It was a perfect storm of sorts, a three day weekend and the in-laws had agreed to take the kids. So Danika and I planned a 24 birding ‘big day’ in an attempt to come back from waaaaay behind in the NYS Region 8 Big Year.
The plan started perfectly, we dropped the kids off at 8:30pm and were at our first spot when the clock struck 9pm, out designated start time. Our first target bird was Whip-poor-will, only there was not one calling. We tried to whistle a bit. Nothing. We tried a tape. Nothing. A great way to start a big day. After about 15 minutes, we gave up and drove down the road. About 50 yards down the road, suddenly we heard “Who Cooks for you-Who cooks for you Allllll!”. Bird #1 on the day (and a new year bird) Barred Owl.
We turned onto another nearby road and breathed a big sigh of relief as 2 Whip-poor-wills started up at exactly 9:30. At the end of this road, we stopped to try and listen for American Woodcock, but heard a huge pack of Coyotes, yipping, barking and howling away, pretty cool to hear, but needless to say no Woodcock were advertising themselves.
We tried several more spots in the vain attempt of getting a Northern Saw-Whet Owl to respond, we did however manage to pick up Ovenbird for the day.
We headed down into Greene County in search of more owls, nearly every field had Coyotes calling, one although we could not find him was very close to us and even though we knew he has no interest in us, there is some deeply seeded fear in the human brain of animals like Coyotes and Wolves. As soon as you hear the call, your pulse quickens and you get that shot of Adrenalin. It only lasts a second as you are able to control these emotions, but what a rush! Oh yeah, no Owls.
We headed down to the Coxsackie Reservoir a place that has been quite productive for Great-Horned Owl in the past. Our first stop on Jenny Lane, yielded, more Barred Owls, 3 more in fact! On my side of the car, was a bird doing the regular call, but on Danika’s side we were treated to a pair doing the full gambit of Barred Owl calls, cat calls, wails, hoots, hollers, monkey calls… It was awesome! But sadly, we already had Barred Owl and they only count once after all.
We proceeded to the other side of the Reservoir to a spot where Danika, Corey and I had several Great-Horned Owls on the Albany County Christmas Bird Count one year. We pulled into the parking lot and played the Great Horned tape and lo and behold, a Barred Owl responded! That gave us 4 Barred Owls at this location and we gave up trying to get Great Horned.
From there we headed down to Vosburgh’s Marsh, a spot that for most of the past winter has had a Red-phased Eastern Screech Owl. With warmer weather, the Owl of course has moved to more natural roosting/nesting spots, but we figured it has to be there. We arrived at the marsh and whistled. Danika then informed me that my whistle was awful, so we tried the tape. No response. We waited and tried again. No response. After about half an hour, we turned around to leave and as we were driving out, tried one last stop. We rolled down the windows, nothing. I tried a whislting again (Danika rolled her eyes). Nothing. The suddenly in our headlights, coming down the road towards us was this little fluff ball. It landed on a bare branch above the car and looked right us. This proved 2 things, 1) that the red phased Eastern Screech Owl is alive and well and b) that my Screech Owl whistle works (take that Danika!). I foolishly stuck my head out the window and whistled again. I got what I deserved, when the Owl swooped at my head!
We followed with a quick drive through the Coxsackie Grasslands which yielded nothing and then headed home for a few hours of sleep before doing the next phase of our big day.