You know that saying that ‘good things will happen when you least expect them’? I found out today — in the most marvelous way — that it’s true in birding as well. I had planned to stay indoors today to get a few things done, but when I went out for a dentist appointment I realized that I couldn’t stay inside on such a gorgeous day. So what did I do? I went birding, of course.
For a change of scenery I chose a trail I hadn’t visited before and didn’t know much about. I walked for about an hour on the alternately icy and muddy paths through the woods, not really hearing or seeing many birds. But the sunshine on my face felt so good I didn’t mind. Just for fun, I took photos of some gigantic footprints in the snow.
Later I stopped to take some photos of a fungus on a branch lying on the path.
Then it happened….
As I stood up from my crouched position by the fallen branch, I happened to glance up at a pine tree and saw something I could not believe. I said to myself, “Whaaaat?! No, it can’t be….” But it was. A Northern Saw-whet Owl, just eight feet away from me and about ten feet off the ground, sitting on a branch half hidden behind pine needles. I had never seen one before, but I knew they were very small birds. I pulled out my Audubon phone app to check and make sure he was what I thought he was. Yep, positive ID.
I was so excited I could hardly think. I’ve been frustrated for quite some time in my search for owls. I’ve seen owls that were found by other birders, but I’ve never found one myself. And I’ve tried. My friend Kevin had told me about a pretty specific location where he’d seen a Great Horned Owl, but despite several visits to that spot and lots of time spent standing in the woods scanning trees with my binoculars, I never managed to find that bird.
So the first thing I did after snapping a few photos of the Saw-whet was to send a text to Kevin expressing my excitement at finding my first owl on my own. I expected to get a text back saying, “Way to go” or something like that. Instead my phone rang instantly. To my surprise, Kevin had never seen a Saw-whet before, despite years of looking for one. He jumped in his car and followed my not-great directions, and we finally managed to find each other. I took him to see the owl, standing back at first to watch his face as he got his first glimpse of it. You’ve heard the expression “a smile a mile wide”, right? Well that’s what I saw on Kevin.
I can hardly express how cool it is to be able to find a great bird and share it with someone who’s been searching for it. So not only did we both get a “life bird” today, but that owl was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen; it seemed small enough to fit in my hand. (They’re only about 7″ tall.) It didn’t seem disturbed by us, only occasionally opening one or both eyes to look at us, and then going right back to sleep. We watched it for more than an hour and then parted ways after discussing our strategy for keeping the location undisclosed for the bird’s protection. There have been so many instances of people disturbing roosting or nesting owls in efforts to get better photos that birders have learned the hard way that you can’t just tell everyone where to find an owl like this.
So we’ve told a few very select people, and one person got to see the owl later that evening after we’d left. She said it flew off around sunset, most likely to start hunting for its evening meal. I don’t know if it’ll stick around, and I don’t even know if I’ll go back to find out. I don’t want to risk scaring it off its roost during the day. And in a way, just seeing it once makes it all the more special.
Can you imagine the odds of my seeing that owl though? If I hadn’t been on the ground taking photos of the fungus…and if I hadn’t then looked up at just the right angle as I stood….wow, I would have walked right past this amazing creature.
What a great day, just when I least expected it. I should go out NOT looking for birds more often. 🙂