Monday, February 01, 2010

Finally, a Northern Saw-whet

This weekend I traveled to Massachusetts to participate in the Superbowl of Birding, an annual big day competition sponsored by Massachusetts Audubon. Christopher of Picusblog invited my to join the Bloggerhead Kingbirds this year along with Nate of The Drinking Bird; Corey of 10,000 Birds; Mike of The Feather and the Flower; and Andrew the Birding Dude. I will have a report on the competition in a subsequent post.

On Friday morning, I met Corey and Andrew in Queens to ride up with them to Massachusetts in our rental van. Along the way, we made a stop at the Pruyn Sanctuary in Westchester County to follow up on a report of a Yellow-headed Blackbird being seen at the sanctuary's feeders. We stood and waited in the cold for about an hour and a half. During that time we saw many sparrows, including a Fox Sparrow; a Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a couple hundred blackbirds, including a Rusty Blackbird. Sadly, we saw no Yellow-headed Blackbird. Eventually time constraints forced us to leave, and we continued on our way to Massachusetts.

Once we had arrived at our hotel, met the other bloggers, and checked in, we set out to do a little bit of birding. Christopher knew the roost location for a Northern Saw-whet Owl, a bird that was a lifer for me and (I think) one or two others. (This species was also a source of frustration for me when I lived in Cape May, since I missed seeing one on multiple occasions.) Christopher guided us to the roost, and we saw this:

We stayed just long enough for everyone to get a good look and take a few photos. I shot this photo through Corey's spotting scope. When I reviewed the photo later, I noticed just how good its camouflage is. If you look closely at this photo, you can see that the feather pattern on the top of its head fades into the tree. You may see the crown of its head, and you can see the eyebrow, but the feathers between those two curves look almost like bark. Owls as a group are especially adept at cryptic camouflage, which helps these birds stay hidden in their daytime roosts. It takes very careful searching and a lot of luck to locate one of these tiny birds.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are fairly common migrants, from what I understand. However, their cryptic feather pattern and tiny size make them extremely difficult to find for the average birder. Saw-whets breed in the coniferous forests of northern North America and migrate south for the winter months.