The landscape last February 2013 was a winter wonderland, with a seemingly constant sequence of storms that included a blizzard on the month’s first weekend. On each weekend to follow, another storm! Ultimately, this turbulence cancelled our annual main event owl prowl which fell victim to some badly timed snowstorms. This February has once again featured seemingly constant waves of snowfall, but this time the prowl was awarded a small window on Feb 9th when the event happened as scheduled, even if nestled between two snowstorms on the same weekend!
For the winter savvy that attended the event, ironically conditions were stellar (as they often are between storm fronts) with no wind, cold but tolerable temps, and cloudy skies which obscure moonlight. As one stood on the landscape a wandering deer hoof, an icy twig hitting the snowy surface, or the distant hoot of a Great Horned Owl were all that occasionally broke the silence – a perfect setup for attracting, hearing, and viewing any owls that might be in the area.
On a usual Lloyd Center prowl, one hears both screeches and Great Horned, with Barrel Owl slightly less common. For sightings, screeches again are the best bet, as locally the most numerous owl in the region. At the outset, no screech owls (not even our own screech owl Koko) responded to our taped call, and with the Great Horned calling from a distance, things seemed all too quiet. With icy surfaces and relatively deep snows on forest trails, this had the potential to be a long night. But this year participants got an unanticipated treat, thanks to our resident pair of Barred Owls, which provided the highlight right on the Lloyd Center property. After many minutes of playing the tape, a large silhouette flew across the horizon through the forest, and landed somewhere nearby.
Barred Owls are notorious daytime callers starting around mid-March, the loud “who cooks for you” audible from great distances. The calling we finally heard was a chilling, loud one note “yowl!” from the nearby dark woods after many minutes of taped calls. Soon another silhouette flew to the parking lot edge, just as we had thought this owl (or its mate) had enough and were about to depart for the next site. At this point, onlookers got a brief but complete look at a Barred Owl in the spotlight, the big dark eyes that are trademark for the species clearly visible, before the owl retreated into the woods away from the light. But after some more tape playing and then a period of silence, the owl flew again to the lot edge, for what would be the grand finale. The owl rewarded our efforts with the send off – a loud repetitive flurry of its signature call. Including the distant Great Horned, the Lloyd Center was alive with the larger, less frequently encountered owls.
We spent the rest of the time till dawn at the Demarest Lloyd State Park driveway, a frost pocket of sorts that is always the coldest stop of the prowl. The one Screech Owl of the night called repeatedly from close range, then flew quickly overhead across the road for a quick glimpse of the silhouette of the owl.
While the search for diurnal owls in this year of a snowy owl irruption was highly anticipated, the sunrise itself and an invigorating walk down a snowy beach to the Allens Pond inlet where waterfowl were abundant would suffice. Just as we entered the beach and hiked over the dunes, the sun was rising a brilliant red.
Back at the Lloyd Center, deer were feeding in our shrubbery, and participants saw another owl at close range, our very own Koko the Screech Owl.