This past weekend, Micah Riegner led a Jay’s Bird Barn-sponsored nighttime ‘owling’ bird walk in the Bradshaws. Owling is a term used to describe the activity of looking for owls at night. Our destination was an area known as Kendall Camp, and our target bird was a flammulated owl.
I hadn’t planned to participate in the bird walk as I had worked all day, but the possibility of seeing a flammulated owl was too much to pass up. After all, if we were successful in seeing one, it would be a new bird for my life list. As we left the Bird Barn our group consisted of 11 individuals, but grew as the night progressed.
Flammulated owls are very small-only 6.75 inches in length-and weigh only 2.1 ounces. This species of owl is almost exclusively insectivorous; its diet is primarily moths. I figured with a full moon we’d have a good chance to find the owls.
Micah had scouted the area earlier in the week and was successful in finding them, so I was feeling very optimistic that we were going to have success. When we arrived at the location, we ran into a family of four from the valley-they were in search of the flammulated owl, as well-so we invited them to join us. Our group had now grown to 15 individuals, and it was going to grow again!
We were listening for the distinctive one-note ‘hoot’ call of the flammulated owl when we started hearing a Mexican whip-poor-will singing in the distance. Micah used playback on an electronic device to coax the whip-poor-will into view, but we never did see it.
The next bird species we heard was that of a northern pygmy owl-not our target owl species, but this is not a bird you are going to pass on if you have a chance to see one. We hiked up and down a very rocky dirt road, playing back its call. It would move, and we would follow, hiking down the road and then back up. This was one sneaky owl. It seemed for a time that perhaps there were two pygmy owls, but, in spite of our best efforts, we never located any.
By now, we had run into three more individuals looking for owls, so our group was up to 18-too many, really, for effective owling, but we persisted. We finally started hearing the call of a flammulated owl. In fact, there were times when we were hearing both pygmy and flammulated owls calling, but in the end we were never successful in getting a visual sighting of either.
It was a perfect night for owling-it was not too cold, there was no wind, and the moonlight was amazing. At one point Micah thought maybe he had heard a Mexican spotted owl, and before calling it quits the group heard a great-horned owl. We were certainly in the right spot for owls, but our efforts to see any of them were unsuccessful.
As a quick reminder, this Saturday is International Migratory Bird Day. The Prescott Audubon Society will be leading a free bird walk at the Highlands Center at 8 a.m. for both beginning and experienced birders. From 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Highlands Center will be hosting a variety of fun family activities to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. I invite you to bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it. I will bring a box of loaner binoculars if you need to borrow a pair to participate in any of the activities. I hope to see you there.
Until next week, Happy Birding!