Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Owls Highlight Sunday Afternoon Outing
October 21, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     I have been awakened several times in the past weeks by a barred owl in the woods behind the house. Its rhythmic hoots seem to say: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” It is a common owl of deciduous woods like ours that have a stream running through it. We have even seen the large owl during the day – sometimes being mobbed by blue jays and other smaller birds. 

     So it seemed fitting that we should host the latest meeting of the Barred Owl Bird Club at our house last Sunday. Nine of the twenty (or so) members were able to make it for an afternoon of barbeque and birding. It is an informal club, first organized by expert owl-hooter Brian Cassie of Foxboro. Brian is a long-time friend and fellow birder, a Brookline elementary school science teacher, and a true naturalist that knows more about birds – and all flora and fauna – much more than I ever will. He co-authored, with Peter Alden, the National Audubon Regional Field Guides to New England and to the Mid-Atlantic States that include everything from birds, butterflies, mammals, fish and insects to wildflowers, trees, mushrooms and fungi.

     This Sunday, as we were finishing hamburgers, hot dogs and salads, Brian attempted to call in the barred owl from our deck. I am sure that if any of the neighbors heard his call, they would have thought it was a real owl. This particular time, however, no owl responded. 

     Brian then tried a screech owl imitation from another part of the yard, closer to the neighbor who has screech owl boxes in their yard. Hopes of getting a response from a screech owl waned after a number of tries. Maybe the screech owls were not around, or maybe they were silenced by Brian’s earlier calls of the barred owl-a predator of screech owls!

     Since the owl club was not having success in tallying an owl for the day in my yard, we decided to car pool to Rev. Daniel Boone Park in Ipswich where we have had barred owls in the past. We took two cars and headed out of the driveway. Phil and his passenger turned right toward downtown Essex. I took my usual left turn for, what I thought was, a more direct route to Route 133 and Ipswich. ( I thought that maybe Phil was detouring to Duncan Donuts as he so often does.)

     Just as we got to the Ipswich line, we received a call that Phil’s vehicle had stopped at a screech owl box in downtown Essex and they were looking at a red morph screech owl! We were already in Ipswich, so I decided we would hold the screech owl for our return trip. I concluded that the screech owl was at its day roost and probably wasn’t going anywhere soon.

     As we pulled into Daniel Boone Park and got out of the car, a large bird flew into one of the trees in front of us. A few seconds later it called a loud “kik-kik-kik-kik-kik-kik.” A pileated woodpecker! Phil’s car pulled in and we tried to position ourselves to where everyone could get a look at the large woodpecker. 

     Several tree branches obscured views of the pileated. Brian gave his loud barred owl call, which often attracts woodpeckers (and particularly sapsuckers) closer. After several series of hoots, it was clear that the pileated was not interested. However, from further down the hill behind us, a barred owl returned Brian’s call!

     As we walked down the hill toward the calling owl, we could actually hear two owls calling back and forth to one another! Brian coaxed them a couple of times with his call, but then stopped to let them talk between themselves! We were never able to see them, but we enjoyed hearing them converse.

     We then decided to walk around the ponds at the park to see if any other birds were around. Except for red-bellied and downy woodpeckers and maybe a titmouse or two, it was pretty quiet. We decided to head back to Essex.

     On the return trip, our car stopped at the location where the screech owl was seen in the box earlier. We were disappointed to see nothing in the opening – it must have gone back down into the box. Brian got out and started to squeak like a mouse. After about a minute of squeaking, the cute, red screech owl poked his head out the hole and looked curiously around. Phil’s car also pulled up to get another look at little owl.

     The Barred Owl Bird Club was able to tally two barred owls, a screech owl and a pileated woodpecker on this day. A successful outing indeed! 

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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