Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Several Owls May Appear in Winter
December 12, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     Snowy owls have been on Plum Island and Salisbury, but do keep an eye out for other owl species in the area. This story from a number of years ago may explain why:

     It has been a busy season at the store. People are giving bird feeders, bird houses, and binoculars to relatives to spark their interest in birds. I am always thrilled to hear when parents are trying to encourage their children, grandchildren, nephews or nieces with a gift of a feeder and seed, or their first pair of binoculars. Anything that helps children connect with the natural world, and give them pause from their electronic world, warms my heart.

     As busy as it has been, I did take off one morning this week to try to finish some last minute shopping and run some much needed errands that I couldn’t accomplish with such long days at work. After a couple of stops, I needed to do some grocery shopping, so I pulled into the Market Basket lot. Before I could get out of my car, my phone rang.

     She told me that Jim Fenton, a local photographer, had found a long-eared owl in Salisbury. Long-eared owl had become one of our nemesis birds. We didn’t see one all of last year and we were less than two weeks away from missing one again this year. Margo was still on Cape Ann and feared that it wouldn’t still be there if she drove to Salisbury.

     So I had a decision to make: groceries or owl, owl or groceries? As you can guess, it wasn’t much of a choice. I decided to head directly to Salisbury to see if the owl was still there.

     When I arrived at the Reservation, I drove through the campground area toward the boat ramp area where the bird was last seen. Checking all the pine trees along the way, I got all the way out to the boat ramp and the only people that I encountered were two dog walkers in the campground and a couple of hunters in the boat ramp parking area. No birders or photographers anywhere.

     I drove back through the campground and ran into Jim McCoy who had also arrived to look for the owl. He showed me a picture on his iPhone that Jim Fenton took of the owl sitting on Butler’s Toothpick at the edge of the river. I decided to head back toward the boat ramp and explore near the Toothpick. After searching the dune area briefly and walking back toward the pines, I got a call from Jim that was immediately dropped. Bad reception!

     I ran back to the car under the assumption that the owl had been found and, sure enough, Jim was walking down the road toward me. He and Kirk Elwell had found the bird buried in a juniper tree. Kirk had heard some nuthatches carrying on around one spot and he moved in to discover the owl. We could barely see owl in the dense foliage. As we were trying to get better looks, Jim read another post from Jim Fenton that said that he had mis-identified the owl he photographed. It was a great horned owl.

     We all looked again at the photo on the small phone. It was, indeed, a great horned owl. So what were looking at in this Juniper tree? We then thought that it had to be the great horned owl that Jim Fenton photographed. I even called Margo and told her not to rush to Salisbury. But as we continued to look, its ears were quite long, though they seemed far apart from the angle I had. We moved further to one side and finally got a front view of his face through an opening in the branches. It was, indeed, a long-eared owl!

     It was a life bird for Kirk and a Christmas present for the rest of us. And a delayed visit for me to the grocery store.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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