I was home on Thursday evening hanging out with Desi. Daisy was working late and my mother-in-law had kindly started to make me some spicy ramen for dinner. Then my phone buzzed with a text message from my good birding buddy Mary and, well, it let me know that a Burrowing Owl had been found in Queens and the photo posted to twitter. My first thought was that it was probably a hoax but I found the link and shared it to the New York Birders Facebook page, hoping to find out if anyone knew if it was the real deal. (Forgetting, of course, that I am an administrator of the page and we have a strict no-specific-locations-of-owls rule.) I got rightly dragged but also heard from the finder of the bird, Jen Kepler, that the bird was indeed real, and really was at Big Egg Marsh.

Within a couple of minutes I was out the door, yelling my apologies to my mother-in-law and speeding down the street in my Civic on my way to pick up Seth and Mary and get to the bird before the sun went down. Of course, an incredibly incompetent driver decided to try to do a three-point turn on a very narrow street off of Queens Boulevard and couldn’t pull it off, snarling traffic and slowing me down by at least five minutes. The expletives that flew! Every minute counts in a twitch!

Finally, I arrived at Seth and Mary’s place and they were quickly in the car and we were on our way. Unfortunately, we were heading south on Woodhaven Boulevard along with at least half of the population of New York City. Traffic! There was no faster route so we just had to grit our teeth and bare it though I did try changing lanes a bunch of times hoping one would prove faster. None of them did. We finally made it to Big Egg Marsh with the sun a couple of fingers above the horizon, having alerted some fellow birders on our way. Though we were the first birders on the scene we were not the first people, as a youth baseball game was in full swing and there were cars and people everywhere.

I drove in the entrance thinking the bird must have been pushed to the fringes of the park by all the activity but Mary said, “Stop, back up.”

Her tone left me no choice but to comply so I did and there was the bird! It was perched on the back of a fenced in lot where construction vehicles and equipment used in the marsh rehabilitation are stored. How Mary spotted the bird from a moving car in the failing light through a construction storage site is beyond my understanding unless she has superpowers but I was too happy to wonder if I was birding with an actual Avenger. I was looking at a Burrowing Owl! And we didn’t even have time to worry about dipping because Mary spotted within seconds of us being on scene!

A new state and Queens bird for me and not just any bird, but a Burrowing Owl!

Let’s take a moment to realize how unusual it is to see a Burrowing Owl in New York. There are very few records and a couple are pretty sketchy. (I particularly like the one that “flew into an uptown house in New York City…and was caught alive.”)

I might have been digiscoping like crazy.

The three of us had about fifteen minutes with the bird before another birder arrived. A few others -including Donna, who tracked down the above link – trickled in as we watched the bird sit on the same post, preening occasionally, but mostly just glaring around and ignoring the enraged mockingbirds, cardinals, and catbirds. The baseball game ended and folks started driving out so we had to be careful not to get run over. We took shelter behind a front end loader and kept tabs on the bird as folks who were on their way begged us to keep track of it. After about forty minutes or so the bird started hawking bugs, flying from post to post. Shortly after 8PM it took off like it was going after bugs again but then it continued out over the marsh and did not return.

We were happy, though, as the photo at the top of this post shows. (Gin straight from the bottle helped too!) It had been awhile since my last new Queens bird and to get such an amazing one out of nowhere left me reeling. I imagined it would be quite some time before I added another new Queens bird…but I would be proven wrong within twenty-four hours! What would that bird be? You’ll have to wait two days because we have to get through part two of this story first and then we’ll get to the exciting discovery. So make sure to come back tomorrow for “Twenty-Four Hours of Awesome Part Two: Mr. Wilson the Plover” and the day after that for whatever I decide to name part three!

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.