rotating banner

Thursday, June 14, 2012

These Aren't The Birds We're Looking For

Late last week, I received a second-hand report of breeding Barn Owls and their growing fledglings at our old standby of Mason Farm. Not willing to let a potential lifer go by the wayside, James and I headed out to see what we could find. We approached the boggy backside of the trail, where the owls were supposed to have been seen, but we couldn’t find anything resembling the tytonids we were searching for. Instead, we amused ourselves with a Yellow-billed Cuckoo that decided, in a rare show of compassion, to perch itself out in the open.

A cuckoo, out in the open? That's rarer than any vagrant I've ever seen!

Always the herpers, we couldn’t help but notice the non-avians around us. We found a small Southern Leopard Frog in an old creek-bed, but nothing really stood out. Just after enjoying the cuckoo, James happened to glance to the side of the trail. “Oh hey,” he remarked. “A tree frog!” Sure enough, a large Green Treefrog was nestled between some stiff grasses, trying his best to blend in. But he couldn’t fool us, and we ended up with some great looks as he clung to a nearby bush.

This is only the second I've ever seen, but I've a feeling their range around here is larger than I give them credit for.

But we couldn’t be distracted – we’d come to Mason Farm for owls. As we delved into the deep marshes and forests that surround the trail, I heard the roar of wind whipping through the surrounding trees. I looked up and saw some disturbingly dark-gray clouds, and instantly remembered that one Meteorology class I took in college – there’s often a down-gust of wind before a storm cell. “James,” I said – “We’re about to get rained on!” He didn’t believe me, but we decided to make our way down the trail anyway. Sure enough, not a couple minutes later, the skies opened. The rain was so thick that I couldn’t see more than a couple feet in front of my face, even though we decided to skirt the forest to take advantage of the trees’ sanctuary. Suddenly, while dredging through the drenched forest, James stopped in front of me. “Did you see that?” he said. “I think that’s it!” I saw a shape fly out from the nearby field and deep into the woods. Could it be? Did we really just run into the very Barn Owls we’d been looking for?

Sure it's cool, but it's not the cool we were looking for!

Of course not. It never works like that. I had to take off my fogged-up glasses to identify the dark shape in front of me, but almost immediately it was clear we’d run into the much more common Barred Owl. Still, it’s not like I see owls all that often, and it was cool to watch this one from under a low pine while it rained all around us. Within fifteen minutes, the rain let up, and we were able to return to the open trail as Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks sang out, taking advantage of the newly cleared skies. When we reached the parking lot, James noticed something hanging out next to our car.

She must've been two feet or more! Biggest non-snapper I ever saw.

Apparently, this large female River Cooter decided the downpour would be a great time to head out and lay some eggs, but she didn’t get too far from the nearby creek before we discovered her. I guess it’s just that egg-laying time of year, but it’s always cool to see turtles outside of water. She’s quite the catch, and an awesome way to end our day even though it was disappointingly devoid of our targets. Still, I’ll take what I can get. Especially if that includes owls, turtles, and frogs!


  1. Interesting. I've never seen a wild owl on my own property before, nor have I ever gotten frogs. Perhaps its the climate. Do you have anymore photos of the owl?

    -Tony Salmeron

  2. @Tony - Frogs and owls are the kind of animals that're much easier to see than to hear. If you follow their calls, you're more likely to find them. No other picture of this particular owl (it was, after all, raining down pretty hard at the time), but check out the blog post about the time James got awesome looks at a different Barred Owl: