the Northern Saw-whet.  Since then this bird has always seemed epic to me.  Seeing it in the field at night in this fashion was incredible! 

At times, the Northern Saw-whet Owl was very alert to it's surroundings besides me standing there.  He looked around when he heard an elk in the valley below us, and he also got a little nervous when a Great Horned Owl called.

It was a tops birding observation, and indeed a fun one.  I am still shocked as a write that I got to spend 15 minutes with this bird up very close.  This is the ultra highlight of my Greer trip so far.  I have more to write about, and more to come later.  It would take something extreme to top this bird for this year's Greer trip, and I doubt that will happen.  For now, enjoy birding ;)


  1. Tommy the Freight Train...because he just doesn't stop rolling and his owl pics hit us hard and fast. You're a hero and an inspiration, dude.

  2. You are a legend in the making. . .actually, the legend is already here. Wow.

  3. Congrats Tommy. That is a great little owl. Sounds like Greer still has lots there waiting to be discovered.