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  • Zoe DeCnodder

BLN's First Owl Survey of 2020

Photo by Claudia Lipski

Participants: Simone, Teagan, Zoe and Marc DeCnodder & Claudia Lipski

I wasn't sure what to expect when I was invited to my first owl survey this past April 5, 2020.

But I have to admit that the prospect of hearing, or potentially seeing an owl in any circumstance always gets me excited. I promise you it was that childlike excitement that kept me going when the cold air began to seep through my two pairs of socks and winter boots.

We arrived at our first stop just after 8:30 pm and piled out of the truck to spread out and cover more ground. The first set of Saw-whet calls rang over the speaker… all I could hear were the nearby farm dogs and a pack of coyotes in the distance (which stuck around for most of the survey), but no owls. Two minutes of silence passed and the next round of Long-eared Owl calls played over the stereo, then two minutes of silence and finished with the unquestionable Great Horned Owl call… still nothing.

I turned to my younger sister, who is not much of a birder herself, but is up to any new adventure and told her it would be just our luck to spend all night outside in the cold as the local owls conspired to take a vow of silence. Nevertheless, if I've learned anything about observing birds, it is better to be patient and optimistic.

The second stop was colder, but my spirits were lifted when the first round of calls stopped and it seemed to echo in the nearby trees. I couldn't help but get excited when my sister confirmed that she had also heard a Saw-whet down the road from where we were. It sparked a new hope that we would be luckier than originally expected.

It’s typical that when we both decided to sit around to try and warm our feet up to make it through the rest of the night, everyone else called us out because they heard two more Saw-whets.

The second last stop was my personal favourite, that gave purpose to my then numb feet. The recording hadn’t even begun and off in the distance I could just make out a long and subtle hoot, almost masked by the howling of the coyotes.

Unsure if I could confidently identify the sound as a Long-eared Owl, I concentrated to see if I could make out the unique sound. It got more confusing for a moment when it sounded as if the sound got closer, but this time it was a Great Horned Owl. It cleared up when I realized I was listening to two separate owls in two different locations.

I tried to wave down my companions to see if they could also make out the calls, but we were all facing separate directions. Later I learned that my sister had noticed me, but chose to laugh at my crazy pointing action instead of letting me know. I was so entranced by the two new visitors that I almost didn’t hear the Saw-whet that everyone else was talking about behind me. That one-stop made my whole night.

I felt so accomplished that when we made it to our last stop and I realized that if I stayed outside for another minute I may lose toes, I was alright listening from the truck, despite everyone else experiencing all three owls again to end the night. We made a total of ten stops which kept us out until roughly 11:00 pm. It was dark and eerie, bitterly cold and quiet for most of the survey and I have to say one of the best experiences of my life!

I have seen a number of owls over the years and heard a great deal more out by our lake-side home, but to be able to go out and document so many in one night was absolutely incredible and quite an adventure!

I consider myself to be quite in touch with the birds around me, but the experience reminded me that there is still so much to observe and learn about nature around us.

I am very grateful to the Buffalo Lake Nature Club for hosting this event, allowing my troop and I to be a part of such an exciting adventure!

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