We're having our third straight weird winter in Minnesota. A third winter of unpredictable weather patters. February used to be my guaranteed snow shoe hike month and for the past three winters I've had to just call them hikes or cancel them because thaw cycles of turned the trails to ice. This past week like the rest of the country we experienced insane highs in the 50s - 60.
I'm not going to panic about it, but I am going to take advantage of a weird spring like day to go bike riding, it's one of the things I enjoy almost as much as birding. And it's a perfect combo when I can combine them both. I often listen to movie soundtracks while biking to make my ride more fun.
The other day I was biking and listening to The Force Awakens, specifically the Jedi Steps part at the end of the movie. As I biked along, something suddenly got my attention. "Wow, that's a lot of poop."
Because it was a thick clump of cedars I immediately assumed it was a saw-whet owl roost. I noticed about four spots where the bird had spent lots of time and dropped lots of pellets. I gingerly walked around to try and look up in hopes of not flushing the bird (with that ruddy mysterious music playing through my headphones). The first two spots had no owl above, then I got to the spot in the above photo. I looked up and less than two feet from my head was an old robin's nest with a gray phase eastern screech-owl perched on it (just as the music swelled when it revealed Luke Skywalker in the movie). I immediately said, "Holy shit," crouched low to put as much space between us and backed away, hoping against hope that I wouldn't accidentally flush it. I was not expecting that bird to be that low...or in a robin's nest. It stayed in its spot and I wondered if felt a little bad ass, "Well, I showed that human!"
The next day I took Non Birding Bill with me to see the bird and try to digiscope it. The branch it chose is perfect for hiding. It's on the lowest and thickest branch and the branch curves, creating a tent over the owl. I flattened my tripod as low as it would go, crawling on the ground to get a view as far away from the owl as I could. I found one window through the needles to get a glimpse and snapped a few photos for my own documentation.
I've never found a screech-owl roosting in cedars in winter. I've mostly seen them in natural cavities or nest boxes. And as always when I find an owl, I wonder how many I've passed because I assumed they wouldn't hide in a particular spot.
And for now this owl will be left alone. If it stays warm I'll bike past but I won't stop except to collect a pellet or two. I'm going to have try and hit that area in March at dusk to see if I can hear any screech-owl trilling.