Sunday morning dawned clear and cool, perfect weather in which to find some owls. Sunrise found me in a car with Rich Kelly and Seth Ausubel, on our way to Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx where we would be joined by Bob Dieterich and Gene Herskovics for an owl prowl. For some reason, Pelham Bay Park has long attracted wintering owls and Great Horned Owls nest there and are year-round residents. Recent reports had placed both Northern Saw-whet Owls and Barred Owls in the park, so we thought we would be able to have a three-owl morning without too much effort.

Of course, this meant that we spent the first hour-plus of our morning owl-less. The Barred Owl was not where it had been reported, the Great Horned Owls wouldn’t show, and we saw neither a whit nor a bit of a Northern Saw-whet Owl. The scent of skunk that perfumed one portion of the path at Pelham Bay Park seemed to foretell a skunking for us.

Fortunately, a noisy tribe of Blue Jays managed to draw our attention to a Great Horned Owl which then flushed and perched a great distance away from us for just long enough to let us get quick scope looks before it disappeared. One owl down, two to go!

But first we took some time to scope the bay, picking up some expected waterfowl. That done, we headed back to the parking lot to drive to another section of the park where we hoped to find the saw-whets. On our way out we ran into Steve Schellenger who was dismayed by our lack of luck with the Barred Owl, as he was about to lead a field trip that had Barred Owl as one of the main goals. We exchanged numbers in case either group found anything particularly good, and he gave us the exact location of a saw-whet he had spotted that morning. Things were looking up! We had one owl in the bag and good intelligence on a second!

Saw-whet Owl in Pelham Bay Park

an horrific picture of a Northern Saw-whet Owl high up in a pine tree

Steve’s directions turned out to be perfect and we quickly tracked down our second owl of the day. We were pleased but not content. We still needed Barred Owl! We scoured the area hard but turned up no owl. Then my phone rang. It was Steve and he was inquiring if we were all blind. The Barred Owl was sitting in its usual tree right out in the open. Our missing it while it sat in that spot seemed impossible so rather than accept the title of blundering dunderheads we decided that we must have searched too early, while the owl was still hunting, before it had returned to its roost for the day. Yeah, that must be what happened…

Anyway, we made our way back to our original search area and, sure enough, the Barred Owl was unmissable.

Barred Owl in Pelham Bay Park

Barred Owl in Pelham Bay Park

Three species of owl in one park in the Bronx in one morning! Now that is a great way to start a day!

Gene went home to Rockland County, Seth and Rich dropped me off, and Bob joined them for some more birding out on Long Island. I came home, ate some lunch with Desi and Daisy, and then we went for a family walk in the familiar confines of Forest Park. Before we headed out the door I showed Desi the pictures I had taken of the Barred Owl and I was a very proud daddy when he saw the pictures and said “Barred Owl!”

Our walk at Forest Park was perfect, with lots of stick dragging, digging in the dirt, and hiding behind trees.

Desi and his stick

Desi and his stick having a great time in Forest Park

Little did I know that when I ran ahead and hid for Desi to find me that I would find something instead.

Saw-whet Owl in Forest Park

Northern Saw-whet Owl in Forest Park

I was pleased to show Desi and Daisy my second saw-whet of the day, though I think we might have to make Desi study the field guides some more as he called it a Barred Owl. That kid just loves Barred Owls I guess…

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Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy, their son, Desmond Shearwater, and their indoor cat, B.B. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.