Monday, February 13, 2006

Post-blizzard reports from Barbara, Jean, Amy and Bob on East and West owls

I didn't get to the post-blizzard fly-out last night, but put in a plea to the various owl-watchers to keep me informed. Three faithful previous correspondents and one brand new one sent in reports, all describing the events of the evening of 2/12/06:

The first is from Barbara Kent, a newly-addicted owlwatcher:

This eve I cross-country skied out to see our West Drive Screech Owls. I wasn't going to take any chance of missing any fly-out, so actually this time I was the first out there, later joined by Jean, Lee, Amy (a lovely woman from Rockport, Maine), Gabriel, & a couple I didn't get to talk to.

We got a good show. I'd estimate that I arrived around 5:30 when "spiffy male" was already living up to his name in full view, framed by his tear-shaped hole. I'd say he flew out around 5:50, this time surprising us perching quite high. He was still at this high perch when I had to leave around 6:45 pm. We were surmising that his higher perch was due to his being thrown by all that white stuff covering his potential dinner. Lee theorized that once we all left, his prey would probably come out in the open, following the well-plowed paths. Several times we saw the "unmade bed" female pop up to fill their plane tree hole, but she never flew out while we were there.

Jean Dane, a violist and one of Trump-Parc hawkwatchers of last season, sent in her notes on the same fly-out. Her time of fly-out is a few minutes earlier than the first reporter's, but Barbara did write "I'd say.." indicating an estimate. Looks like Jean checked her watch:

Well, I thought flyout might be later this evening, because lighter, with all the snow ­ wrong: he went out at 5:42 ­, about 10 minutes earlier than we've been seeing. He also flew higher than usual, and stuck on a high branch ­ still up there when we left. On the way home I was wondering if maybe he knows that all that lower, shrubby stuff is also flimsier = would have caused shower of snow and given away his whereabouts?

A couple of minutes after he flew out, the female's head appeared in the doorway ­ just for a few seconds and then she popped right back in. She did that again, every 5 minutes or so, but for longer periods ­ up to about a minute at a time. We thought she might fly, but all she did was peer out to see what was happening.

What was happening was many many people walking on Park Drive, cross-country skiing on Park Drive, dragging kids on sleds on Park Drive. Lots and lots of very cheerful people ­ good snow today, very good snow, excellent snow.

The final report on the West Drive owls' fly-out last night was sent in by Amy Campbell. I sent her directions on how to find the Owl Bench. This account of the fly-out is my reward:

Dear Marie,

I saw the flyout last night! The owl flew from the hole about 5:45 or a few minutes later and, according to regular watchers, flew onto a much higher perch where he remained, feathers all fluffed out, for the half hour we watched. Meanwhile the other bird made periodic appearences at the entrance, I'd perfer thinking more like Juliet coming to the balcony than the housewife taking time out from chores appearing at the window to see who's walking by. Now I can see why it's not as difficult as it might seem to follow the birds - it's quite light with all the street lights. And with the snow I am sure it was even brighter last night!

Thank you so much for the directions. I only regret not thanking the nice people - Barbara, Jean and Lee, I think were their names, for their warm welcoming on the cold night.

What about the
red morph Screech-owl , the one up the hill from the Boathouse? Bob Levy was there. He writes:

Marie, here is my first ever Post Blizzard Central Park Owling Report:

February 12, 2006

At about 4:00 PM I noticed that it had stopped snowing and decided to go to the park to see the record snowfall first hand. In my haste to get there I forgot to put on my watch so I cannot tell you with any precision what time I made the following observations. Somewhere around 4:45 PM I recognized Lincoln Karim aiming a video camera mounted on a tripod at the red morph Eastern Screech-Owl in its “old” den. I have been considering the theory that the red morph was absent from this particular tree cavity on cold days or during inclement weather but today presented evidence to challenge that notion. The temperature was about twenty-eight degrees and with the wind-chill factor it felt like twenty. It was only an hour since the biggest snowfall on record had stopped falling on New York City but I found the red morph in this shallow opening with a substantial portion of its body exposed to the frigid air. These facts did not support my theory. I have not ruled it out entirely, but I am close to scrapping it.

I left the owl and walked on but it was slow going on the slippery paths. As the light started to fade I had to make a decision whether to go to see the two gray morph owls fly out or go back to watch the red morph. I realized the ice and snow would slow me so much I would not make it in time to see the gray morphs. At this point I was afraid I might not get to the red morph quickly enough to see it leave. I opted for the red morph. As I approached I saw Lincoln lifting his tripod unto his shoulders. Seeing Lincoln preparing to leave I knew without asking that I had missed the owl’s fly out. Even so, as Lincoln passed me I asked, “Did the red morph fly out”? “Two minutes ago” he replied.

I was disappointed but undaunted. I had not asked Lincoln which direction the owl had gone but from my experience watching this particular bird I knew in which direction it most likely had gone. I began to search the area immediately west of its tree cavity. I moved as quietly as I could, stopping every few feet to listen and look before going a little further. I could not believe my good luck when only twenty feet from its den I heard the tremolo call of the Eastern Screech-Owl. I moved toward the sound and waited hoping for another call. I heard a second tremolo and knew I was close to the owl but I could not see it. As I did not have my watch I do not know how long I was there but I think it was ten minutes or more. There were seven tremolo calls in all. They were short and widely spaced. After its last call the red morph shot out of a tree and, flying only ten feet above the ground, disappeared again heading west. The owl had been about fifteen feet away during the entire episode and I had not known it.
For those who have observed this red morph, I wonder if you think it seem to be rather chatty? Many birders have heard it call on several occasions. I am still looking for a source to explain what these particular vocalizations might mean but I have not found it yet. Still, I do not have to completely understand it to enjoy it.