Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So much for THAT theory

Photo by Lloyd Spitalnik

Yesterday I dreamed up a possible scenario to explain the disappearance of the gray-phase Riviera Screech-owl. Today I received a letter contradicting that little dream. Usually I delete comments about my book, thanks, etc. from letters I post -- seems too self-serving to include them. But the first paragraph of the letter below was too nice to skip. Thanks a lot, Phil.

Hello Marie,

First I’d like to thank you for you excellent book, and for your website—It has been an invaluable resource for sightings, stories, photography, and anything else that excites the sensibilities of the birder.

I’ve enjoyed all the speculation as to the fate of the missing gray-phase screech owl. Concerning today’s [1/24/06] theory, I should note that on one magical evening about five or six weeks ago I witnessed both Riviera owls’ fly-out (my journal is not here with me, but first the fly-out was a minute or two before 5pm—if I remember correctly). After following, then losing, the red-phase (who was the second to leave the tree), I felt the sudden urge to head over to the West Drive owls, thinking that perhaps I might see more over there. I jogged over the bow bridge and worked my way to the other hole and found one of the gray-phased owls peering down. I also saw another observer who told me that the first gray-screech had flown out about ten minutes before I arrived. We stood for 45 minutes watching as the second owl seemed content to rest at the edge of his hole, before the cold got the better of us. Before we both departed, we noticed that the second owl retreated partially into his hole. Perhaps he was also discouraged by the cold.

Based on the enthusiasm and effort of this observer in the cold, and his familiarity with the West Drive owls, I have no reason to doubt the veracity of his account of the first owl’s fly-out. Therefore, it appears that there were indeed four screech owls in the vicinity. I still hold out hope that the missing gray-phase shrewdly found a more isolated location to rest than in the Riviera, and didn’t fall prey to the GHO. But who knows?

Incidentally, would you know if anyone has found any of the GHO’s owl-pellets? It would be fascinating to learn more about his nightly exploits. Thanks again for everything!

Take care,

PS Yesterday on his blog []Bruce Yolton posted some photos that also made it pretty clear that once upon a time there were four Screech owls occupying the Riviera and West Drive holes, not three.