Friday, January 27, 2006

The Birders Grapevine and the GHO

Here's how the Birders' Grapevine worked magnificently yesterday to keep the Great Horned Owl followers abreast of the closely-watched bird's whereabouts.

1/26/05 11:30 a.m: Received an email from my friend Chris who lives near the North Woods. She walks her dog Fig there every morning and had been sending me regular bulletins about the GHO's location. The e-mail's subject line told the story immediately:


Chris wrote that she had scoured the
woods that morning but failed to find the GHO

I notified the owl followers. Then, I checked e-birds and found a posting from Wendy Paulson, a superb birder and a Central Park birdwalk leader. She wrote in to add several additional birds to Jack Meyer’s report of his daily early morning walk. Wendy's group had seen a brown thrasher, a hermit thrush, a song sparrow, and…a GHO. Her walks are usually in the Ramble. Hmmm. A clue.

I know Wendy Paulson and emailed her at once:

Wendy, I've been watching the fly-out in the North Woods since last Saturday. This morning my uptown informant [a dog walker] couldn't find the GHO. Did you see it in the North, or is it back in the Ramble?

Her answer arrived a few minutes later:

Marie, It's back in the Ramble, almost precisely where seen before. I was surprised to see it (and VERY glad, since I was out with a bunch of cold, hopeful people). Wendy

I sent out a number of e-mails and made a few phone calls. Soon the birding community knew that the GHO had changed venues again.

Later that afternoon I checked my e-mail and found a report on e-birds,a listserv for city birdwatchers. Writer Bob Levy reported that the GHO had returned to the Ramble. Since Bob happened not to be on my e-mail/phone grapevine list [He will be in the future] I'm not sure how he found out the bird was back in the Ramble. Perhaps he found it on his own, or maybe the grapevine reached him. In any event he didn't stay for the flyout. Indeed he assumed that no other birder had been hardy enough to withstand that day's arctic weather. But one had! One who had brought along four friends.

Barbara Kent, a regular owl prowler, sent me a vivid account of her discovery of the bird, and of the events of yesterday's flyout. She had actually been on Wendy's birdwalk that morning, Her description follows Bob's e-birds report:

Here's Bob Levy's report:

The Great Horned Owl has returned to the territory it
had been occupying for weeks. After a brief sojourn to
another section of the park birders were discovering
its whereabouts without much effort. Even though it
was perched high its size gave it away. I found three
tripods parked below the big bird this evening. A
group of eight birders were juggling their competing
desires to watch the owl fly out or find relief from
the cold after having stood still for too long. The
cold won the competition and none stayed to watch the
Great Horned Owl go do its work.

Here's Barbara Kent's detailed account of the fly-out:

Hi Marie,

I just wanted to make sure that you knew our GHO today (Thursday, Jan. 26) was seen back where you & I saw him in the Ramble.

Actually, I was thrilled to get a good look at him twice today. This morning around 8:15 am I was on a bird walk led by Wendy Paulson, when we first discovered the GHO looking surprisingly awake, swiveling his head & wide-eyed.

Then I couldn't help but return with four friends at fly-out time this evening -- you know he's hooked me. I was surprised
to find no other birders, so I was wondering whether regular birders may have been still looking for our GHO up in the North Woods.

He gave us a great show this evening -- in a different tree from where we saw him this morning, but still in the same area. He did his regular wing stretches & preening before taking off around 5:30 pm, heading west, stopping nearby on a high perch & then heading northeast, stopping several more times, before he flew out of our sight. We tried
to run abreast of him, but finally lost sight of him, as he seemed to be headed toward the baseball fields north of Belvedere Castle. I kept scouring the tree silhouettes at the south end of the baseball fields, looking for a thickening that might be our GHO ... without any success.