With a major Nor'easter approaching New England I wanted to take advantage of a calm night and do some owling before the storm hit. I chose our neighbor's property off Mountain Road in Gill, beginning in an area of predominantly White Pine, actually a spot that had been ravaged by a micro-burst about three years earlier. Several stands of dense, young White Pine exist within this area, and it was a spot that I'd always wanted to try for saw-whets.
Barred Owl - this bird flew in within seconds (quite literally) of starting a sounding recording of Northern Saw-whet Owl. After that, it just sat around and watched me imitate saw-whet calls for the next 15 minutes! The Barred Owl never called, but its head turned instantly when a real saw-whet gave a 'skew' call from a dense stand of White Pines. It remained perched watching me most of the time, then another saw-whet called from the opposite side of the snowmobile trail, this one giving a drawn out 'whine' call. A few minutes later the first saw-whet reacted with a rapid-fire burst of muffled 'skew' calls, perhaps five or six notes in succession. I waited and hoped for a visual but with the Barred Owl still sat right above me, there didn't seem to be much hope of the saw-whets leaving the cover of the pines and I moved on to my second plot.
Barred Owl - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 6th, 2012. Panasonic Lumix FZ7.
White-tailed Deer - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. November 6th, 2012. Panasonic Lumix FZ7.
The second plot was about 1/2 a mile from the first, characterized by some fairly dense Eastern Hemlocks close to a stream. After about nine minutes of effort a Northern Saw-whet gave a single 'squeaky' call note but nothing more, and there was no visual.
The third plot was again characterized by dense Eastern Hemlocks, and a place where I had met with success a couple of years previously. After about five minutes of trying a saw-whet gave three rich, muffled 'skew' notes delivered in rapid succession. Once more I waited around hoping for a visual but as the breeze picked up there seemed to be too much movement within the forest to have a realistic chance of seeing a saw-whet. Still, I left feeling extremely pleased with such a high success rate.
Back on October 31st, on the way home from Halloween festivities, I tried a spot on Bascom Road in Gill and had a superb visual of a Northern Saw-whet Owl after about five minutes of effort. This particular bird called once at the beginning of the observation but was pretty silent thereafter. It remained high in the tops and my attempts to get a picture were pretty much disastrous - I'm still trying to work out how to use 'superzoom' cameras at night!
Northern Saw-whet Owl - Bascom Road, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 31st, 2012. Horrendous shot I know, but the bird is just taking off with the flash highlighting the leading edge of the right wing, the underside of the left wing, the underside of the body and the reflection of the left eye. The field views were, of course, much better. Panasonic Lumix FZ7. Distant Barred Owls were calling throughout this observation and as I drove away a Barred Owl flew low over Bascom Road.
Elsewhere, I saw a Barred Owl at dawn on North Cross Road, Gill on November 2nd and two were calling close our house on Main Road, Gill, also November 2nd. On November 3rd, I heard two Barred Owls calling at Goodell Street in Belchertown at about 4:45am.
In summary, I've never experienced such a consistently good, productive period for owls in the Pioneer Valley since moving here in 2005. There's still plenty of opportunity to go out and see more before the really had weather arrives.