Surprise, Surprise!

Well, I lingered a little too long over tea, toast, and the newspaper this morning (Saturday) to get out at a ‘proper’ time for a bird walk. But never one to miss an opportunity, or needing an excuse for a little birding, off I went into Deer Lake at around 9:00 am with absolutely no inkling it was going to be a banner morning.

The forest was very quiet at first with just a few Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees calling along with Red-breasted Nuthatches and Spotted Towhees. Serves me right, I mused, for getting out late on a day that promised to be hot. The birds are most active early in the morning, and are generally less visible at this time of year anyway. Breeding is over, singing has pretty much stopped, and the birds are generally quiet and skulking as many of them are going through their annual moult.

A few Red Crossbills landed high up in some conifers, announcing their presence with their short, sharp, chup-chup calls. I never did see them, but it’s a nice bird to find in the park. They’re irregular visitors at any time of year, but this summer’s good cone crop on the western hemlocks seems to have attracted a few more than usual to the park.

Heading out into the meadows I noticed another birder looking intently into the bushes and I wandered over to see what he was seeing. Turned out he was birding, but he was also looking for dragonflies. Then the news: “There’s a Barn Owl along the boardwalk trail about 200 meters from the junction.”

“Barn Owl!”

I was thinking that the more common Barred Owl was actually what had been seen. Barred are seen frequently off the boardwalk here. But the observer seemed confident and knowledgeable. I do hope I said “Thanks” before I tore off down the trail, eager to find the bird. We never did exchange names. So Thank You Sir, whoever you are.

Barn Owls are rare birds in the park these days. They used to be common more than twenty years ago when there were still outbuildings on the old Oakalla Prison grounds. But when the barns were destroyed along with the prison, the Barn Owls disappeared with them.

Not surprisingly given their name, Barn Owls mostly roost in barns. When they do choose to sleep away the daylight hours in a tree, they usually tuck themselves in, and mostly out of sight. But as you can see, this bird was virtually right out in the open.

I spent the good part of an hour watching the surprise visitor, and only once did he turn is head completely around when woken up by some noises from the boardwalk. Most of the time he just snoozed away with his back to the oohing and aawing fans who stopped on their walks to enjoy the sight.

I went back Sunday morning, and no owl was present. Perhaps it found a more suitable roost last night.

For a complete list of the birds I saw on August 25, please click here.

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