Prowling for Owls

By Dan Ziomek

It’s 2 AM somewhere in Hadley. The thermometer reads a balmy fourteen degrees as two souls step from the warmth of their vehicle and enter the darkness of cloudless night. A few moments later the winnowing call of the eastern screech owl can be heard coming from the speaker one of them has set up. They proceed without speaking to their positions 50 yards on either side of the speaker and wait silently. What are they waiting for you ask? But more importantly what would possess them to leave the warmth of their vehicle and step into the frigid night air?

The answer to both of these questions is the same, OWLS!!! These creatures of the night have drawn me out at midnight for over 30 years to count them during the annual Audubon Christmas bird count. There is something about hearing them respond to our recordings and sometimes even flying in to see who’s interloping on their territory that I simply can’t resist.

Screech owls are our usual quarry because they are more common and respond well to our recordings. We listen for them near moving water such as the Fort River, Mill River and even the Connecticut. But other species of owls inhabit the valley as well and all of them hold the same fascination for me!

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Young barred owl. Photo Jessica Schultz

The mid-sized barred owl haunts the wet woods. It calls ‘who cooks for you, who cooks for you all’ on warm nights in April and May. Then there is the largest of all our valley owls the great horned owl. They can be heard throughout the winter hooting away from tall trees and hillsides warning all who enter their territory of the danger in their talons.

There are other species of owls inhabiting the valley. The diminutive saw-whet, the field hunting short-eared and occasionally long-eared owls can be found in the valley. But it is the first three that hold my interest and continue to draw me out into the frigid night air year after year.

Join Dan’s program Prowling for Owls on Saturday, February 27nd.

Dan Ziomek has a love for plants and a passion for birding. As the Nursery Manager at the Hadley Garden Center for 25 years he enjoys teaching people about plants. His interest in birding was nurtured through Hitchcock Center classes with Steve Stanne and he currently hosts a daily radio segment dedicated to teaching the public about the birds in our backyards. Now with two children of his own, he appreciates all the programs and classes offered for families. Serving as a member of the Hitchcock Center Board of Directors he feels he is doing his part to support an organization that helped to foster his love for the environment and which will help future generations appreciate the special world we live in.

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