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Screeeeeech!

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March 31, 2013.  Emily and I spent two more nights banding owls, with varying success.

On Thursday, March 28, we were reluctant to go out.  The weather wasn’t great, the wind was from the NW, and we had only gotten one Saw-whet Owl the previous time we were out banding.  We decided to give it a shot anyway, and headed out to BBBO.  We opened up the aerial nets and then the owl nets,  and then headed back to the station.  However we were waylaid by a White-throated Sparrow who had flown into our aerial nets.  It turned out to be a recaptured sparrow banded on the left leg – which means it was probably banded by Bob McKinney and has made it through two Rochester winters.

An older White-throated Sparrow, showing off his intense coloring!

An older White-throated Sparrow, showing off his intense coloring!

We walked the lanes empty handed for the next 2.5 hours, when this little beauty showed up:

He may look sleepy now, but you should have seen him outside!

He may look sleepy now, but you should have seen him outside!

This is the second gray-morph Eastern Screech-Owl caught in the BBBO owl banding program.  We couldn’t determine the sex, but the bird is in its second year.  It seemed a little sleepy inside the lab (which seems to be a species trait!), but perked up immediately once it was back outside and flew away silently into the night.

The next several net-checks yielded one Saw-whet every time, for a total of 4 for the evening.  Two were caught in the aerial nets, one in the owl nets, and one was simply plucked from a tree.  It was a fascinating night to be out in the woods – we could hear Saw-whets clicking and chittering just out of sight, but it was silent otherwise.

A second-year female - the last owl of the evening.

A second-year female – the last owl of the evening.

Our next attempt was on Saturday, March 30.  It was quite a contrast to the previous banding session.  The sky was clear, there was almost no wind, and the woods were alive with creatures of all kinds.  Woodcock peented in the field, turkeys roosted in the trees, spring peepers chorused in the distance, and Screech-owls whinnied and tremolo’ed from the direction of the Owl Woods.  But . . . we heard no Saw-whets at all!

We made our net-checks every half hour for 3.5 hours.  Finally, we decided to call it quits on the theory that any owls on the move would be taking advantage of the perfect migration conditions, and would not be tempted to stop for our caller.  Murphy’s Law of the banding world says that you will always get birds when it is time to close, and we did.  We managed to band one Saw-whet, and she was the first older bird we have seen this season.

Luke Tiller and some friends had been walking in the Owl Woods when they heard what was either an enormous Saw-whet Owl, or a caller.  They stopped by to check things out, but we unfortunately had no owls to show them.  We hope they’ll stop by again!  Andrea Patterson

Who-who-who-who-who-who’s here?

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Last night, Emily and I opened the owl nets for the first time this spring.  We arrived at the station around 8:00, and spent a few minutes listening to the peenting of woodcocks in the field.  It was too dim to see much, but we could tell they were calling from several locations.  After opening the nets, we had several fruitless net checks.  After two and a half hours, we decided to quit.  We closed the three aerial nets, and then prepared to close the shorter owl nets . . . but we got a big surprise when we discovered this little lady!

First Northern Saw-whet Owl of the Spring Season

First Northern Saw-whet Owl of the Spring Season

Although she seemed especially tiny when we pulled her from the net, she actually measured near the upper end of our scale for wing length.  After we released her, she sat quietly for several minutes on a dogwood branch before flying up to a nearby tree.

Of course, since we knew there were owls in the area, we had decided to leave the two short nets open!  We had one more run with no owls, and then decided to give it one more try before closing.  On the last run, Emily noticed an owl flying low near one of our nets.  As we appeared, it flew up and took a perch about 2 feet above the net.  We decided to walk back up the trail (away from the owl) for about 100 feet, and then walk back.  Our plan must have worked, because when we returned, the owl was in the net.  And wouldn’t you know it . . . it was the same little lady.  She must have been awfully interested in our call!  We let her go, closed the nets, and called it a night.  Andrea Patterson