Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Return to Owling

The end of March through all of April is one of my favorite times of year for birding.  Breeders arrive on territories and it's a great time to see a variety of migrants.  It's also a great time for owling.  Elf and Flammulated Owls return during this time frame, and the time frame is also good for locating Spotted, Northern Saw-whet, Northern Pygmy, and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls.  Throw Western Screech-Owl in there too!  Owling is one of my favorite aspects of birding, especially night owling.  It's challenging, adventurous, freaky, and fun.  Any night owling is a good one.  For the past two years, including this year, I have made March 31st a night where I go out and look for returning Elf Owls in Maricopa County's Lower Salt River Recreation Area.  It's always cool to look for these returning owls, the smallest owl in the world.

This March 31st, I was joined by my friend Emma, and the two of us teamed up to search for Elf Owls.  We arrived at the Salt River right at dusk, where we started searching for Elf Owls.  It wasn't long before a few Elf Owls were heard barking, or in other words "yipping" in similar sounds to what a puppy sounds like.  I took Emma to a classic spot where I know where Elf Owls are, and she was excited because she had never seen one.  Within minutes I spied a pair of Elf Owls together, and they gave Emma and me great views.  I couldn't get my camera adjusted in time to get the clearest of shots, but hey, this is the first time I've seen a pair of Elf Owls sitting together in all of the times I have been Elf Owling.

Elf Owls feed on insects as their main food source.  As you can see, the Elf on the left has a moth of some sort.  It's probably the male waiting to feed it to the female.

The Elf Owl on the right flew off first and we enjoyed the left owl with the moth for another minute before it took off.  And then one of the Elf Owls started calling above us.  I could tell that it was in it's saguaro cactus cavity.  In all of my nights of owling prior to this night, I had never seen an Elf Owl peeking out of it's cavity, and it was something I had always wanted to see.  Well, there's a first time for everything...

The Elf Owl commonly called from it's cavity and stared down at us in the few minutes that we spent observing it.

It was awesome that within minutes I photographed two sequences with this bird (pair together, cavity peeker) that I had yet to see before with Elf Owls.  Perhaps Emma was good luck..

The Elf Owls left us satisfied to the fact that we immediately moved on to searching for Western Screech-Owls, another new one for Emma.  It didn't take us long to find several Western Screech-Owls along the Salt River between a few of it's recreation sites.  

Western Screech-Owls are one of my favorite owls to listen to when they get going.  As we were walking through the desert, we heard several Western Screech-Owls singing back and fourth.  This bouncing ball song is peaceful and can put anyone to sleep.  There are plenty of times these owls will calmly sit close to humans and the presence of man won't alter anything they do.  The song will keep coming and coming.  Western Screech-Owls hunt by perching calmly and almost motionless on an overhanging branch, such as the ones that are photographed above.  

Time flies fast when owling, it really does.  Before I knew it, Emma and I were both exhausted and we headed back.  We were interrupted by one more Screech-Owl on the way back to my truck.  It sang from a thicket, and Emma went in the ticket to find the owl.  What a cool way to end the night..

The upcoming weeks of birding are going to be great.  Mountain warblers will be back, shorebirds and gulls will be migrating through, migrants are everywhere in general, and perhaps the most fun, all of the owls will be back.  Flammulated Owls, how about that.

1 comment:

  1. Best time of year and the easiest for people searching for owls here in AZ. Now I just need the Flam for the year. I usually do that one at the end of April or beginning of May. I love every single one of their calls. one of the people I took out last week for Elf and Whiskered brought his girlfriend and she wasn't having any of the night birding:) She saw the owls and was like, let's go:)