Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Cooperative Owls on Inaugural Field trip
April 19, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     It all started when fellow birder Brian Cassie decided to have an “owl year” to see how many owls he could see in one year. He went around the state, and beyond, hooting in owls – barred owls mostly. He does an amazing barred owl call! 

     Those that went with Brian on impromptu trips to hoot in owls became members of his “club”, later to be named the “Barred Owl Bird Club.” Brian had owl pins for those special members. Margo made up bumper stickers, magnets and pins that state “Owls Are cool”, displaying an owl with sunglasses. The club has grown to about fifteen members.

     Twelve of those members met last Sunday for the first official field trip of the Barred Owl Bird Club. We met in Georgetown and traveled to Groveland and Boxford in search of barred owls and other birds. We first carpooled to J.B. Little Road in Groveland to bird the Crane Pond Wildlife Management Area. No sooner had we emerged from the cars when a pileated woodpecker flew by overhead! It called loudly and we continued to hear two of them off and on all morning.

     As we walked down the street toward the gate to the Wildlife Area, we all heard a sound from a nearby tree that had us all stop in our tracks. It was a call that none of us had ever heard before – and we had a combined experience of hundreds of years of birding experience! It turned out to be a broad-winged hawk, but the sound it made was one none of us had ever heard before. There was a pair of them and a possible nest, so it could have been a courting note that was just not at all familiar. 

     We entered the woods and as soon as we did, Brian hooted his barred owl “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you’all”. Immediately he got a response!!! We were all very impressed. Often it took five minutes, ten minutes, or even twenty minutes for him to elicit a response. But it was literally nanoseconds on his first try on our first official field trip for an owl to respond! Unfortunately, the owl never approached for us to see it.

     A pair of hermit thrushes foraged in the leaves nearby. Pine and palm warblers, brown creepers, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets serenaded us along the way. We had a pleasant walk through the woods, except for the half dozen or more deer ticks that Brian plucked off his bare legs. He had worn shorts that day, expecting temperatures in the fifties and sixties, and it was warmer south of Boston, but lingered in the forties with light drizzle for much of our morning in Essex County. 

     We next headed to Boxford where there is a heron rookery off Bradford Road. We hiked down to the Greenbelt observation platform and could view the large swamp with many active heron nests in the dead trees throughout the swamp. We soon found the great horned owl in one of the heron nests. We had scopes with us and we had close views of the female owl peering over the top of the large nest. The herons seemed undaunted by their neighbor. Also in the swamp were tree swallows, redwings, and a few bluebirds.

     We then headed to Crooked Pond, officially the Bald Hill Reservation, in Boxford. After walking in a short way, Brian again started to hoot. After a few short minutes, a barred owl responded. This time, we could see the owl some distance away through the trees. We had a scope with us so we had excellent views of the bird, who probably thought he was well hidden from our view.

     As we continued along, we found the resident winter wren hopping about the fallen logs over the stream. Occasionally its long, flute-like song would fill the air and bring smiles to our faces. White-throated sparrows were singing as well. Also in these woods were pileated woodpeckers, more pine warblers, and tree swallows over the pond.

     As our walk ended, we agreed to meet again in another couple of months. Brian proposed that we head to western Massachusetts to check out the owls out there. I’ll keep you posted.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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