Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Owls Make the Holidays Brighter
December 28, 2019
by Steve Grinley
There have not been but a few snowy owls in our area yet this season, but I have shared our tale of finding a barred owl at Halibut Point earlier this month. I have also mentioned our resident screech owls roosting in our nest boxes at home. I recall another couple of owls that were discovered locally during the holiday season, now seven years ago, that I would like to share again with you:
“It has been a busy season at the store. 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.
It was Margo, who had taken the whole day off to go birding. She had re-found an ash-throated flycatcher in Gloucester, which was originally discovered during the Cape Ann Christmas Count. She had just been checking her iPhone (she is more connected than I) and had read a post on Massbird.
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 State 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 owl 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 the bird in the dense foliage. As we were trying to get better looks, Jim read another post from Jim Fenton that said that he had misidentified the owl he photographed. It was a great horned owl.
We all looked again at the photo on Jim’s small phone. It was, indeed, a great horned owl. So what were looking at in this Juniper tree? We naturally 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 strain to see the owl in the thick juniper, 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 not the great horned owl that Jim Fenton had photographed but, rather, but a long-eared owl!
I set up my scope and digiscoped some photos. Margo arrived and took some better photos, clearly showing a long-eared owl. It was a life bird for Kirk and a Christmas present for the rest of us that were there. And it was a delayed visit for me to the grocery store.”