Thursday, June 7, 2012

Owl Prowl Field Trips Report

by Jennie MacFarland
     The recent Owl Prowl field trip turned out to be far more popular than I suspected it would be. When I was contacted by Kate Reynolds, the TAS field trip coordinator, and asked if I would like to co-lead an owl field trip I was thrilled. The other leader was Ryan Carpenter, a visiting birder from Colorado, a National Park Ranger who conducted many owl surveys in his neck of the woods. We decided that the best place to do such a trip was through the many elevations of Mount Lemmon. We posted the trip on a Thursday with a limit of 20 people. Then I had to go to the Pinaleño Mountains for the weekend to conduct some Important Bird Area surveys. When I came into the office on Monday, over 40 people had sent me emails signing up for the trip. Ryan was only in town for a few days, so I decided to offer a second field trip, led by just me, the next week for all those on the waiting list.
So here are the two reports from the two trips!
    The first trip was May 31, 2012 and we met at the McDonalds on Tanque Verde and Catalina Highway at 7pm. We had a brief orientation about the different birds we might see and the importance of playing bird calls responsibly in the field. Then we squeezed into as few cars as possible and were off! At our first stop, Molino Canyon, we heard Common Poorwill right away and then after some waiting we heard an Elf Owl calling with its otherworldly laugh. We then zoomed to the Gordon Hirabayashi Rec site in an attempt to hear a Western Screech-Owl, which we never did though another Common Poorwill was calling quite loudly.
     We then went up in elevation and stopped at Middle Bear. Here we hit the jack pot! The large moon had risen by this time and several Mexican Whip-poor-wills were calling loudly. We then heard a Whiskered Screech-Owl calling faintly in the distance. After a few minutes the call was considerably louder and closer and then suddenly there were three of them calling from different directions around us. It was thrilling! We then went to the parking lot right off the General Hitchcock Highway at Rose Canyon Lake and listened for Flammulated Owl, which we did not hear here, but there were a few more Whiskered Screech-Owls calling. We then went to Bear Wallow, where the road bends sharply to the right and parked in the wide spot. Here we listened quietly for awhile and then Ryan did detect a Flammulated Owl calling. After a few minutes, the call became louder and eventually the entire group heard it. We then zoomed up to Ski Valley in an attempt to hear the Northern Saw-Whet Owls which was a total bust. Exhilarated and well behind schedule, we all headed down the mountain after hearing some great owls and nightjars!
   The second trip was June 6, 2012, less than a week later than the first trip and was surprisingly different from the first one considering we followed the exact same route! Pretty soon after leaving the McDonalds we spotted three Lesser Nighthawks flying, a bird we missed the week before. At Molino Canyon, the Common Poorwill called strongly, but we never did hear an Elf Owl, possibly due to some winds that were blowing through the canyon at this time. We did however all see a large bird fly low right over us that turned out to be a Great Horned Owl. This is  another bird we did not encounter the week before and the second group actually got to SEE an owl, something that did not happen with the first group. We had the same result at Gordon Hirabayasi, where are the Western Screech-owls on Mount Lemmon?
     The most noticeable difference was a Middle Bear. Even though it was less than a week later, the moon had not risen at this time like it had the week before. With no moon, the Mexican Whip-poor-wills were only faintly calling intermittently and very few people in the group heard them. We had to wait quite a while for a Whiskered Screech-Owl to call but eventually we had two calling quite loudly from two different directions. The stop at Rose Canyon Lake was a bust and the wind picked up again. We then zoomed up to Bear Wallow and that’s when the magic happened. Pretty soon after we all settled in a listened, a Flammulated Owl started calling pretty clearly and loudly. Soon everyone in the group had heard it. Then we realized that there were actually two calling in tandem from either side of us. We listened to the two tiny owls duet for awhile and then called it a night and headed down the mountain. It was a great night!
     Yeah for owls!! If you would like to encounter some of these owls for yourself, they are calling away right now on Mount Lemmon!

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