As I posted back in early August, from time to time I think of something I should write down as a Birding Rule. So I started out with the first Bob’s Birding Rules. Soon after I had another encounter I wanted to document but for a variety of reasons was prevented from writing the post until now. And it wasn’t really a Birding Rule, so I’m going to start a list of observations. So here is an Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation.
Eastern Screech-Owl Birding Observation – The Owl is Closer than you think.
And I mean lot closer.
Periodically in the non-breeding season (breeding season is mid-March – early May) I check a few places to see if Eastern Screech-Owls are present. My procedure is to go out an hour before sunrise on a windless day. (And in my opinion Eastern Screech-Owls are more crepuscular than noted, but that’s a different story.) I play a recording for about two minutes and wait.
Inevitably I will hear the soft trill of one or two calling nearby after missing these silent creatures fly in.
And here is where I make my mistake.
In the morning twilight I can usually make out their silhouette and even see a few features. IF I CAN FIND THEM. The problem is I’m looking 20 or 30 feet away in trees when they are only 3-4 feet away on the closest branch trilling very, very softly. I only figure it out when I move and they fly off screeching.
So how do I ensure I don’t make the same mistake again?
The night before I go owling I make breakfast and lunch for the next day. And since I have to get up and go early instead of waiting and enjoying coffee, I review a checklist of what to take the next morning. I lay it all out and I’ll be ready to go.
I’m going to add to the start and end of the checklist – “Remember owls will be closer than you think!”
And another thing I’ll add is the odds are there will be a Barred Owl nearby watching the action. Always is.
So how windy was last Saturday? Check out this photo of a windblown Eastern Phoebe!
Along with Mike Saturday’s plan was to search for the expected early migrants. But before I met up with Mike I did a bit of owling.
The Eastern-screech Owls weren’t the usual spots but a Barred Owl was calling nearby at one. I finally found one screech-owl.
I met up with Mike at the Great Horned Owl spot where we eventually heard one calling right before sunrise. We visited a couple of lakes and saw a good variety of waterfowl and the first of the migrants, three distant Tree Swallow flying over the Pisgah Lake.
The next stop was the known Eastern Phoebe Bridge and one was heard “chipping” immediately exiting the car.
Now watch the tail. Wait for it. Classic Phoebe!
At Driftwood SFA we found both migrants. The before mentioned windblown Eastern Phoebe and a small group of Tree Swallows.
This is my fifth spring in Indiana, so I can start to have realistic personal early/late dates.
Earliest Eastern Phoebe by 6 days. But not sure I was always looking for an early one.
Tree Swallow was the second earliest. Earliest was 3/2/13.
First of all does anyone know why the ABA uses a hyphen between Screech and Owl in Eastern Screech-Owl and other lists like Clement’s don’t? Have you tried doing a comparison between the two lists using lookup software? Doesn’t work so easy. Why can’t we be consistent in the naming of species?
Anyway, the goal for the weekend was to find an Eastern Screech-Owl closer to home than sites I know in the Atterbury- Johnson County Park Area. On my weekend birding I have been keeping an eye out for the right habitat and think I know of 3-4 places that might have them.
After the wind and rain of Saturday, Sunday morning was a perfect day to check. The air was crisp and cold with no wind. I don’t go out real early since I have discovered Eastern Screech-Owls will respond to a recording about an hour before sunrise.
Arriving around 7AM and making the 5 minute walk I was right on time. It didn’t take but a minute before one and then two showed up. At first I thought I had called in a Barred Owl because the wing span seemed too wide for a screech-owl. Sibley’s lists the wingspan of an Eastern Screech-Owl at 20″, half of a Barred Owl’s. It must have been the dark and the fact the wing goes from the back of the head to almost the end of the tail.
One of the owls must have infringed on the other’s territory because I watched them harass each other off and on for the next 20 minutes. Several times one would fly straight at the other and the receding one would do the screech call flying away.
Finally it was getting light and they flew their separate ways.
I’ll be checking the other sites for Eastern Screech-Owls and also Northern Saw-whet Owls over the course of the winter.
Otherwise my time was reviewing the local species.
In the last few months I have drifted away what I like to do most in birding – bird the local area. And I have come to miss the familiarity of the local haunts.
So with that I went back to Johnson County Saturday to bird the spots I have spent the majority of the last two years.
I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before sunrise and immediately had an Eastern Screech-Owl at one of the usual spots. I don’t know if it is me but I it wasn’t very far away and I still couldn’t find it with a flashlight. The other usual Eastern Screech-Owl spot was silent. As was the usual Barred Owl site. I’m not having much luck with Barred Owls this year.
There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks on territory including one dark juvenile that had me thinking Rough-legged. The local crows started to harass it which prevented me from getting a decent photo.
The bulk of the day was spent at Johnson County Park since there were still many hunters at Atterbury FWA. I spent several hours walking looking for sparrows and bushwhacking through thickets checking for owl whitewash before the snow came. I didn’t find any whitewash but in the past it has paid off several times. I came across a couple of good sized flocks of sparrows with the first flock consisting of several White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows.
While standing in some small saplings observing the White-crowned Sparrows, three American Kestrels came screaming by chasing each other and almost hit me. My guess is they were only two to three feet above my head. They landed on a power line across the road, all three still calling at each other. One then flew to a nearby tree and kept calling. They all eventually moved on with the one still calling.
I did manage to record one of the American Kestrels that kept calling.
Audio of the American Kestrel calling close to me. Turn up your volume to hear. ( A Downy Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee thought they would get in their 2 cents also)
Before I came upon the second flock of sparrows I was walking through a grass field that had a section plowed. I kept hearing what I thought were Horned Larks. The spot looked good for Horned Larks but the area is surrounded by miles of woods, not farm land. So I was puzzled. I scanned the area several times but did not see any larks.
Moving on to the brushy area on the other side I came upon a flock of American Tree Sparrows. So the question is does the song of a flock of Tree Sparrows sound like the tingled song of a Horned Larks at a distance?
A little later while watching the flock of sparrows I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance. It then got near enough that I could see it in the thicket. It was a Blue Jay imitating the Red-shouldered Hawk. No, it was practicing imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk because the hawk was still calling off and on in the distance.
Audio of a Blue Jay practicing its imitation of a Blue Jay. If you listen hard enough you can hear the distant, real Red-shouldered Hawk at 10 seconds.
I didn’t find anything unusual at Johnson County Park but did hear a Killdeer, which in itself isn’t unusual but I hadn’t heard one since the first of the month,
I then stopped by Walmart/Lowes Pond in Franklin on the way home. On the limited amount of open water there was a pair of Common Goldeneye to go with the Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Coots.
It was a good day to be out and looking for the local birds.