Friday night, I dragged his Lordship from his evening of IPA and reality TV to accompany the Aiken Audubon Chapter on a search for flammulated owls. Dr. Brian Linkhart led a trip through the Manitou Experimental Forest in hopes of seeing these elusive creatures. Flammulated Owls are cavity nesters that rely on old woodpecker holes. North Americas second smallest owl species, they hunts mainly insects in old growth ponderosa pine forest.
After a harrowing drive down a very wonky dirt road, we arrived at the first nest at dusk. The female owl sat guarding the opening, waiting for darkness. The species is dark eyed but the glare from the flash is giving her a rather demonic expression.
|Photo courtesy of John Drummond|
Dr. Linkhart climbed a ladder and removed three owlets to weigh and measure. Members of the group assisted by holding the spares. The handling does not cause the parents to reject them in case you were wondering. From the measurements, he could tell how old they were and when they would fledge. We returned the owlets to the nest within 15 minutes so they could begin recieving their evening feedings.
|Photo courtesy of Mary Jane - she is pictured above.|
We then had a Q and A with Dr. Linkhart as he shared a small portion of what he has discovered in 35 years of research. For example, male flammulated owls tend to be loyal to their territories, returning year after year. The females, however, are more fickle and like to move up the ladder - choosing a better territory every year they breed. Also, for the privilege of mating with her, the male is required to feed her throughout the breeding season.
As darkness fell, we ventured to another nest and watched as a female entered the vicinity and vocalized her pangs of hunger. Shortly thereafter, a male delivered food to the owlets.
Next, we went farther up the terrible high clearance road and bush wacked across some woods to yet another nest. At this site, Dr. Linkhart needed to capture the male. He did this with a net on an extension pole which he held up in position by the nest hole 30 feet in the air. I got a crick in my neck just watching him. Within minutes, however, he caught the male and was surprised to find out that this bird was not the same as last year and was nesting with an older female. After a few measurements he was released. It was now midnight, way past our bedtime so we made our way home.
Such a cool trip and a life bird for me. I shall have to work out a way to include a flammulated owl in the haunted parlor for this years Halloween soiree'.