Thursday, February 17, 2011
Owling in Central Pennsylvania
Image Credit: Steve Sleep
I was looking over my US life list and noticed that owls in particular were under-represented. This year, I decided to make a conscious effort to actively seek out some owls.
There are 10 species of owl that one can see in Pennsylvania, albeit some of them are rare. They are: Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, & Northern Saw-whet Owl. Of those, the Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl are the most unlikely to be seen. That leaves eight owls that one has a good or reasonable chance to see in PA each year. Of those, I had only seen or heard (as of 2010) three within the confines of Centre County: Great Horned Owl, E. Screech Owl & Snowy Owl. Two others (Barred Owl & N. Saw-whet Owl) I have seen or heard in the state, but that was more than 20 years ago in Cobbs Creek Park, Delaware County.
Last month, I hooked up with Chad Kauffman and found some Barn Owls nesting in a barn silo somewhere along the backroads of Juniata county. They were quite an exciting find! And life birds to boot!
Other owls have been more elusive. Numerous reports of Short-eared Owls have been posted in Huntingdon County. I have gone down on several occasions to stake out the areas where they were seen but came up empty.
Earlier this week, another birder reported owls in the Scotia Barrens (SGL 176). I had been back there several times over the last six months but had no luck with owls. I decided to give it another shot.
Last night, I headed into the barrens around 8:30 p.m. The moon was nearly full and the temperature was in the mid-30s – making for good owling conditions. I made a quick stop at Scotia Pond where a Great Horned Owl was heard calling. A little further down the road, two more Great Horned Owls were heard calling back and forth.
I then proceeded to the research station where a Eastern Screech Owl was heard. The owl called once, but was not heard a second time. After I settled down, I was able to hear at least one distant Barred Owl calling. I played the Barred Owl call from the PA BBA Owl Survey CD on my iPod/speaker set-up. Within a minute, I observed a Barred Owl slide across the sky in front of the moon and take up a perch in a tree directly adjacent to where I was positioned. What a fantastic bird! The owl seemed to be as interested in me as I was in him. He hung around for a good 10-15 minutes before wandering off. The Barred Owls were county birds for me, and the first Barreds within PA for more that 25 years.
Next month should bring migrating Saw-whet Owls this way.