Owling - Short eared and Long eared Owls

Weather forecasts are pretty much always off….except when I go owling and they’re calling for cold and/or wet weather. Much like my last owling trip, the weather really stank. They were predicting rain starting at around 6 am and sure enough it was pouring when I left the house. I arrived at the owl spot (after stopping to pick up a Burger King breakfast sandwich - YUM) with it still raining. I was hoping to see a great show from Short Eared Owls (SEO’s) battling the Northern Harriers but as it turns out the battle was postponed due to bad weather. I managed to track down two SEO’s that did a couple of passes and then called it a day. Along with the SEO’s I also saw a couple of Harriers, an American Kestrel and a Rough Legged Hawk. This seems to be a good spot for Rough Legged Hawks as I saw one here last year too.

After watching the Harriers I headed over to another spot to see if I could track down the Long Eared Owls (LEOs). I knew heading over there that I would be very lucky to see the LEOs but I was hoping that they were back at their usual spot. Considering that the temp had dropped to somewhere around 35F and it was still raining cats and dogs I would be very surprised if they sat in their usual deciduous tree stand. My premonitions were confirmed when I go there and there were no LEOs in sight. I walked over to their usual haunt and found some whitening on the ground although it wasn’t the usual amount. I also noticed that many of the small trees were broken by the heavy snow and winds that we’ve had in late Fall and early Winter.

My next stop was some Cedar trees across the drag. Last year I found a substantial amount of owl evidence in the area, but I never found the owls themselves. One thing to bear in mind is that you get VERY wet when you’re crawling around cedar trees in the rain because you’re constantly crouching around and crawling through the evergreen branches. In addition thorn bushes also seem to love Cedar trees so this added insult to injury….. Anyway, I spent a considerable time crawling through the bushes without turning up any evidence of owls. I was starting to feel very despondent when I finally found some whitening under a tree.
The great news was that we had snow recently and the owl evidence was on top of the snow so there must have been owls here recently! See all those nights watching CSI is paying off - even in the bird department.

There wasn’t a lot, so I thought it may be a Saw whet owl. Ok, so maybe I was hoping rather than thinking…. After poking around some more cedar trees I found some pellets and again they looked smaller than the regular LEO pellets so I convinced myself that I was onto a Saw whet. The next tree had some more pellets and whitening so I backed up and checked the tree out from a distance.

It turns out that there was a small LEO neatly tucked up near the middle of the Cedar. This is the first time that I’ve seen such a young LEO in this location and it seemed to be by itself which is rather weird for LEOs who like to roost in groups. I didn’t manage to snap a pic of the owl as he/she was tucked deep into the Cedar and the rain was belting down. I headed off to see if I could track down any more LEOs and/or Saw whet.

I could bore you with the details but let’s just say that after about another 2 hours I finally headed back to the car. I was cold and VERY wet and EXTREMELY ready for a HOT shower and a cup of coffee. I once again struck out on Saw whet even though I checked EVERY cedar tree I could see. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t track down a Saw Whet I was impressed that I managed to find a LEO in MISERABLE weather conditions in a new location. Although I didn’t get any pics of the owls I do have the memories of a cold wet day in NJ spent with LEOs and SEOs – not a bad morning in the great garden state!