03 November 2008

Owling again

Last Thursday I went owling with Stephanie Cobbold, Craig Fosdick, and Dominique Roche. We were in search of two species in particular, Northern Saw-whet Owl and Boreal Owl. Northern Saw-whet Owls are relatively common in Cache County, but as these things go, somehow Craig and I had both not heard (or seen) them yet this year in the county. (I heard several while travelling for my field work.) Although they are in the same genus, Boreal Owls are at almost the opposite end of the owl spectrum: they are very rare here, with only one accepted record in the county.

We met at First Dam at 7:00, a little after dark, and drove up to the Tony Grove Road. Dominique had heard many Saw-whets along this road before, and even heard a Boreal Owl here twice several years ago (although I don't think he ever submitted a record to the Committee). We stopped every half mile or so on the way up to broadcast Saw-whet and Boreal songs. We always started by listening quietly, but this time of year most owls aren't spontaneously vocalizing, although some will still respond to a broadcast. After a couple stops of hearing nothing, we got to Dominique's hotspot. We listened for a few minutes, and again heard nothing. We played the Saw-whet owl call, and heard nothing. We played it again, and got a response! We heard two "barks," a sharp down-slurred abrupt vocalization, that stopped as soon as we stopped playing the recording. I hadn't heard that vocalization before, but Craig had: it was a Northern Saw-whet Owl. I wasn't immediately convinced, but after reading more about owl vocalizations and hearing several more recordings of Saw-whet Owls and other possible species, I now feel confident that Craig's identification was right. So, one more for the list. Now, if we could just find a Boreal Owl!

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