Post-Storm Commotion in Carden : Eastern Screech Owls

Learning about species that I have never encountered in the past is one of the main factors that drives my desire to keep exploring!  The evening of Saturday, June 28th, 2014, around 10:30p.m. was no exception; I observed my first owls.

While sitting around a campfire with family and friends, strange moaning-like noises were travelling across to our site from an adjacent field lined by a patch of forest. Specifically, the noise sounded like 2 animals were engaging in a life-ending fight. This is not uncommon in the Carden area, and so I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

In the evenings I often hear wild animals such as coyotes, common loons, and amphibians.

However, this time, after the second or third occurrence of the bizarre sound coming from the bush/ field, it was decided (by family, friends and I) that I should go and investigate. Exciting! 

I slowly approached the area in which the distinct noises were originating from, keeping in mind not to startle or disturb whatever wildlife may be in the area. Within a couple of minutes, I determined that this animal was a bird, as silhouettes of small, but stout flying creatures periodically filled the fresh twilight sky.   

This was one of the first times I had ever engaged in night photography of an animal and so my method of capturing images was being created ‘on the fly’.  With the brief help of a flashlight I was able to pinpoint the exact spot the bird would sit before flying from tree to tree. This enabled me about a 10 second window to photograph; a fun challenge!

Once the bird was located, I used my 75mm-300mm telephoto lense, on manual focus to take fairly close-up photos of the mysterious avian creatures. After taking the first photo, I immediately knew I was seeing an owl for the first time in my life. The adrenaline from this moment was powerful.

 Having had no experience with owls and little knowledge about them, this encounter without question intrigued me. Upon capturing the first photo, I had no idea of what species I was dealing with. It wasn’t until capturing a few more photos that I began to think I was dealing with either a Northern saw-whet owl or an Eastern screech owl.

I was able determine that I was observing 1 adult owl, and 2 owlets based on feather development (fledging).

Basic identifying characteristics that I observed of these mystery owls included:

  • Sound: a ~3 second long whining noise (sounded painful)
  • Size: Appeared to be approxiamtely 15-20cm in height
  • Color: Adult: Brown/ beige/ white/ Grey — Young: Grey/ beige
  • Other: No apparent ear tufts

It was after I captured the photos and analyzed them on my computer that I realized what type of activity was occurring while I photographed the owls. The birds were perched within surrounding maple trees and would occasionally fly from branch to branch.

Additionally, I noticed that the owls were swooping/ flying down to the ground and then back up into the trees. I wasn’t sure why; if the young were just failing at making ‘the leap’ to another perch.

It was when the owlets returned from the ground to the tree  that I realized they had been preying on the abundant supply of northern leopard frogs in the field. Their method was to stalk the frogs from above, and then swoop down to capture them in their talons.

By using my Birds of Ontario book I was still undecided as to what specific species I was dealing with so I enlisted the help of others.

It was confirmed that this animal was an Eastern screech owl because of its 1) sound 2) size & physical characteristics 3) behaviour.

Being able to observe wildlife such as the Eastern screech owl was a special opportunity, and I was privileged to do so.

Go out and explore for yourself! On that note, I thought this was appropriate for this blog post: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” — Douglas Adams

“Miss[ing]” in the case of exploring the natural world, to me, is exhilarating.

— Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography | Nature Harmlessly Captured

* Thank you to Andrew MacDonald, Kathy Jones (Ontario Volunteer Coordinator at Bird Studies Canada), and Denis Lepage (Senior Scientist at Bird Studies Canada) for helping confirm this species to be Eastern screech owl. *

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