Long before the sun had risen on the cold, calm morning of February 17, a crew of die-hard birders headed for the quiet Dartmouth woods to observe owl behavior. Led by Research Associate Jamie Bogart, the group set out to hear owls during their courtship period at the hour when most other life is still asleep.
Superb conditions and callback tapes designed to attract owls assured that the group wouldn’t be disappointed, and they even caught a glimpse of two owl species.
The tour started on the Lloyd Center property near a large white pine, long known to be an area abundant with screech owls. Very quickly after playing the tape, calls filled the night. The group saw two owls streak by, their dark bodies visible against a dimly lit sky.
The next stops also had screeches, illustrating how abundant these seldom seen birds are. These owls cunningly avoided our flashlights, and a waking rooster signaled that our ‘night owl’ window was rapidly closing. However, the excitement was far from over.
We walked down the entrance road to Demarest Lloyd State Park, our last stop where we tried to attract the Great Horned Owl, a species known to inhabit field edges like those present within the park. After many minutes standing in the coldest temperatures of the outing and watching twilight turn to dawn, a large silhouette appeared in the nearby hedgerow, where a curious Great Horned Owl had flown in for a look.
This bird quickly flew from sight, displaying the large wingspan to all. But it was when the “hoo hoo” pierced the frozen air that even a chilled toddler became attentive. There were two owls calling one another, the chorus lasting several minutes.
One person was even fortunate enough to see the two owls perched together on a branch, the shy birds retreating when the group came in close. These quick looks of a large, powerful Great Horned Owl are more than most see in a lifetime.
After the owling phase was complete, the group was treated to sunrise at Barney’s Joy and a look at the pristine coastal beaches of Allens Pond. Finally, back at the Lloyd Center, the sleepy-eyed group was briefly “jolted” with a close-up presentation of another bird of prey, our resident red-shouldered hawk, which stood cooperatively as the group admired its wildness.