Taking down a nemesis bird always takes a place of honor on any birder’s litany of triumphs. The act of overcoming a string of dips through sheer ornery optimism surely serves one well in every sphere of one’s life, but when it comes to chasing birds, resilience redounds to success.
I’ve been chasing Northern Saw-whet Owls, those adorable little predators, for years now. Every March, hope springs anew that I’ll cross paths with one of these feral fluffballs, but as April ends, so do another year’s delirious dreams. But here we are in March again, so off I trudged to Owl Woods, Rochester’s surest spot for Saw-Whets. Driving along ice-choked inlets off Lake Ontario, admiring Mute Swans and scaup species, my commitment to nail this nemesis never wavered.
Of course, encountering a bird that’s eluded you over the years requires an abundance of both skill and luck. As far as the former went, I had a plan. Most owlers look for whitewash, pellets, and other owl sign; I, on the other hand, look for other owlers! Most of my successful owl sightings depended on keener eyes than mine. Fortunately, favor smiled upon me this day because I entered Owl Woods right behind a group from the Rochester Birding Association. I’m not a very active member, but these good, good people recognized me anyway and absorbed me into the owl safari. Within minutes, we saw it, the Saw-Whet!
Were I alone, I’d have scanned every tree for 20 fruitless minutes at a time. However, ace owlers Greg Lawrence and Kim Sucy knew exactly what to look for. How else would we have found this tiny terror tucked so far into the tree?
The Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) is a North American native known for its diminutive size and nomadic nature. Nocturnal like most owls, saw-whets perch low enough to the ground during the day to permit a fairly close approach which usually allows for better photos than I could muster. This owl’s extremely large population size and geographic range place it happily in BirdLife International’s category of Least Concern.
So thanks to Greg, Kim, and the rest of the RBA contingent, my owl luck has improved immeasurably, if only for the moment. I finally saw a saw-whet!