Monday, November 26, 2007

My Owl Mission Part 2-Northern Saw-Whet Owls

My second owl species of this series is the (Northern) Saw Whet Owl. I got my first one last winter, when chasing a hot tip off of the birding hotline. I always want to discover one on my own, or it seems the chase is lost, but this little creature has eluded me for years. It was discovered at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Il. It cost me $7 for admission to see it, but it was worth the effort for this tiny treasure.

Saw-Whet's are the smallest of our regions owls. Their height is 7-8" and have huge yellow eyes for their size. Their head seems to take up half of their height, and virtually has no visible neck. They are very scarce in this area, so to see one is pure luck. They can be found in small dense trees such as conifers, and their defense is none at all. They will sit still and not fly, leading people to percieve them as tame. They feed on small rodents such as deer mice, and I have read that they eat them as two separate meals. They can only handle smaller chunks, so to swallow one whole in one sitting could lead to choking and death.

It took me more than an hour to find him. My directions were extremely vague. I checked every conifer I could find in this massive area, searching each trunk for a small metal tag identifying its type . In arboretums, they tend to group "like" trees to regions, so checking each one was becoming exhausting and my extremities were not prepared for the amount of time I was spending in this type of weather. ( I wore sneekers, so my feet were soaked in the snow) I really thought I could walk right to it, since I had the species of tree it was in. (A weeping pine) I kept trekking on until I heard some voices ahead. I am hoping they are standing under the tree I seek. I see that they both have cameras, so I am pretty sure I found the spot. I say "saw-whet?" and they point up to an inner branch at the peak of the tree. I still couldn't see it. They tell me to look for the larger bowed branch near the trunk, and there it was. I took some test shots, and found the right settings. The lil guy was sleeping, so I got comfortable. I wanted the perfect shot, since I spent so much time and money, not to mention gas getting here. The other photographers left. I inspected the ground, and found plenty of whitewash and owl pellets (poop and vomit) to keep me entertained. If the guys were not there, I would love to think that I would have spotted it, since the evidence was everywhere. Anyway, I waited for quite some time, and the constant strain of looking up was taking its toll on my neck. I eventually got a shot with his eyes open (well, half open) that was half decent. I went up to the Arboretum several more times, but this shot is the best I got. I was hoping I could get a better angle, but the one you see was the "only" angle to shoot him. I am hoping to find one this year without the help of the hotline, and of course the perfect conditions for a perfect picture.

Part 3: Screech Owl

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