Saw Whet Research Center, PA

One of the blog readers just made me aware of an AWESOME Saw Whet research program based in Pennsylvania. The program has been going since 1997 and has become a world leader in Saw Whet research. To check out some of their interesting research results click here.

Interestingly many of the owls that were fitted with radio transmitters were found in Pitch pines, followed by white pines. Surprisingly none of the owls mentioned on the website used Cedar trees. A lot of the research that I’ve read mentioned Cedar trees and I wonder if the PA sites didn’t have a lot of Cedars or if the owls just preferred other sites…… The website only mentions the favorite owls, so maybe there were other owls that did use Cedars. Yet more Saw whet questions –sigh.


Answers to my Owl questions

I'm slowly but surely trying to answer my own owl questions. It appears that Short eared owls are more active at dusk, rather than dawn which makes logical sense. At dawn they have been sitting all day thinking about a juicy vole so when the sun sets they are up and about. At dusk they are thinking about a fluffy grass patch and they're ready to call it a night.
Here is an interesting article on Long eared owls (LEOs) and their dependence on voles. This helps to explain the movement of LEOs and the massive disparity in sightings from year to year. Based on this article I would assume that prey availability has either kept the owls that were roosting in Bucks county last year in another spot or maybe the prey availability is down in the Bucks park. I'm hoping to go back one more time in winter to both Bucks and Mercer county to see there are anymore owls around. I would imagine that there is quite a bit of movement even during the winter months based on prey availability.
LEOs are becoming more and more fascinating to me based on their communal roosting as well as the fac that they hunt predominantly using sound. Research indicates that LEOs have the best hearing of all owls and they can hunt in 100% total darkness - WOW! I guess sneaking up on them during my owl prowls is a joke..... I probably sound like a herd of elephants to these guys.
BTW, did you see the LEO pic on the link - WOW. I'd love to get a pic like this, although I suspect that this particularly LEO was flushed from its roosting spot.

Saw what?

So as I was saying, I was looking for Saw whet skulking around the undergrowth, ducking under Cedar branches and generally trying to avoid thorns when I came upon THIS.
When I first ducked my head under the Cedar branches I thought it was a puffed up Saw whet but it turned out to be a missing squirrel tail.

Apparently not this guys.....

Wanna fight? Put 'em up tuff guy!



Another pic from the owl prowl


First owl of 2009 - LEO!

Last year I went on a county bird trip to Bucks County. At one of the stops we found a MASSIVE amount of pellets that we could only surmise came from a roosting LEO colony. I made a mental note to go back in winter to see if I could track them down. The amazing part of the find was that many of the owl pellets were RIGHT next to a foot path. I was pretty close to drooling thinking about all these LEOs just hanging out waiting for an African to snap their picture.

This morning I grabbed my passport, saddled up my donkeys and headed over the NJ border into Bucks County, PA. According to my GPS, the trip would only take 45 minutes or so, which gave me enough time to scout the area and then head back to work. I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped out of the car at around 7 am to no rain and a thermometer around 35F – super birding conditions for winter. I took a walk around to see what I could see before heading over to the LEO site. The previous trip was very quick, so I took a stroll over the bridge to the other side of the lake. I found a nice field that looked ideal for Short eared owl (SEO) and I hoped that when it got a little lighter that I’d see some action between SEO’s and the Harriers. I also noticed some evergreens at the edge of the grassland that I figured would be ideal for owls.
I poked around in the evergreens for about 20 minutes and although I found evidence of owls, I didn’t find the owners. I walked back up to the field and saw a female harrier although no SEOs made an appearance. I wonder if SEOs are more active in the late afternoon rather than the morning. I’ve had mixed success with both, so I’m not sure what to think.

Striking out on the SEO front I headed over the bridge back to the LEO spot. I was nervously excited to see whether I could find the LEOs, especially if there were a large number as indicated by the pellets from last year. I walked into the evergreens slowly and quietly expecting owls all around me. I was scanning the tree branches as well as looking for pellets and whitening below the trees. I found several trees with older evidence and a couple with what looked like recent whitening but I couldn’t find an owl. The evergreen tree line was much bigger than I remembered and I had to do some serious trekking. I was starting to think that the LEOs were missing in action when I found another tree with both whitening and fresh pellets.

The pine tree groove I was in had some pretty mature pines and they were probably all of 30-35 feet. I craned my neck (if you’ve done Warbler watching you know the drill) and tried to see if I could make out any foreign shapes. Right near the VERY top of the tree I saw something that looked out of the place. Most of the lower branches were dead and the dark mass was right in between some green pine cover. I started circling around all the while keeping an eye on the prize. Round and round I went until finally I got a decent view of the top – BINGO I’d found my first LEO for 2009. I had a hard time seeing him, but he had no problem keeping an eye on me....

I spent a good amount of time looking at the owl with my binocs. Often times we find and owl and we take our pics and move on. Recently I’ve come to appreciate my moments with the owls even more because it’s so tough to find them. If I ever find a Saw Whet again I’m spending the night. By the way, I did spend some time looking for Saw whets – more on this later.

Some questions based on my recent owl trips:

Are SEOs generally more active at dusk or sun rise?
Do SEOs generally like grassland that has some brush in it or just 'pure' grassland?

Saw Whet
Do Saw Whet have irruptive season where more of them move to their Southern range limits?
What trees have you found Saw whet in?
If Cedar was it a single cedar, small clump or a large stand?

Do LEO have irruptive season where more of them move to their Southern range limits?
Is there a peak (in terms of their numbers) for LEOs communal roosting in NJ/PA?
If there is a numerical peak, when is it?

Not sure if anyone has answers, but I figured I'd throw it out there......

Eeezing to 100

My backyard bird list is up to 75. I added a Tree Sparrow to the list this weekend after checking it and noticing that I haven't added the poor fellow to date. I've corrected my mistake and Tree Sparrow now takes the list to 75 with 25 to go.....


Downy Woodpecker in reeds

I don't have a heck of a lot to blog about at the moment so I'll post some of the pics I took during the owl prowl. The weather was terrible so there aren't too many decent ones but I'll post the ones I have.