Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Barn Owl Search

As always when I arrive at Sabine Woods in Sabine Pass, TX the first thing I do is check the clipboard at the kiosk to see what everyone else had observed here. There were your usual migrants noted- summer tanagers, catbirds, and several species of warbler, but what caught my eye was that someone had seen a barn owl. I then decided that I was going to spend my morning in search of Tyto alba. This patch of woods is littered with small oak mottes with thick upperstories perfect for a daytime roost. Searching for an owl during the day can be tricky and at most times difficult. You would think that something as large as a barn owl would be easily spotted, but think again. Owls don't make it a habit of sitting in the wide open. It can be compared to finding Waldo. With being well camoflauged they find the thickest areas in trees or sometimes perch on a limb up against the tree itself blending in. There are some signs though that can help in your search.

1) Look for the accumulation of whitewash (owl excrement), which is chalky white in color and will be scattered below the owl's roosting area on the tree's trunk and on ground litter. To differentiate owl excrement from other birds look for any black steaking. If this is found it doesn't belong to an owl.
2) Look for pellets in the leaf litter beneath trees- another sign of an owl roost.
3) Listen for the mobbing calls of other birds- jays, crows, etc. Being on the top of the food chain has its disadvantages- owls and other birds are natural enemies so when a crow, blue jay, cardinal, or other bird finds a roosting owl it will emit loud vocal calls to alert others of its presence. I spent several hours in the area and found several areas of whitewash, but unfortunately didn't find the owl. What I did find though was one of its feathers proving it had been here.
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