Friday, March 2, 2018

Let the Sleeping Owl Lie: Western Screech Owl in an Unusual Place

The local birding community is like those anywhere else in the sense that a new and rare bird will cause a lot of excitement, and people will drop everything to try and catch a glimpse. I've had a little bit of experience with the concept, having gone to Dawson Lake to try and glimpse a Vermilion Flycatcher that wandered into our county late last year.
Then there is a second category, birds that are relatively rare, but have established a territory or home over a period of time where the bird can be observed fairly easily. Today's bird, the Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii), falls into that category. This one lives in Enslen Park in the town of Modesto. The birders mentioned stopping by the park to check on the owl, but provided little idea of where to look. I walked around the park a few weeks back and didn't see anything. But more recently I found a couple of pictures that birders had posted, and I could see the owl was perching in a hollow of a maple or ash tree, so I knew not to waste time on the numerous redwoods and oak trees in the park. I was on an errand this afternoon and parked at the southeast corner of the park, and very much to my surprise, I spotted the owl in less than a minute. Can you see it in the picture above?
The Western Screech Owl ranges all across the west (there's a surprise), but they prefer wooded areas and are thus not often seen in the Great Valley. Modesto loves her trees, and the parks and neighborhoods are full of good habitat for owls. This owl has been reported in the park since 2015, no doubt helping with rodent control around the trash cans.
The owl wasn't doing much, just sort of dozing. As I observed it seemed to take no notice of my presence. Only later when I was looking at the pictures I had taken did I notice that it was indeed keeping an eye on me (below).

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