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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Paige Gets Her Bird

I believe that enjoying birds and nature needs to be shared. Stumbling on a rare bird or discovering something wonderful in our urban landscape is always great. Passing on the sensation of wonderment or awe completes the experience for me. Implanting in others an appreciation for our planet's flora and fauna could start a positive change reaction.

I've written a few times about my attempt to find the cemetery Great Horned Owl for my friend Paige. As someone who leads local birding trips, I should know better than to ever consider that any bird is a "definite" (except for maybe pigeon, starling or House Sparrow). I successfully jinxed any attempt at sharing that owl with her. With that in the back of my mind, we set out on Saturday to see whatever birds were around. With a little luck, maybe an owl would be one of those birds.

I know of several Great Horned Owl nesting pairs within the five boroughs, so decided to pick one and bird the surrounding area. (Don't ask, I will not reveal owl nests or roosts)

It took me a while to orient myself in the park, but eventually found last year's nest site. The tree appeared to be unused, but it is still a little early in the season. By January there should be activity at the nest.

We hadn't seen many songbirds all morning when we came to a section of woods that was suddenly bustling with life. There were Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Carolina Wren, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco and Northern Cardinal feeding in the leaf litter below a stand of Sweetgum trees. Some goldfinches were in the treetops knocking seeds to the ground for the waiting birds as they fed.

About 45 minutes later I heard a pair of Blue Jays squawking out an alarm to the woodland creatures. I suggested to Paige that we find the jays as they were likely mobbing a bird of prey. We located the jays quickly as it's hard to overlook their bright blue plumage. It took a few more minutes to see the source of their ire. Screened by the dense needles of a pine tree was a Great Horned Owl. He had his back to us, but swiveled his head around to watch us, watching him. I set up my scope and let Paige enjoy close-ups of the bird for a few minutes.

We had left the owl and were a few hundred yards down the path when I thought I heard a distant, "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo". The two of us stopped and listened. Again, "Hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo". Then a second, higher set of hoots. It was sunny and around 10:30am. I didn't think Great Horned Owls called during the day. We walked the short distance back towards the source. Suddenly two Great Horned Owls flew out of the forest and circled close to each other above the trees. A third raptor flew off to their right. Neither Paige nor I had clear looks at the third bird. It seemed like the right shape and size for a Great Horned Owl, but I couldn't be 100% certain. There was a Red-tailed Hawk in the area, but he was still perched behind us. We waited around for a few more minutes, but they never called again.

It was a great experience finding the owls and even better knowing that I was able to share it with a friend who had never seen one.

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