Early Sunday morning I was out and about at Jones Beach State Park hoping to track down the hordes of crossbills that I had seen on Saturday for some more photographic fun. But I was distracted by the harsh cawing of a murder of American Crows. It sounded like they were mobbing something and when crows are mobbing something you want to see what it is because they often harass owls and who doesn’t like to see owls? Steve Schellenger, who I had run into and was birding with, and I made our way through some scrub until we could see the crows and they definitely had something because they were dive-bombing it and sitting above it and cawing their heads off. But we couldn’t get a look at what they were mobbing because it was down deep in a thick bush.
Finally the bird they were mobbing took off but we only got very lousy looks as it stayed behind a brush line as it flew but we were sure we had an owl. It landed again several hundred yards distant and the crows continued to mob it so we made our way over hoping for a better look. Before we could get close enough to even see the bird the crows drove it to flight again. With the light at my back and the bird going away I managed to get these shots.
Figuring we got as good a look as we were going to get we made our way back towards the pines to continue our search for crossbills. Little did we know that the crows had continued to pursue the owl in a circular pattern and suddenly the beast was flying almost directly at us until it put up in a big bush not twenty yards away but with the sun behind it. It quickly realized we were there and took off again, away from us, allowing me to nab the following shot and a couple more like it.
Now, it must be noted at this point that we hadn’t looked too carefully at my photos and were under the illusion that we had been seeing crows chasing a Short-eared Owl. So when we ran into Seth Ausubel and he told us he had seen the crows chasing a Great Horned Owl we were very confused. (None of us really knew how similar the underwing pattern of the Great Horned Owl is to that of a Short-eared Owl, probably because we never get to see Great Horned Owls flying around in daylight.)
Fortunately, the owl made another appearance, still being harassed by crows, and soon realized that there was just the Great Horned Owl being harassed and not two different murders of crows each pursuing its own owl.
The poor owl could get no relief and I later heard from Sean Sime, who was diligently scanning the skies over West End 2 for his New York Cave Swallow, that it was chased way out into what remains of the dunes over by Jones Inlet, where a Northern Harrier joined the crows in harassing it.
Great Horned Owls are pretty tough but when they are stuck in the open in daylight and constantly harried by crows you can’t help but feel a little sorry for them.