Sharing a Christmas Owl

Yesterday I took an impromptu trip to do some more owling. I have been very lucky the past couple of years and I’ve managed to find a Long eared owl at Peace Valley in PA. In previous posts I have always left out the place where I find the owls so as to ‘protect’ them from harassment. I’ve been having a raging debate about this with myself since I started this blog because I’m not that sure that people watching owls will necessarily scare them off. In my experience owls are pretty tolerant of people, although extreme cases do occur.  A few years back a Northern Hawk Owl was spotted in the Northeast and crowd of people showed up and literally turned the place in a zoo. People were releasing mice that were running into neighborhood houses, they were trampling around in people’s yards etc etc. These are extreme cases and unfortunately many of us still use them as a yardstick when sharing owl locations with others. I personally think it’s silly, yet I still follow that convention for the most part - more on that later.

In the case of Peace Valley I mention the place primarily because it’s very large and the owls are not in an obvious location close to where most birders would look. They are also not easy to find even if you know where to look. So how did I find them you may ask – DUMB luck mixed in with persistence. I simply look for good locations and then I spend several hours walking around scanning the trees and the ground. Unless someone shares an owl location with you (which is very rare) this is the way that most people find owls. Yesterday I headed back to where I found the single owl last year and I struck out. That immediately puts a little bit of doubt in your mind. I tried to scan below the trees but it was hard to see any pellets or whitening as the ground was freshly snow covered. Fast forward a few hours and this is what I came upon.

BINGO – Owl time! I could clearly see the back of the owl, but when I moved around to the front of the tree I couldn’t see it. It always amazes me how consistently this happens. If I had come from the opposite side I wouldn’t have seen this owl. That’s why it’s important to scan all around each tree which makes owling a time consuming effort . After some serious maneuvering and looking STRAIGHT up I managed to locate the owl. It was a Long eared owl and he/she seemed not to have even noticed me. The eyes were shut, it was all puffed up and the ear tufts were down. This owl was clearly ignoring me and catching some zzzzs. I took a few photos and watched the owl through my binocs for some time.

Did I mention that seeing the owl required me to tilt my head back and look DIRECTLY up? Those of you that have done warbler watching know exactly what I’m talking about. At one point I was taking a photo which required manually focusing the camera to enable my lens to shoot through the branches and as I was doing this, I realized that I was looking at the back of another owl - Holy smokes. Ok, so in this case I may have got lucky approaching from two sides although the other two sides wouldn’t have given a view of either owl.  Hey, I always say it’s betta to be lucky than good.

Here are some snaps of owl number two. This one was definitely the scout of the couple and it was watching me intently as I moved around. I took a few snaps and then I decided to see what else I could see.

Ok so here’s where my predicament occurs. As I walking out of the evergreen grove I ran into another birder in his late 20's. I immediately thought of the owls and the fact that it was almost Christmas and I was VERY tempted to show him the owls. Instead I said hi and asked him what he was looking for and he mentioned that a rare Thrush (Varied thrush) had been seen in the area. Aha, that explains all the cars in the parking lot. The guy didn’t seem overly friendly and owling convention prevailed and I kept ’my’ owls a secret. I’d love to hear whether you think I did the right thing or whether I was being a smuck. In hindsight I think I should have shown him the owls, much like I would do if I found a perched Bald eagle. What’s the big deal? Surely he wouldn’t have posted the owls’ location on his Facebook page and if he did, how many people would brave the cold winds to see two owls at the top of the tree. What do you think???


Struck out in the owl department

Not be deterred by the prediction of a massive winter storm I headed out early Saturday morning to see if I could track down any owls. I headed up to the Pole farm and encountered snow on the way which was rather surprising. By the time I got to the Pole farm is was snowing and blowing pretty heavily. I started by looking for Short eared owls (SEO) but if there were any, they were tightly tucked in and not braving the inclement weather. I initially thought that this might be too early for SEO but I saw two SEOs at this location last year in early January.  Something that I did not realize is that SEO migration is irruptive in nature, so this could very well be a slow year for them.

Anyway, from there I swung by a nice little pond that has several hundred Canada geese and a single snow goose tucked in with the crowds. With snow in my ear and a chilled nose I headed over to my Long eared owl roosting spot to see if I could track them down. Sadly I found no owls, nor did I find any evidence of owls. I searched the evergreens for Saw whet but struck out in this department too.

I decided the snow wasn’t great for birding so I jumped back in my heated car and made for home. The snow cleared out pretty quickly heading North and I decided to stop by a nice field close to home. The field has a small cedar grove on the edge of it and I found pellets there last year in March. After doing my best CSI imitation I struck out again. On the plus side I did manage to scare up a few Winter wrens which were great.

One thing about owling is that persistence generally pays off. The more places you look, the luckier you become – generally. I had another hour to kill so I decided to swing by Round valley reservoir. Last winter I heard some crows harassing something in a pretty large evergreen stand and I decided to check it out. Again, I found nothing although the location is EXCELLENT for owls. Even though I struck out I will definitely go back to this evergreen stand to check it out later in the winter. How was your weekend? Any owls?


Owl hunting

This incredible video details all the special adaptations that owls use to hunt even when they can't see their prey.  Boy would I love to see a Great Gray Owl!


Itching to go owling

The last few months have been really busy.  My only real time to go birding is on weekends and my wife has been on call, we've had social events etc etc.  Anyway, I am really itching to go birding especially to track down an owl or two.

Hopefully I'll have something avian in nature to blog about soon.


Woodpecker fighting a snake

If you want to see something INCREDIBLE head over to my buddy Christopher's Picus blog for a video of a snake fighting a woodpecker.  I just realized that I just swopped the two around as my title says the woodpecker was fighting the snake.  Well you have a look and tell me who you think was the instigator and who was the winner.

Updated video link (12/14): http://vodpod.com/watch/2564915-liveleak-com-woodpecker-vs-snake-a-fight-over-a-woodpecker-nest


Long eared owls killed by seeds

Ok, so maybe the seeds aren't actively killing the Long eared owls (LEOs) as my post title might suggest but they are dying as a result of seeds. I came across a very interesting article in the Bird Watcher’s Digest that details some strange dangers that birds face including slugs attacking warblers, hurricanes impacting chimney swift populations, and high altitude collisions with planes. In the case of the Long eared owls, research by Airam Rodríguez, Felipe Siverio, Rubén Barone, Beneharo Rodríguez and Juan J. Negro shows that LEOs and Barn Owls are prone to getting stuck in adhesive vegetation. The same specialized feathers (barbules) on the upper side of the flight feathers that give owls feathers a velvety look also make them prime candidates for getting caught in sticky seed producing plants such as burr bristle grass. Their research in the Canary Islands showed that nearly 5% of Leos and 2% of Barn owls that were admitted to local rehab centers in Tenerife had been entangled in bristle grass. Amazingly nearly 20% of those owls died from the incident.

If you don't get Bird Watcher's Digest I would highly recommend it.  Each month there are several interesting articles in there by birding legends such as Bill Thompson, Julie Zickefoose and more.


Busy brown creeper

Had little Brown Creeper running around in my pine trees.  I spent a good hour working on gettting a decent shot but failed pretty miserable....   However, the photos do give you a sense of the busy nature of this incredible little bird.


Garden list up to 81!

With the addition of two new Warblers - Palm and Prothonotary my garden list has moved to 81.  No photos of the Prothonotary but I did manage some snaps of the Palm and with the help of all my blogging buddies I got a positive ID.  My initial thoughts were Palm but I've also seen a few Warblers that look like Prairies.  With the feedback from everyone I will have some more looks and see if I can get some more snaps of some of the confusing individuals.

PS:  I saw two Prothonotary Warblers in the garden high up in the pines and they were stunning!


Warbler ID - Help needed

Warblers and gulls are definitely ID weak spots for me.  I saw this little dude in my garden a couple of days and I think I know what it is, but I want your input - please.  He pretty much split his time catching bugs in the mid section of trees as well as pretty close to the ground.  Tail pumping was a regular feature of the bird's behavior.  The weather was lousy and I couldn't get very close to the little guy so your ID guess may be pretty hard to make.


Tonight's gonna be a good night

I hope tonight's a good night and that you have an even better weekend! This song always gets me in a good mood even after a LONG week - hope it does the same for you...

Show me the ruby crown!

Found this little Ruby Crowned Kinglet zooming around the yard and I managed to capture his crown which I've never managed before. If you ever see a tiny birding acting like its on speed you have a pretty good shot at a Kinglet.

Other Kinglet posts here.


Imperial moth caterpillar

I My wife found this massive incredible caterpillar while camping a few weekends ago.  I had no idea what he was, so I didn't touch him.  The incident with the Saddleback caterpillar is still VERY fresh in my mind.  Based on my research the imperial moth caterpillar looks vicious but it is pretty harmless.


Funny Friday - video

Have a great weekend and keep laughing!


Summer Snowy Owl in NJ?

The rare summer Saw whet owl in New Jersey has now officially been topped by a 'resident' summer Snowy owl!  Yip, this Snowy owl decided to spend the Summer on one of our New Jersey beaches, rather than heading for the colder climates up north.

Here's a link to the full story.

Adding a calendar to Blogger

Do you know where I can find a Calendar widget for Blogger that allows me to add events easily?  I have searched the net with no luck.



Screech owl calling

We had a fire call at 2 am this morning. As I was ambling to the car I heard the whinny of a Screech owl across the road. The fog of sleep lifted as I listened to the mysterious sounds of this little magical owl. It's nice to know that the owls are still in the area. Hopefully I'll get a roosting Screech owl again this Fall.



Believe it or not - Favre is back!

Amazingly after turning the Vikings down and walking away from the deal Favre has changed his mind (no way I hear you say) and signed with the archrivals of the cheese nation. I hate to make predictions when it comes to Favre, but I’m going to stick my head out and say that the Packers vs. Vikings will get MAJOR ratings!

Here’s the full story.


Turkey vulture robs Coopers Hawk

This morning I saw something I've never seen before. I was walking through the kitchen when I noticed a pair of Cooper’s hawks flying across my yard. One landed in the dead pine tree and the other cruised across to the neighbors (or so I thought). As I watching the Coop in the dead pine and thinking how the Mockingbird babies’ heart must be racing, I saw a Turkey Vulture swoop DIRECTLY at the Coop. The Coop was forced to fly off to avoid a direct hit. That’s weird, Vultures normally leave raptors alone I thought. While these thoughts were going through my head I saw the Turkey Vulture heading the opposite direction across the lawn holding a bird in its talons. AHA, I just witnessed a shake down!!
I tried to get a shot of the Coops, but they were pretty nervous having had a lot of attention from the neighborhood watch (Crows, Jays, Vultures et al). This summer the Coops have been nesting somewhere across the road in a neighbors' yard. I've heard and seen them a LOT which is awesome. Hopefully their nesting attempts have been successful.


Mockingbird baby update

The Mockingbird family is doing well and the babies are growing at a nice pace. I managed to get up and shoot a few shots although mom and dad were watching and hissing all the time. It would be nice if they make it through the season with a successful clutch for their efforts. Sadly the Blue Bird baby was dead in the nest and it looks like it died from natural causes.

Hmm, you are cute cos you're SOOO ugly buddy!


Flooding: Part II

Video of flooding on Main Street in Clinton


What's up with the weather - Flooding NJ

Last week Sunday we had a tornado-like storm rip through Hunterdon County in New Jersey. On Wednesday one of my large cherry trees got hit by a lightning bolt during a thunderstorm and yesterday we had some minor flooding as a result of an INTENSE thunderstorm. Although we managed to contain most of the damage our town was not as lucky!

Our fire house had water flowing through it

Looking at Main Street

The flooded brook that caused all the damage is down by the cop car

This weather has caused some excitement but I need some calm and sunny days so I can cut up the cherry tree that is now lying on my VERY wet lawn. Please can we hold off on the natural disasters until I get it out of the way - please....


Great horned owlet "dancing"

The really funny stuff starts at the 3:30 minute mark!


Northern Mockingbird - new nesting garden bird!

I finally managed to get some photos of the Mockingbird family that is nesting in my garden after an unsuccessful nesting attempt in my neighbor’s Japanese maple. The new nest is very well camouflaged and it looks like its part of the dead branches.

Tough to see the nest from here isn't it?

The nest is impossible to see from here, even though it is located directly above the ladder

I didn’t want to spend too much time taking photos and it turned out to be almost impossible to get a decent shot without disturbing the nest. I ended up shooting a couple of photos from the side which netted a rather fuzzy photo. Trust me, these are baby mockingbirds…

These guys can't be more than a few days old. Congrats on surviving the storm!

Favre again, off again

Looks like Mr. Favre has decided (or not...) not to come out of retirement (or not...). After months of speculation and then almost certainty (or not...) that Favre would definitely (or not...) join the Vikings, it seems that Favre is staying home - for now.

As a huge Favre fan even I'm tired of his off season flip flopping, but my main reason for being happy that he's not coming back (for now) is because I don't want to see another end of season crash like last year. I think Favre was a great player and he needs to sit on his tractor and enjoy his retirement. He had MANY great years in the limelight and he even has a Super Bowl ring - now it’s time to step away from the game and let the young guys have their fun. Based on the online poll the majority of people agreed that Favre shouldn't go to the Vikings although I'm sure your reasons may be very different to mine.


NJ storm aftermath

My dead pine tree lost a major branch which led to some clean up activities for me

This was nothing compared to the job that waited for my neighbor!


Was that a tornado or just a funnel cloud?

We were camping at a camp site VERY close to home this weekend. The weather was awesome and we did some tubing and fishing on the South Branch of the Raritan river. While fishing I saw an osprey hunting along the river and later we saw it while tubing down the river. The river was littered with Waxwings hunting for bugs and they were constantly zooming over my head - awesome!

We had booked our campsite until Monday and the plan of action was for us to pack up on Monday afternoon. Saturday night we were hit with some rain and it appears that a few of the seams on our new tent are leaking. Luckily we didn’t have a lot of water in the tent but we did have to move the kids around a little to avoid water damage – can kids rust? Sunday we put tarps over the two windows on each side of the tent hoping to stop the water leaking in from the windows. We knew that there was a thunderstorm predicted for Sunday night, so we decided to jump in the car and go out to a local diner for dinner – I know that’s cheating but we have small kids. That’s my excuse and I’ll stick to it.

We were just getting ready to leave when the storm hit. The wind was whipping through the trees and then it started raining. By the time I got both kids into the van I was soaked. As I jumped in the car it started hailing! I’m used to hail as we used to get it all the time in Johannesburg, but it’s been over 10 years since I saw hail like THIS! We sat in the car getting pelted with massive hail and wondering whether this was the end of the world. After the hail cleared we left the site and drove through the neighborhood. The roads were littered with downed trees and people were trying to clear the roads. We managed to get home and luckily we were pretty much spared the wrath of the storm. My neighbor across the road wasn’t as lucky as he had maple and pine branches all over the place. Miraculously none of the huge branches landed on his house. My neighbor next to me had the top of one of one of this trees knocked clean off. The top of the tree that was severed was at least 16 feet tall – wow. After helping to clean the roads and driveways I headed to the back of my property to see what was down.

My dead pine tree lost a pretty major branch and I was surprised to see that the Mockingbird nest survived the storm. The Mockingbird has moved into my yard after losing a clutch of eggs in my neighbor’s small Japanese maple tree. I have yet to take pictures of the new nest and I will check up on it this week. My veggie garden looks a little beaten up but I’m hoping that the plants will recover. Our gazebo cover was ripped to shreds but it wasn’t going to make it through the season any way.

Last night after putting the monkeys to bed and leaving them in the care of their grandmother, we headed back to our campsite to pack up the tent and its contents. Of course it ended up raining and our tent is currently on my lawn drying out. All in all we were very lucky compared to many of the resident in Hunterdon county. Here are some links to news stories related to the storm:

Freak storm cuts swath across Hunterdon County with hail, high winds, destruction
Severe storms rip through north and central New Jersey
Funnel cloud reported in Hunterdon County


Raptors of Southern Africa

For some weird reason I came across a lot of info about South Africa this week that I thought would be worth sharing on my blog. I decided to end the week with a birding list from South Africa. I wanted to share my top 5 list of raptors in SA. It was tough to narrow these down and I couldn't put them in any order even though I tried.





African Fish
Black (Verreauxi)


Black Sparrowhawk
Jackal Buzzard
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Lizard Buzzard

Pygmy Falcon


Pel’s fishing
Verreaux (Giant Eagle)

Spotted Eagle
African Grass
Southern White Faced
Pearl-Spotted Owlet
African Wood
African Scops


View of Table Mountain - South Africa

The World cup soccer will be hosted in South Africa next year and one of my friends sent me a picture of this magnificent soccer stadium that is being built in Cape Town. Wow - what a view of Table Mountain (TM), Lion's head (to the right of TM) and Devils's peak (to the left of TM). The highest point on Table Mountain is 3,563ft above sea level.

Please click on image for full size

Wild tigers in Africa - video

Here's a video showing the aftermath of the unfortunate incident that took place at Tiger Canyons in South Africa.


Wild tigers in Africa??

Almost without fail when I tell people I’m from Africa they mention all the amazing animals in Africa including tigers. I blame this misconception of tigers in Africa on children’s story books like the jungle book. A controversial conservation project has led to wild tigers now living in Africa. Wildlife movie maker and conservationist John Varty (JV) took two captive/tame tigers and taught them how to hunt and be ‘wild tigers’ in Africa. JV’s mission is to build a model for tiger conservation that can be emulated in the rest of the world.

Obviously this project has met with mixed response from the public and the wildlife community. Many people feel that there is no place for tigers in Africa and that making Tiger Canyon a tourist attraction sends the wrong message to the public. Others feel that JV is doing a valuable job conserving and breeding tigers in the wild. A recent incident at Tiger Canyon puts the spotlight back on the tigers and fuels the debate about human interference with wild animals.

Shadow, a tigress in the preserve has taken to biting the tires of the off road vehicles that are used in the preserve. Obviously this is a large expense as tires need to be replaced each time. JV has tried everything from electrifying the around the wheels to constructing iron grids around the wheels, all attempts have failed leading to more than 10 expensive tires being destroyed over the last 18 months.

Recently JV was trying to photograph the tigress with her cubs when she came up and destroyed another tires. JV called for backup and while they were changing the tire the tigress charged again heading straight for a tire. This time JV took out his handgun and fired a round into the ground. Sadly the shot bounced off the dirt and hit the tiger in the leg. As a result of the shot the tigress suffered a broken bone in her paw and this may hamper her ability to hunt.

What are your thoughts on this initiative? Obviously this incident is tragic, but we can’t weigh the merits of the project on this one unfortunate accident. It is common practice to fire a shot into the air or the dirt when being approached by a dangerous animal in Africa when on foot. Having said that, JV does acknowledge that the shot was fired in anger and in hindsight he should have fired it into the air.

For more info about this incident click here. Here's a link to the early years of the project including the documentary Living with tigers.


Screech owl kills Sharp Shinned Hawk

I came across this video on Youtube and I had to share it. Here's the description of the video:
"While perched and stalking birds, a Sharp-shinned Hawk fell prey to an Eastern Screech Owl. The event occurred late afternoon, 3 p.m., in Northwest Lower Michigan and about 45 feet from my back window. I have a feeding station there. The event lasted about 20 minutes. The Sharpie had been perched about 10 feet up in a spruce tree for over 45 minutes, and earlier in the day, mobbing behavior by local birds indicated the possibility there was an owl in the area. I did not witness the initial attack, but saw two large birds locked together spiraling toward the ground. As an eye witness, I can assure viewers that this was indeed an Eastern Screech Owl".

Sit down and stay a while

I LOVE reading comments from people popping in to my blog. If you're new to my blog I would REALLY appreciate it if you would take a couple of minutes to drop me a note.

I have a first time visitors page/birding guest book that I'd love you to complete.

Please check it out at http://owlbox.blogspot.com/2007/11/are-you-out-there.html



Spotted Owl safety net is back

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department on Thursday killed a plan issued by the Bush administration to allow more logging in western Oregon that reduced protection areas for the endangered spotted owl, saying it was "legally indefensible and must be withdrawn.
"We have carefully reviewed the lawsuits filed against the (logging plan) and it is clear that as a result of the previous administration's late actions, the plan cannot stand up in court and, if defended, could lead to years of fruitless litigation and inaction," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar....MORE>>


How did I get here?

Here are some of the unusual search terms that have brought people to my blog:
  • black tv bloggers
  • owls in nj kill dogs
  • exhibitionist
  • trapping a screech owl
  • owl interacting with a rat picture
  • were can i find expensive owls
  • screech owl puffed up what does that mean
  • owlcam towel
  • raptor force owl
  • juliet martens
  • trapping a screech owl
  • girl eaten by

I'm sure several of these folks wondered "how did I get here...."


Hold on baby

In honour of the ongoing Tour de France I thought I post this remarkable video of a downhill decent. I hope you enjoy - have a great birding weekend!


Juvenile Saw Whet Owl in NJ

The New Jersey birding listserv just reported a juvenile Saw whet owl at 'The Rips' off Cape May Point today. The bird was being harrassed by gulls and flew around the boat around 9:30 am. The species is not known as a breeder in south Jersey, but....



Mystery nest

These photos were taken about two weeks ago. This bird is nesting in my neighbors’ small Japanese maple. The nest is only about 4 1/2 feet off the ground. Any takers on an ID?


The purple people eater survey

Remember to vote on my blog on what appears to be the imminent (dang another 10 point word in back to back posts...) return of Brett Favre in playing in purple for the Minnesota Vikings. Let me know whether you would be happy, sad or indifferent if Brett returns as a Viking.


Indigo bunting oasis!

If you were an Indigo Bunting where we you go in Summer? Unless your first answer was Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Chicago then you clearly don’t know the minds of Indigo Buntings. This diverse and sometimes rugged landscape includes dense woods of oak and pine, a generous number of ponds and cattail marshes, a prairie, a small waterfall, and an overlook of the Des Plaines River.
Honestly, prior to my arrival at Waterfall Glen I had no idea that my quick hike would result in my seeing somewhere in the 40-50 (at least) range of Indigo Buntings – most of them bright blue males. Don’t get me wrong I’m NOT complaining, it actually knocked my socks off. The whole park literally reverberated (10 point word?) with Indigo Buntings ALL over the place. At one point I could see 5 males singing from the tree tops at the same time – crazy. I also saw females and males building nests. It struck me as a little late, but the Chicago area may be a little later than NJ. I also saw other regulars of the forest and grasslands such as Flicker, Black bird, Gnatcatchers, Waxwings, Robins, Towhee etc.

The strangest part of the hike was seeing a Chickadee grab a MASSIVE caterpillar and munch it! This was the first time that I have seen a chickadee hunting and eating caterpillars and at first I was too stunned to take a picture. After a few seconds of watching with my mouth wide open I snapped a few pics but unfortunately the Chickadee had finished its meal – DAMN!

I would highly recommend checking out Water Glenn but do yourself a favor make SURE that you spray LOTS of bug spray. I was literally eaten alive by mosquitoes!

American Robin - Yummy!

Male Indigo Bunting - Posing

Male Indigo Bunting - Posing

Female Indigo Bunting building a nest. The nest was located in a tiny little bush at the edge of foot path - only about 2 feet off the ground.

Immature male Indigo bunting building a nest. When do these males get their full coloring? Is this a fledged male helping with a second brood - Any ideas?


Go chicken catcher go!

My little secret is that I LOVE America's got talent. I could stretch this and say he mentions birds so it applies to this blog, but truth be told it blew my hair back so I thought you might like it.


Favre in purple...really

I would never have thought that Brett would unretire once, never mind twice. The season with the Jets was fun to watch until the meltdown primarily due to Favre's shoulder injury combined with a POOR defensive showing. Now it looks like the rollercoaster is back on the tracks again and Favre will be signing with the Vikings VERY shortly. I'm amazed and astounded. Surely Favre knows that this will tarnish his reputation and I can only guess that his motivation is to stick it to Ted Thompson. It's been fun watching Favre, but these last few seasons of retirement, unretirement have made me think a little less of the guy. It turns out that Favre is like many other superstars and that he doesn’t necessarily think of the team first. I think his antics point to the fact that he is pretty self centered. We all like to stick our heroes on pedestals, but in the end they are just mere mortals with warts and all.


Mystery bird - Part 2

No one ID'ed the mystery bird on the first shot, so I thought I would post another pic. Any more takers??