Ah, a few minutes to blog at the Salt Lake City Airport.
One of the best parts of an American Birding Association Convention are the sub parties. There are field trips, but there are people who may have missed birds or need birds that are not part of the offered field trips, so people come together and form little posses to get target birds. A target bird for me (and several others) that was not offered on any of the trips was flammulated owl--a tiny dark eyed owl that would make screech owls look big. They are in the mountains and are best found at night. I can understand why the ABA may not want to risk a night time mountain hike...but that doesn't stop some of us from doing it on our own time.
The guys working the Leica booth went out and scouted it the night before. Jeff Bouton came back the next day with dizzying tales of how close this hard to see owl was--it could be digiscoped! Another posse was assembled. Now, here's the kicker to this story. We were driving out to see an owl after dark and may of use had field trips meeting the next morning at 3:45 am or 4:00 am. But, this is a once in a lifetime bird for many of us, so off we went.
We loaded up three vehicles (thanks, Barb, from Borderland Tours for letting me ride with you), drove to the mountain the canyon that was about 45 minutes away, then up we went--we had to cover five switch backs and for those of us not used to that altitude, it was strenuous.
We made it up there and I found myself surrounded by good friends and soon hooting flammulated owls. There were at least four surrounding us in the dark. Soon, one came in, we shined the flashlight and viola:
"The autofocus picked up the stick above and in front of the bird (it is perfectly focused). Too bad, I had one shot though and it is at least a documentation shot. If I’d gotten one more shot off I would have nailed him! maybe next time…"
He doesn't need to apologize, it's an INCREDIBLE shot considering he was digiscoping on the side of the mountain in the dark with only a flashlight to show the owl. It's a cool, cool shot. When I saw the owl I shouted, "Holy Crap!" and a sixteen year old birder named Erick said, "Holy Crap is right!"
We both got lifers. Flammulated owls are birds of mountain pine forests and eat almost entirely insects (although a few tiny mammals and birds are possible). They are a unique small owl because they have brown eyes (like a barred owl) so that makes them look freaky and according to Cornell's BNA the "specialized syringeal anatomy in these small birds (males < 60 g) produces hoarse, low-frequency notes sounding like those of much larger owls." It's true, they have a bass voice.
What a trip life is! Going up a mountain, in the dark, on trails that have a steep enough drop off that one mis-step could garner you an injured limb, being surrounded by tiny, tiny owls hooting, not hearing any human traffic (apart from the group), a distant breeze, the mountain air, fragrant wildflowers, and great old and new friends.
I love birding. Although, I did not love only getting three hours of sleep before meeting my field trip. But hey, flammulated owls are worth it.
I must get to my gate, I am so looking forward to some sleep tonight. Hope their are not too many typos in this...