Much like the raptors mentioned in my last post, I've been stumbling across more owls than usual in the county during January. A territorial male Great Horned Owl has been especially vocal on calm, mild evenings at the Turner's Falls power canal. And, on January 26th, I had good daytime views of another Great Horned carrying a vole at a much less visited site in Whately.
Barred Owl sightings have certainly increased in January with singles seen at Millers Falls, Gill and Whately over the last two weeks or so. Unfortunately, this has also meant the finding of more road casualties with at least two on Interstate 91 around Greenfield/Route 2 intersection and a further three at scattered sites along the Mohawk Trail. Of all the local owls, Barred seem most vulnerable to colliding with vehicles as they often hunt close to roadsides in deep winter.
On a more upbeat note, I did have fabulous close range views of a red-phase Eastern Screech-Owl roosting next to a busy footpath in Turner's Falls on the 23rd, a bird courteously pointed out to me by mobs of screaming Blue Jays! Turner's Falls is a good spot for screech-owls but I haven't tried particularly hard for them in the last few months so to have these superb, close-up views in daylight was especially sweet.
But, the last word on owls must go to the Long-eared Owl that I saw well but distantly along apparently ideal habitat in Whately on January 22nd. This was a tough observation partly due to distance but also because the bird was accidentally flushed by a local farmer before I had the chance to try for photos. The farmer was the only person for miles around and I simply couldn't believe what I was seeing when he walked straight towards the Long-eared Owl that had just appeared in front of him! It was one of the more bizarre local birding experiences that I've had in recent years.
It's difficult to describe just how aloof this species really is in Franklin County, and especially frustrating because there appears to be, at least superficially, acres and acres of suitable habitat and yet I only know of five county records. Of those, only one was documented with photos.
All have been single day reports as follows;
01/22/21 - Whately: single hunting at dusk. J.P. Smith.
11/26/20 - Montague: single at daytime roost. B. Kane.
03/25/18 - Montague: single at daytime roost (photos). B. Finney et al.
03/14/01 - New Salem: single at daytime roost (restricted area). B. Kane et al.
12/08/85 - New Salem: two during 'owling' at Gate 35, Quabbin. M. Lynch/BBC trip members.
There may be others undocumented of course but these are the only records that I'm aware of to date. A rare bird indeed in Franklin County.