After countless drives in the dead of night, scouring powerlines and treetops in the darkness for any sight of one of Tobago’s best kept secrets, we were finally rewarded a few weeks ago. It wasn’t an expected sighting by any means, due in no small part to a history of disappointment.

We had been hanging out – or as we say here, liming – with some friends at the remote northeastern tip of the island and began the 90 minute journey back to our (temporary) base long after dusk had come and gone. Now there are several possible routes we could’ve chosen from; those of you who think like me would naturally gravitate toward the path least travelled. And so we did. At that hour, we crossed paths with no more than 5 vehicles!

Speeds aren’t high on these bumpy, winding roads – and I rarely shifted out of second gear. Enough time to swerve repeatedly to avoid frogs on the road. Where there are frogs… I mused, completing the sentence in my thoughts, complete with visions of desired sightings.

About halfway through when the road finally straightened on a gradual but deliberate descent toward one of the coastal villages, I shifted into third, then fourth gear. As we picked up speed, I slouched back into the seat. Almost immediately, I noticed a plump, feathery anomaly on the powerlines – and hit the brakes. By the time I came to a stop, I was directly under it. Joanne looked at me, confused – but with the awareness that I would only stop for some creature. I whispered to look up, and she was greeted by the underbelly of a Striped Owl.

I backed up quite a bit and photographed the bird from various angles. I know it is not the most bothersome thing for many people, but having powerlines in my photos is completely abhorrent to me. Eventually I gave up and decided to wait, in the event it decided to change perch. Perhaps I’d have a chance with it on some shrub? Or maybe on the ground? So we waited, and waited. It preened, looked around, preened some more, fluffed up a bit. After about half an hour, it began to vocalize – and then flew off into the darkness. Alas, I must wait for another opportunity. Thankfully I had seen it earlier this year and there were no powerlines around that time.

Here’s the awkwardly composed and heavily processed resulting image. Nevertheless, this is one of the most treasured sightings for any birder – Striped Owls on Tobago are an endemic subspecies and very infrequently reported.

A medium sized, richly patterned owl in the darkness.

Striped Owl

Written by Faraaz Abdool
Faraaz Abdool is an internationally published freelance conservation and wildlife photographer/writer who specializes in birds and the issues they face worldwide. He graciously serves on the Trinidad and Tobago Bird Status and Distribution Committee (formerly the Trinidad and Tobago Rare Bird Committee), and leads birding trips on both islands. Faraaz also runs yearly birding and wildlife tours to East Africa. Although he doesn’t keep a life list, Faraaz has been a keen birder for many years, separating Black and Turkey Vultures at distance as a little boy, skipping class to gaze at Magnificent Frigatebirds as a teenager and quitting his job as an electrical engineer to put all his energy into conservation as an adult. Faraaz cultivates wildlife consciousness via his words and images, in a last-ditch attempt to reconnect humans with nature and save the world.