Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Screech watch-general report

Photo of the three fledglings taken by Owlwatcher on April 17, 2005
[Compare this with earlier photos and you'll see the transformation from baby to near-adult, all in the space of a month.

Last week the screech-owl family disappeared from their pine-tree day roost a bit east of 103rd Street. The pine tree --there were actually two pines, one right next to the other-- were within sight of the little body of water called The Pool, where parents and children stroll, couples sit on benches and smooch, dog-walkers walk --a pleasant Central Park hangout.

At the end of their night's hunting the owls always returned to those same trees day after day and the spot had become a gathering place for owl-watchers in need of an owl fix. [Yes, it's addictive. Beware. One look at the photo above, taken yesterday by Owlwatcher, one of the regular owl people who chooses to appear under a nom de plume, and you're in danger of becoming an owl junkie.]

They were gone. But owl-hunters are a determined bunch. Since the owls had been seen heading into the woods to the east, Donna Browne thought their new daytime refuge might be in that direction. Bravely she set off, accompanied on her owl prowl by Chris, another regular screech-owl watcher.

The two women located the little owl family last Wednesday in an oak tree down in the Ravine, not far from the open hill where the owls' pine-tree roost was located. Not far in physical distance, that is, but miles away psychologically. For the Ravine is in the deep woods. And the woods in the north part of Central Park are scary. It is a common belief that regular folk don't venture there, that it is the stomping ground of drug addicts, muggers, wild gangs of teenagers and the like.

Donna and Chris are small women--you might think they were foolhardy to venture into the dark woods. But they had another important escort, Cris's border collie named Fig.Fig is a well-behaved dog. But he has one habit that may be annoying under other circumstances but was welcome now: he barks fiercely at strangers.

They found the owl that night, but the very next night night when Donna and Samantha [her 13-year-old daughter] and I made another expedition to find the owls they weren't in that same tree. It was quite light when we began searching, but by the time we had scoured all the trees in the vicinity of that big oak night was falling. And no Fig. We gave up quite soon.

Subsequently two reports came in of owl sightings--one a sighting of the family back in their old pine tree, and one of them in a deciduous tree , a different one than the oak, down in the Ravine.

Well, last night they were easily found
not far from the Loch by a small group of owl hunters, . An hour before sunset they were all very visible on a scraggly, slightly bent-over deciduous tree quite near the side of the stream. At about 7:25 they all began to preen, and flyout began around 7:40, a few minutes after sunset.

A few whinnies after flyout -- I think it is the sound the parents make to keep the kids together. A bit of chittering by the fledglings -- Feed me feed me. And then they disappeared in the direction of the deeper woods.

It's time for the last gathering of the BirdFeeder Squad. I'll have to save the incident of the Owls and the Pussycat and the Owls and the Homeboys for tomorrow or the next day.