On Saturday, we had the first Great Horned Owl of the season in Central Park. We've had one consistently over the last few fall/winters, so it was great news that one had arrived. We're having a great fall with Long-eared, Northern Saw-whet, and Barred Owls already having been seen. Earlier this spring, we also had a Barn and Eastern Screech Owl in the park making 2018 a great year for Central Park owls.
The Great Horned Owl was in the Ramble and flew off on a long flight towards the northeastern shore of the lake. This has been a common habit of previous Great Horned Owls. I wonder if the noisy call of the ducks going to sleep on the shore of the lake, sounds like a dinner bell to the owl?
Central Park has had three Barred Owls this week. Two have been in fairly consistent locations. However, one has been moving around since it arrived, preferring deciduous trees but leaving a roost when the tree loses its leaves. This has had the same owl changing trees by about 100 to 300 yards every few days. So, the question about this owl, who has now been seen on two nights in a conifer this week, the same owl that had been preferring deciduous trees earlier in the fall? Or a new owl?
A small group is respectfully watching one of the Barred Owl's fly outs in Central Park. They're doing a great job of spotting the owl after it leaves its roost area. On Friday night the owl went to the small island in Turtle Pond, north of Belvedere Castle. I'm happy to have company watching the owl now, since some of the newcomers have great night vision. I was able to stay with the owl to 5: 30 p.m. It gave a full "Who cooks for you" call before flying off into the dark.
Located in Central Park's Ramble, the Evodia Field has the only sanctioned bird feeders in the park. They are supported by great volunteers. Indirectly, they end up feeding one or two Cooper's Hawks who enjoy the buffet of sparrows and similarly sized birds during the winter. One young Cooper's Hawk in particular is enjoying the easy pickings this Fall.
Saw-whets are so small they can't eat their prey all at once. They are knows to roost with their prey and eat the second half of their prey during the day. Today, I was lucky enough to watch the "Second Course". After picking at the White-footed Mouse, it eat the whole thing in one gulp.
One of the Northern Saw-whet Owls that is in the park was found sleeping with a mouse today. It would wake up from time to time and take a bite. Yesterday, the meal was a Northern Cardinal. We won't have to dissect pellets to figure out what this owl is eating.
The Pond had the Mandarin Duck, who had returned, but also had an unusual visitor for so late in the year, a Juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron. As a birder, the Heron won. As a photographer, the Mandarin Duck won. So, I guess it was a tie.
Fly out was sudden and the owl went a few trees to the east, but folks had trouble seeing it. I played a hunch and went to the east side of the Delacorte Theater. I was joined by a photographer who was watching his first Barred Owl.
After about five minutes we heard two hoots and thanks to the photographer who had great night vision, got to see it on one of the stage posts. It then few off, but returned to a branch about 2o feet from the Turtle Pond dock/blind. It stayed for at least five minutes giving us wonderful, if very dark looks.
Wonderful sights like this really heal my soul. New York City gets a little crazy at Christmas time, but this was so joyous and restorative.
A Merlin, an medium sized Falcon, has been hanging around the Great Lawn for about a week. It seems to have a lot of enemies. It was hassled by an American Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk and some Blue Jays all within a few minutes while I was watching it.
These pictures are from Saturday. Saw-whet mania seemed to be in play, and folks were downright abusive of the bird. Why would you stick your cell phone up into the center of a small tree so you can take a picture? So, I waited until today, when no Saw-whet was reported in the park to post these pictures, which were taken from about 35 feet away.
On Saturday, at dusk those watching the Barred Owl got a special treat. A Cooper's Hawk came in and harassed the Barred Owl. There was calling by both birds, which included the strange Cooper's Hawk sounds. After this the Barred Owl went to a low branch giving everyone great looks.
The Barred Owl watchers were well behaved and kept quiet. All of a sudden we and the owl heard loud clapping. It turns out that while we were looking at the owl, an Italian couple got engaged! It is Central Park not a nature preserve, so other things do happen!
The fun continued as the Barred Owl flew to an Oak Tree and went after squirrels. It didn't seem to get them, but they are in its view all day so I guess it's worth a try. I've seen a Great Horned Owl exhibit similar behavior. So, just when I think I understand the fly out behavior, the owl or in this case a Cooper's Hawk mixes things up.
Yesterday, we had two Northern Saw-whet Owls in Central Park. One was well hidden in a Holly tree and the other was in the open in a small tree at eye level.
Unfortunately the one in the open was being awoken by photographers when I arrived, who to get an unobstructed view, were going within a few feet of the owl, moving brush aside and talking loudly. For me if an owl is awake, there are no other birds/animals around and it's not near dusk, then the bird watchers (including myself) are the problem. Bircdchick, Sharon Stiteler, wrote a nice piece How Close Is "Too Close" To An Owl in 2013 as a guest writer for 10,000 Birds.
I think it's up to every bird watcher to decide their own limits. I'm not so worried about what each person decides. I just want everyone to consider what the impact of their bird watching and photography might be. Keep in mind that the Manhattan Bird Alert now has over 12,000 subscribers. While David Barrett is thrilled to has such a wide audience, it means that a single tweet about an owl's location (especially when David includes a map) can now bring over 100 visitors to an owl in a day. So, think about your behavior in the context of 100 people doing the same thing or worse throughout the day.
I'd recommend visiting owls just before dusk rather than making a trip during mid-day. The owl will be getting up at this time and you'll be able to see the owl naturally wake up, preen and you might get to see it fly out.
While I don't think most owl locations should be reported, with social media and eBirds locations will end up leaking out. This puts pressure on the bird watching community to police itself by educating new birders about owl etiquette, only tweeting about an owls location when you know the bird won't be disturbed and calling out our peers when in our excitement of seeing an owl, we get too noisy, too close or stay too long. This can be done in a friendly way. 99% of all bird watchers want to respect the birds they watch and will be open to a polite conversation about respecting the bird they're watching. I like to reread, the American Birding Association Code of Birding Ethics every few months, especially the parts that remind experienced birders of their responsibility to educate others about ethics.
I managed this problem for myself yesterday by setting up a tripod with a less than an ideal shot, letting the camera record and walking thirty feet more away. I had lots of wasted footage, and a partially obscured view but for most of the time the owl stayed asleep. It woke up because of squirrels, titmice and a Red-tailed Hawk so with my camera rolling I got some nice images. I also asked new visitors to give the owl some space, and showed them good vantage points which allowed them to stay far from the owl but get good looks.