I am terrible with people names–bird names are generally not a problem. However, if I’ve met someone at a bird festival in Texas and see in them in winter in Minnesota, I have a tough time remembering them. Same with meeting one of Non Birding Bill’s friends at the grocery store–totally clueless. Sometimes that happens with birds too.
Saturday, NBB and I met up with some friends who live along the St. Croix River and were gracious enough to take us out on their boat. It was the perfect low key way to spend the summer day. What was especially fun for me was cruising through this area for fun, not work. I’ve been on this stretch when we’ve banded bald eagles and as we coasted along, I recognized nests.
The area was chock full of herons, egrets and osprey–we even had fly by of a family group of sandhill cranes. Above is a great blue heron perched on top of a snag. We marveled at how peaceful an area so close to the Twin Cities can be. The back waters were still with lush patches of arrowhead and cottonwoods. Green frogs sounding like a bunch of musicians trying in vain to tune up for a 21 banjo salute called from the vegetation. Taking in all the sounds of summer, I heard a familiar screech. I knew instantly that the screech sound was a raptor…but what kind…the little hamster wheel in my head churned…I’d heard it before…but where…it was a begging call…it was daytime…but I knew it wasn’t a hawk…owl…it was an owl…daytime…late afternoon and time of year could be barred owl…but barred owl doesn’t sound like that…it sounded…like…a great horned owl.
Our friends eased their boat into a small channel and one owl flushed but then we found another perched on the side of the tree–it was a total great horned owl (all the way). Since we were in a pontoon boat, I thought I would give digiscoping the owl a try.
Getting the great horned owl in the scope was a challenge because any slight movement on the boat moved the scope view and then the darned bird was looking way. As I lined up my camera, I whispered to Non Birding Bill to sound like an injured mouse. He helpfully said in a less than enthused manner, “Ow.”
But that did the trick and the owl turned to look at us. There are plenty of times when I suspect an owl is nearby or I can hear a sound and know what bird is there, but I don’t always get the opportunity to show friends that what I saw is actually there in the trees.
There were at least three different owls in the area based on the screeching calls and the directions the vocalizations came from. Great horned owls make several sounds besides the expected hooting. They screech, they twitter, they bark, heck, they even snap and hiss. I realized that the screech I heard was the same sound I have heard imprinted great horned owls give at The Raptor Center when they beg for food–I generally don’t hear it in the wild, especially in the afternoon. I thought it odd that great horneds would have begging chicks right now, that seems late for Minnesota. But if there first nest failed, the adults could have tried a second clutch.
I thought this was interesting too because we were near one of the bald eagle nests that in 2009 was used by great horned owls. I wondered if the parents of this group of owls had been the ones to use the eagle nest last year?
Always appreciate an unexpected owl.