Medina Journal-Register — This seems to be the year for rare or uncommon owls. Last winter a great bit of time was spent photographing and studying the endangered Short-Eared Owls. A group of about seven or eight of them have spent the last three winters in the Fletcher Chapel and Posson Road area. They’re back again this year but there has been a noticeable increase in their number in various pockets around the state.
Then along comes the Snowy Owl this winter in record numbers. Birders are going crazy over this irruption of Snowys and everyone who makes the effort is seeing them. Usually one licensed bander takes care of banding these Snowy Owls in Western New York for scientific studies. However, this year there are so many that he has enlisted another licensed raptor bander to help.
I have been busy photographing these beautiful birds and helping one of the banders locate birds in this area. And last week, the opportunity to see another uncommon owl came upon me. This owl had been spotted in the Scottsville area and I knew the fellow who had been keeping tabs on it. He agreed to “guide” me to this bird and it is a good thing he did, because this bird is tremendous at hiding.
The first trip, he was found hiding in an old snag covered with grape vines, making it extremely difficult to see. There are two things that stand out about this owl – his ability to “disappear” while perching and his long, high “ears” (not really ears but just tufts of feathers where you think the ears should be).
The second trip, he had to be relocated, but even though Jim was not there to guide me there were two other “spotters” who accompanied me. Krys Elam rode over with me and Cathy Gardner from Lima met us at the owl location. We roamed the area for some time until Cathy softly spoke and pointed up into a tree between us. This time he was in a more visible location but still avoided being spotted right off, as our tracks in the snow showed that we had walked by him several times.
The Long-Eared Owl is a medium size owl somewhere between 13 and 16 inches in length with a wing span of 36 to 42 inches. Those long wings hang down past his tail feathers when sitting, making him look long and slim.
He sort of looks like a Great Horned Owl because he has similar colors and large “ear” tufts. His “ears” are closer together, however, and are much longer in relation to his head size than the Great Horned Owl.
His slim body, long “ears” and long wings help him disappear as he sits on a limb tight to the tree. This is important. as his big brother, the Great Horned Owl, would make a meal of him if discovered.
“Slim Jim” hunts at night and, combined with his ability to hide in the day, he is seldom seen. He eats mice, voles and small birds. He hunts much like the Short Eared Owl by cruising low across low-cover fields.
The Long Eared Owl does not build his own nest. Instead he uses an old hawk, crow or squirrel nest, and has been known to use a tree cavity too. When the young leave the nest, at around 21 days, they are flightless and thus spend their time on branches around the nest. When they are about 35 days old they will begin to fly. During this “branching” time, both parents feed them, but later the female will desert the family, leaving the male to feed and care for the young for two to three weeks.
So the “Year of the Owls” has been a super time for those who like owls, with quite a variety of uncommon ones for this area. In the case of the Snowy Owls we may never again see the influx of them that we have this year. I hope you have gotten a chance to see one of these beautiful white owls. If not, you still have time.
Between photographing the Long Eared Owl and the Snowy Owl and being involved with the trapping and banding of the Snowy, I have had a ball!The Great Outdoors is an interactive forum for nature lovers of all kind. Local sportsmen and women can call to share their reports of trophies bagged, good hunting and fishing grounds, odd sightings or sportsman's club activities. Photos are accepted. To get sportsman's news and info into The Great Outdoors, call Doug Domedion at 798-4022 or e-mail him at email@example.com.