Will and I had spoken on Sunday and agreed to go owling on Tuesday night. We had both failed at checking off Eastern Screech-Owl or Great Horned Owl on our New York lists so far in 2007 so we figured we’d take a shot at tracking down either silent nocturnal killer.

Before Will picked me up I prepared. I had to find my cheapie-Radio Shack-digital recorder and put owl calls on it. (Sometimes to find owls you have to play their calls to lure them in and get them to respond. Because both Will and I are woefully unowl-like in our attempted imitations and the last time we tried for screech-owls all I had was the Western Screech-Owl‘s call to attract Eastern Screech-Owls I had to make a “tape.”) I put the stereo on repeat, played the screech-owl track that was on the cd included with Jim Burns’ book North American Owls: Journey Through A Shadowed World, hit record on the recorder and left the room to warm up some coffee. I was amused by the cats’ wide-eyed expressions as they stalked the stereo looking for the owl. Their stalking turned to sprinting when I played the Great Horned Owl‘s call.

Since it was still light out when Will picked me up we went first to Papscanee Island to see if the enormous icterid flocks from last week were still present. We found icterids, but in much-reduced numbers. Also present along the north and south entrance roads were Song, White-throated and Fox Sparrows, the usual host of American Crows, and a sluggish, unresponsive American Robin.

After our visit to Papscanee Island we stopped at a Citgo to gas up and drove to Five Rivers. We arrived a bit too early to owl so we walked out a ways, planning on owling on the way back. Though it was the vernal equinox the air was cold and getting colder and the wind was blowing pretty hard. Not exactly good owling weather but we pressed on anyway.

When I played the screech-owl tape everything sounded normal at first until the recorder emitted the distinct sound of a microwave oven door being slammed and buttons being pushed. Oops. Next time I won’t warm up coffee while making a tape!

The Great Horned Owl recording was fine, in terms of background noise, but not fine enough to bring in an owl.

We pressed on, stopping several times to play the recordings, even mixing it up with a Saw-whet Owl call here and there hoping to get lucky.  No toot-toot-tooting Saw-whets.  I guess owls don’t like microwaves.

At our last stop, however, we were amazed when a Microwlave Owlven in full breeding plumage on a wheeled table rolled up to us and started beeping frantically. Unwilling to disturb this extremely rare species on its breeding territory we quickly retreated to the car to warm ourselves and drive home. Unfortunately, neither the New York State Avian Records Committee nor the American Birding Association consider the Microwlave Owlven a full species yet so we couldn’t even check it off our life lists. Lousy list-makers!

This post was originally published on 22 March 2007, but we hate to keep posts this good buried in the archives!


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 and Desmond Shearwater. 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.