Saturday, February 11, 2006

West Drive Owls--last night and the night before

Left, the spiffy male; right, the "unmade bed" female
Photos by Bruce Yolton

Friday, February 10, 2006:

When I arrived at the West Drive "owl bench" at about 5:15 on this particularly raw and cold evening , the little gray screech-owl was not in his usual place at the opening of the roost-hole [or nest-hole, if my hunch is correct]. Only one owl-watcher was there, Miriam, who announced: "I think there's bad news."

While she had been watching the hole a few minutes before I arrived, she thought she had seen a squirrel coming out of the owl's residence. Squirrels had taken over the Riviera screech-owl roost hole a few weeks earlier. Now, Miriam said, it looked like the same thing had happened here.

"I think I can still see part of the squirrel in the roost-hole," Miriam said sadly. I trained my binoculars on the hole. Indeed, there was a gray, furry-looking thing showing at the very bottom of the opening.

But happily, screech-owls are also gray and furry-looking. At 5:25 the male owl took up his pre-fly-out position in the hole, looking like a perfect, well-groomed pussy-cat, gray and furry and cute as hell. A gray squirrel must have darted down the tree trunk, passing the roost hole just as Miriam had looked up.

Fly-out was at 5:50. By then Lee, Noreen, Donna, Jean, and Barbara were there. Lee and Donna went owl-chasing into the woods. The rest of us stayed at the bench, waiting for the female to fly out, or at least to poke her head up for a moment or two. Then Jean, who had seen the female on an earlier occasion, went and imprudently made a few comments about the female's appearance. "She looks like an unmade bed," she said, "like a little pile of laundry."

We laughed, for Jean was right: the female owl was definitely more scruffy-looking than the spiffy male. But obviously the lady took offence. We waited until our noses froze, but she never came out. Who can blame her. We left the park at about 6:15.

Here's Bob Levy's report on the more dramatic events of the night before, 2/9/06:

Six birders had just witnessed the fly-out of one of the two gray Eastern Screech-owls when I arrived at their home at 5:45 PM. I missed it by “"that much."

The other birders went in the same direction as the owl, trying to find where it had perched. I started to go with them but decided instead to watch for the second gray morph's exit. One of the other birders, someone I did not know, came back to watch with me. She wondered aloud when the owl might come out and I cautioned her that this "second" owl, probably the female, was unpredictable. Many times the majority of the birdwatchers gave up before she showed herself. Sometimes she popped up into the opening of the cavity only to drop back down out of sight one, two or even three times and then, after all that teasing, still did not come out.

However this evening, at 5:47PM, only two minutes after her mate had left, the female came up into the opening. She did not merely show her face as she usually does at first, but stood at full length. From her posture I reckoned she was ready to go. At 5:49 PM she did. She headed in the same direction as her mate. I alerted the other birders who had briefly re-located the first owl and now were looking for both.

But it was getting colder and all but Noreen, Lee and myself gave up and went home. We three went back to watch the cavity hoping to see one of the owls return, possibly with prey. At about 6:15PM Noreen and Lee, both hopping on one foot or the other in an effort to warm up, decided to give up their watch but not before getting my pledge to tell them what happened after they left.

Noreen and Lee, here is what transpired after you left: NADA. I remained until 6:40 PM but did not see either owl again. My fingertips had long succumbed to the cold but now that my toes were sending unpleasant messages I too ended my owling session.

PS. For those who want to know, I did not find the red morph Eastern Screech-Owl today. However it has been spotted in its "“old" studio apartment intermittently. I am beginning to suspect that this owl may move to another cavity when it is cold because its well-know den is very shallow and does not provide much protection from the weather. It may move around for other reasons but the low temperature might be one motivation