I got back late from Ithaca and then got up early to meet Paul Keim and his friend Carol to go look for owls in Pelham Bay Park. I posted about Paul's owl trip to Croton Point in December, and was looking forward to doing more owling with him. Paul is an owl expert, and is great at finding these hardest-to-find birds. Our first stop was an old tree that has hosted a pair of Great Horned Owls for a number of years...these birds mate for life, and this is their nesting season. The female was sitting where Paul expected her, probably with eggs. She watched us with an unwavering stare for the few minutes that we spent there, and we kept a careful distance to avoid disturbing her. It's always exciting to see an owl, both because they are rarely seen and because they seem so different from other birds. I felt lucky to have someone like Paul willing to show them to me.
We moved on to another area (yes, I'm being intentionally vague...it's understood with birders that you don't reveal an owl's location, since they are easily disturbed), and Paul met up with another local birder who pointed out several Saw Whet Owls...all in all there were four in this spot, and we saw two. Whereas the Great Horned Owls are big, impressive and intimidating, the Saw Whets are tiny and would almost seem cute except for their purposeful talons and hooked beak. We spent some time working though more pine trees, looking for owl sign, and found yet another Saw Whet. Owlers look for "whitewash", which is owl poop, and for pellets, which are regurgitated, undigestible parts of the owl's prey. Here we saw lots of whitewash on the branches of a pine, and right above it was another owl, not three feet from us. This is another amazing quailty of owls, their ability to completely camoflauge themselves, so that you can be looking almost directly at them an not see them. We actually jumped back we were so close to this one. We took a few photos and then moved on to leave the bird to rest.
Our last spot was another pine grove in a mucky area, and we spent half an hour working through it. There were definitely signs of owl here, but we couldn't spot the birds. We were on our way out when I happened to look back and caught the flash of a bird in flight...an owl! We backtracked to where we'd just been looking, and two Long-Eared Owls flushed out and flew past us. They seemed huge, even though they aren't as big as the Great Horned, and it was incredible that they could navigate through the dense branches of the pine grove with such speed and agility. They perched off about fifty feet from us and we got some good looks as they got good looks of us. In the car it was just a short drive before we were back in the middle of New York City.