It’s been a balmy, damp Fall here in Tennessee. And even if the wildlife isn’t forthcoming during a hike, there is always something beautiful to revel in, like these mushrooms that almost seem to glow in the dimmed light.
But there is usually a Barred Owl to make the day even more special. Happy Solstice!
The summer brings an oppressive, torrid hush over the wooded areas of Tennessee. Almost jungle-like, the only creatures present seem to be the incessantly droning cicadas and languidly flapping butterflies. Gone are the dueling, bright warblers and exciting glimpses of migratory species.
But the species that call Tennessee home all year can be found by someone determined (and daft) enough to brave the heat, humidity, and myriad biting insects.
The Ghost of the Woods: The Barred Owl, unlike most of the members of its order, can often be seen during the day.
A young Pileated Woodpecker learns to fend for itself in the forest canopy.
And a mother Wood Duck keeps her ducklings close.
Despite the frustration of the onset of Spring migration and the confusion of trying to identify warbler songs not heard in a year – and the self-inflicted malady of “warbler neck”… there is still peace in the woods.
A Barred Owl diligently peruses the creek, and scoops up a crayfish lunch.
A female Northern Cardinal believes herself unseen in her not-so-hidden nest.
A Great Blue Heron balances on one leg, perhaps resting after a successful morning hunt.
And, even if the warblers don’t cooperate for pictures, the wildflowers are there, ever lovely.
As a lifelong birder and raptor fan, it seemed I was always frustrated in my quest to see a Barred Owl. When I lived in South Florida, I frequented the Everglades, where I saw many incredible birds. But despite hearing the haunting “Who-cooks-for-you?” call drift across the swamps, I never had a sighting.
That bad luck seemed to follow me to Tennessee, where multiple unseen owls screamed daily across the tree-filled Hollow where I lived. I even made a couple of trips to Radnor Lake, a place where, aside from its many other charms, Barred Owls are almost guaranteed.
Well, the third time was truly a charm! Since my first magical sighting of an apparently unconcerned owl sitting next to the path, I have been blessed with an owl almost every visit. This past weekend, another wish was fulfilled – to see one hunting! I watched this owl stalking the streams, coming up with a staple of the Barred Owl diet – crayfish! It may not be as spectacular as watching a Peregrine Falcon’s plunge or a Golden Eagle’s swoop, but I enjoyed every minute.
For three seasons of the year, birdwatching can be a hectic sport. Spring and Autumn bring migration; Summer has the dawn chorus of frantically breeding birds. But birding in the Winter is a more subtle enterprise. Familiar birds are quiet, leaving mainly one’s sharp eyes to distinguish a fluttering movement, or a lump of not-a-dead-leaf on a bare forest branch. If you do hear birds, they are quietly murmuring to one another, not out brazenly singing in the open.
Winter birding is usually a solitary enterprise.
Winter birding makes usually “dull” birds stand out crisply against grey backgrounds of naked trunks and overcast skies.
And winter birding brings subtle, unexpected surprises.
The roller coaster ride that is Autumn has officially started here. Last Monday we sweated on a hike in 80 F weather. And in less than a week, I was hauling the houseplants in for the hard frost that came as predicted.
The hike was this: For the first time (for him), I finally convinced my Sweetie to go on an owl search for me at Radnor Lake. The fall colors were almost at their peak, and he hadn’t realized how beautiful this park is. However, we had to laugh at the “No” signs all around – as in, No Running, No Picnics, no loud noises, no musical instruments… As for the owl, I am pleased to say we finally spotted one, sitting quietly off trail in the canopy. As I was snapping pictures, my other half was lucky to watch it spit up a pellet! Since I have only ever seen one Barred Owl there at a time, we decided that there should be an addition to the rules – Only One Owl per Visit!
My awesome friend Beth visited for some intense birding this weekend, and we were not disappointed. One of her best finds was a red phase Eastern Screech Owl sitting on a tree in our own backyard! This seemed a good omen to our next quest, finding a Barred Owl at Radnor Lake.
And, voila! Again, the first spotting goes to Beth.
On our return home, we looked for the red Screech, to no avail. Then I spotted a little feathered head poking up from a cavity in the same tree. I didn’t realize it was a different owl until Beth pointed out it was grey! The little she-owl slowly wiggled back down into her nest, but I managed to get a picture.
Lo and behold, one more trip to the tree revealed these two fuzzy nestlings! It was dark, so the image is a little blurred, but I had no idea it wasn’t one of the adults until I downloaded. What a gift, to have this family so close. And yes, we are trying to not harass them too much 🙂