Sunday, December 16, 2012

Owls, owls, owls. Finally.

This blob, my friends, is a Screech owl, perching on a tree above my head about 6.15 am today, in central Jamaica Plain.

He or she was lured in by a speaker playing screech owl trills repeatedly, which is known to make the owls respond with their own voices, and sometimes to fly in to take a look.

This year I participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count for the first time, and with four other devoted birders (two of them devoted enough to get up at 4 am for the Owl count) we were responsible for our part of town, Jamaica Plain. There were few counters this year, and there were also considerably less birds to count since the day was cold and gray and sort of just waiting for the rain and snow to start, the kind of weather that makes the birds go quiet and just hide in thickets. Jamaica Plain has many large green and wooded areas, so the experts made some decisions based on their experience where it would make most sense to go.

I on the other hand was tremendously excited, although a tiny bit worried that my bad luck in spotting owls would have a negative effect on the whole project. I've followed experienced birders around to places where I was supposedly guaranteed to spot one. A great horned owl once landed in a tree I had climbed down from 5 minutes earlier, and lately Boston has been invaded by Barred owls in downtown public parks and subway station entrances. But I never saw one.

But I shouldn't have worried! Today's Screech owl count was 8, which is a very respectable number. The two first I didn't see, but they both were attracted to the sound from our speaker and vocalized through the dark. The third and fourth ones I eventually got to see - they started tussling with each other up a tree and tumbled down to the ground. Number five we heard from a close distance. Number 6 and 7 were great because they were in my own neighborhood at the end of my street, and I feel confident that I now will be able to hear them and maybe once or twice try to call them in.  You don't want to do it too often, it can stress them.
Number eight we had to wait for - we almost gave up when I first heard the soft sound. Then it came flying in and sat over our heads, as if to say Hello, and perhaps Good Day - it was getting bright and its night was about to end.

Other than that, the Owl count was nothing impressive, the Great Horned ones did not respond to calls and the Barred Owl in Arnold Arboretum that has been around for weeks did not show up for the party either. After owls, my team went back to Franklin park and after that we headed to Forest Hills Cemetery.

Other than Canada Geese which we counted about 1700 of at the Franklin park golf course, the numbers were low, but I had a great time nevertheless. I got a really nice view of the cute Golden crowned kinglet, and four different redtailed hawks were great to see. The woods were sparsely populated with the regular winter foragers like chickadees, Downy woodpeckers, titmice, goldfinches, blue jays, robins and so forth. Red- and white breasted nuthatches, white throated sparrows and song sparrows. And a great Blue Heron stretched his wings by Scarboro Pond.

Lots of long lists to compile.

Now back home, after a hot shower and tea, I will enjoy thinking of that little owl turning its head as if to say Good night to us - gentle, curious, really really cute.



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