Saturday, January 31, 2015

Can't Sleep? Go Look For Owls

I had the chance to sleep in this morning, but my internal clock didn't care that it was Saturday. I tossed in bed a bit and then decided to use the early morning hours to look for an owl species I hadn't seen since last summer. While my most normal people were sleeping in their warm beds I drove to a nearby canyon and began to call for a Northern Saw-whet Owl. The area was perfect habitat for the species, but I wondered if the mild northern Utah winter allowed the tiny owls to stay higher in the mountains. I was delighted when a Saw-whet responded almost immediately to my call. Standing alone in the dark I looked in the direction of the call. I saw the silhouette of the owl as it flew across the moonlit sky above me. I followed the silhouette and relocated the owl as it gave its "toot, toot, toot..." call from its perch slightly down the hillside from me. I quietly moved down the hillside until I was able to see the silhouette on a large branch above me.

Saw-whets are about eight inches tall and are strictly nocturnal. They feed most actively just after dark and just before dawn. Knowing that Saw-whets are meat eaters I began to wonder if Screech-owls and Saw-whets shared territories. I wondered about this because Screech-owls are about the same size and also eat meat. My brief wondering came to an end when I heard a Screech-owl start calling from some trees just twenty feet away from where I just encountered the Saw-whet. I focused my attention on Screech-owl and listened to it call for several minutes.

I didn't get a photo of the Screech-owl this morning, but I did capture an image of a Screech-owl in the same area a month or so ago. The Screech-owl was a bit more camera friendly and allowed a much closer approach.

As I was about to leave the area to head home I heard the faint call of a Great Horned Owl coming down from the hillside up the canyon above me. I walked up the canyon to get closer to the owl. I then realized that a pair of owls were calling to each other. It is mating season, after all, for the Great Horned Owls. I was feeling quite fortunate after encountering three owl species within an hour, an hour during which most normal people in the state of Utah were sleeping.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Treasure Among Juncos: Female Slate-colored

My last post highlighted the Pink-sided variety of Dark-eyed Juncos because I was intrigued by the soft coloring of that subspecies as a few foraged beneath my backyard feeders in the freshly fallen Christmas Day snow. As I continued my Junco treasure hunt from the warmth of my kitchen I noticed one bird that stood out a little from the others. The tiny little bird lacked the definite hood of the other Juncos and the coloring on the sides was mostly gray with slight touches of brown. The color of the sides matched the color of the head and chest. I studied the bird for a while and referenced a few field guides before identifying it as a female Slate-colored Junco.