October 23rd – Northern Saw-whet Owls

It was an historic night at Ruthven last night – the “owl crew” (Nancy Furber, Christine Madliger and Chris Harris) caught and banded the first Saw-whet Owls in Ruthven’s banding history. After Nancy’s many nights of attempting to lure the little owls using a tape recording and tape deck but to no avail, all the hard work paid off. You can read Nancy’s account below. What isn’t captured in it though is Chris’s account of finding at least 3 Southern Flying Squirrels in the trees in front of the Mansion and along the trail to the cemetery or of the pack of coyotes calling and yipping just across the highway or of the Great Horned Owls and Screech Owls calling throughout the night. The night-time at Ruthven can be a magical thing.

Nancy’s Account:
Some people may think it’s crazy to be outside, late at night, wandering the trails at Ruthven. The evenings have been an experience to enjoy, either walking in the dark with only the stars or the fullness of a huge moon guiding your pathway. Since September 25 we’ve been attempting on different evenings to lure Northern Saw-whet Owls, using a call tape, into the nets in order to band the birds – which would be a first for the banding station. Each evening, between eight pm and twelve o’clock midnight when the nets were opened and a lure tape was playing we were hoping we would find one bird in the net(s) to band. We’ve had some skeptics along the way who were there to cheer us on but felt that the chance was quite slim. We would keep trying but so far there were no birds to band (this is after six different evenings). There were Great Horned and Screech Owls along with coyotes calling on some evenings but no Northern Saw-whet Owls.

This weekend there was a crew of three people doing the impossible – Nancy Furber, and Chistine Madliger and Chris Harris who made the trip from Windsor. On Friday evening a new site was established with a call tape at Net Lane #8 located in the river flats with Rick’s nets – 8X & 8R, and net #9 open. Another call tape was set up on the east side at Net Lane #4. After two net checks in the fullness of the moon the questions again were raised in regards to the sanity of attempting this project but still it was a beautiful evening despite the discouragement of no owls. Close to midnight the three of us were checking nets and walking towards net lane #8 when the cry went out from Christine. “There’s an owl in the net!!!” Well, we were no longer cold and tired but running to insure that this one owl was not going to escape! We had an owl – a Saw-whet Owl – and here was the evidence that we were not crazy. Returning to the lab with our treasure, we proceeded to band the first Saw-whet Owl at Ruthven Park. It was determined that the owl we had was a young female and she was a special bird for all of us to process and take pictures of. At the time of our next net checks we were sharing our thoughts in regard to hoping for a second bird. Were we asking too much? One bird generated enough excitement, could we or should we even anticipate anything more?! YES! As the evening moved from Friday into the wee hours of Saturday morning we were getting tired and hungry and we decided to close by three am. Approaching net # 8 we started closing and Chris and I moved down to the nets along the river. Well, this time Chris started to run without sounding out the cry ‘Owl’ thinking he had better check before we had another moment of euphoria. Sure enough, in Rick’s net 8R there it was and we were shouting to Christine that we had another owl!! Wow – now what do we do? Should we close nets for the night or pull out all of the stops (sleeping) and keep going? We all agreed to leave the nets open, why not, it was late (or early, in the morning) and we might as well go until morning and have the nets opened for the banding to start on Saturday.
The owl we had this time was a young male. This was unbelievable that we had banded TWO Saw-whet Owls tonight. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone.

I arrived this morning to find Nancy and Christine sacked out in the banding lab office, snoring away in their sleeping bags, and Chris, on overdrive (having been awake all night) opening the nets. Although the season is (theoretically) winding down, there was a lot of bird activity this morning with 109 birds processed (81 banded; 28 retrapped) and 46 species encountered (including 7 Pine Siskins seen on census). Mike Furber arrived to pull another Eastern Screech Owl from the box below Net 2 – this one a gray phase bird; the one last Saturday was a red phase.

This was also Fall Clean-up Day so there was lots of activity on the grounds – but not to the detriment of the banding. And……the work was followed by a great BBQ lunch. It can’t get much better than this.

Banded 81:
2 Northern Saw-whet Owls
1 Eastern Screech Owl
2 Downy Woodpeckers
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
8 Black-capped Chickadees
1 Brown Creeper
1 Winter Wren
4 Golden-crowned Kinglets
3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
7 Hermit Thrushes
3 Cedar Waxwings
4 Myrtle Warblers
1 Chipping Sparrow
10 Song Sparrows
1 Lincoln’s Sparrow
2 Swamp Sparrows
7 White-throated Sparrows
2 Eastern White-crowned Sparrows
6 Dark-eyed Juncos
8 Rusty Blackbirds
4 Purple Finches
1 House Finch
2 American Goldfinches

Retrapped 28:
1 Eastern Tufted Titmouse
2 Black-capped Chickadees
2 White-breasted Nuthatches
3 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Hermit Thrushes
3 Song Sparrows
5 White-throated Sparrows
1 Eastern White-crowned Sparrow
7 Dark-eyed Juncos

ET’s: 46 spp.

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