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Friday, February 3, 2012

Hoot! (There It Is)

::Robert's Note:: Get it, like that Tag Team song from the mid-90s? Yeah, that just happened. Anyway, earlier this year, James finally got his lifer Barred Owl after a long and arduous search. This is his story of that fateful morning...

Owls have always caused problems for me. With a combination of bad luck, my love of sleep, and needing to have pictures for my life list (which makes night owling totally useless), it took me a year and a half and almost 300 life birds to finally get my first owl. Funnily enough, that first owl proved to be the difficult to find Northern Saw-whet Owl on top of Roan Mountain last summer.

Not saying it was the best trip ever but... yeah, it pretty much was

So when I headed home for Christmas break, my goal was to get a Barred Owl. After many failed missions at Mason Farm and a close call in my neighborhood, I saw via eBird that they'd been seen regularly at a small park in west Raleigh. I waited for a day that was supposed to be clear and took an early morning trip out there. I walked the trail that was supposedly the place to find the high roosting birds, and once again – nothing. I decided to pull out my speakers and try a little playback. After a couple seconds, no reply. I walked another hundred yards and tried again. After a long pause, I thought I was sunk… then clearly from across the pond, finally, a response!

I had my doubts, thinking there might be another birder trying the very same trick, but I decided to run over towards the call’s location. I waited for a few minutes and didn’t hear anything, so I decided to try again. The speaker played out the powerful Barred Owl hoot, hoot; and there it was! Almost immediately after I turned on the speakers, a large bird glided silently through the trees, and landed about sixty feet up in the pine.

I've heard Barred Owls are curious,  but this takes it to a whole new level!

The owl put on quite a show, vocalizing for several minutes, and was in no way concerned with the joggers underneath who would pause momentarily trying to find out what was making all the racket. Eventually, after I had snapped probably fifty to sixty pictures and a video, chickadees and titmice showed up to harass the owl, sending him swooping off his perch and deep into the forest. But no matter – I had finally gotten my lifer Barred Owl!

I bet he thinks we humans are totally insignificant from up there.

The trip to Bond Park also yielded fantastic looks at a Double-crested Cormorant and Hooded Merganser, but nothing could be nearly as cool as a Barred Owl. Now I just have to find the other two owls that frequent the Triangle – the powerful but scarce Great-horned Owl, and of course the tiny, enigmatic Screech-Owl (which Robert got just a week after I left for college again, what an asshole!)

You know, when you think about it, one hell of an awesome duck!

::Robert's Note:: Haters gonna hate! Anyway, check back Monday for the last write-up of my trip to southeastern North Carolina!


  1. Great-Horned Owl: (1) Durant Nature Park, north entrance (Camp Durant Road) in north Raleigh)... usually hoots right after sunset, best spots are lower lake near the open lean-to buildings, or behind the Training Lodge (up near the parking lot). (2) Shelley Lake, Millbrook Road in Raleigh, park in large lot (for Sertoma Arts Center)... head down the main paved trail, turn left at the lake to walk clockwise... owl usually nests among the pines where the lake peters out and becomes a marshy stream. I've seen the owl during the day there at least three times over the last few years (I listen for a flock of tiny angry birds to find the owl). Beegle the ErlaBirder

  2. Barred Owl: Used to be easy to find at Anderson Point Park's Greenway Trail, which is on the east border of Raleigh right next to Knightdale - park in first large lot for Anderson, under high-tension electric towers, walk toward the river, and follow the trail north away from the park. BUT, that trail is being improved with drainage, clear-cutting etc. so it is disturbed; try it this summer/fall. I've called in Barred Owl during the day twice on that trail, just a half-mile from the parking lot. Beegle the ErlaBirder

  3. Screech Owls: I've only heard them in suburban areas (Lead Mine Elementary School in Raleigh, Upper Lake Drive, both in 2010) or areas that do NOT have great-horned and barred. Perhaps the big owls bully the small ones, or even hunt them? Screech owls need rotting tree cavities or abandoned nesting holes, too. I am not sure how well they compete with aggressive nest-cavity species such as red-headed woodpeckers. Plus, they rely heavily on insect prey, so perhaps their population has been affected by pesticides. I wish they were more common in Wake and Durham counties... let me know if you find any! Beegle the Erla Birder

  4. Erla - thanks for the owl tips! We're gonna have to check those spots out once James gets back into town.