Saturday, November 2, 2013

Owling at Salt Fork

Took a trip to Ohio yesterday, albeit a short one. I had an entire morning to kill, once arriving in Cambridge around four in the morning. I was able to catch some z's along the way, so I wasn't sleepy once I arrived. I decided to drive over to Salt Fork State Park to do some owling. I've always wanted to do this, but I'll be frank: Waking up that early and birding when you can barely spot the trail at your feet has never been my idea of a good time. Well, I was wrong. It was a great time! Equipped with my iBird app, and my camera flashlight... I set off to try to coax some owls out from where they might have been hiding.

First, I decided to hit the dog park area... here I would have a Short-eared Owl vocalize in response to the calls... but I would not see him perched in the fields whatsoever. I decide to wait, knowing he's in the area... and move on to the horse trail area. Here, I parked, and went walking the trails... at 6:30 A.M. It was pitch black, and I can't say that a million different frightening scenarios weren't running through my head. I am a wuss when it comes to heights, and the dark... imagine if both were an issue at the same time! I shudder to think!

Anyways, about a quarter mile into the trail, I start playing Saw-whet and Screech-Owl calls. It doesn't take long... maybe 10 minutes as I continue walking, for a Saw-whet to respond. As close as it sounded, I start scanning the trees and shining my flashlight, hoping to catch a glimpse. In the crook of a tree right along the trail, I spot him- as the reflection of his eyes to my light give him away. I spent all of this past winter searching for one of these guys, but all along I was doing it wrong. I sit for about ten minutes, him and I checking each other out. I know I don't have a lot of time left until full on daylight, so I walk back to my van. Here I would drive back over to the beach and dog park area.

As I drive into the parking area, I look out across the larger field and see the Short-eared Owl hunting, his moth-like flight unmistakable. I always assumed, since it took me awhile to see a Short-eared this past winter, that folks often mistook Harriers as Owls. But, once I saw the flight of a Short-eared, I realized that it was distinguishable so much so that I couldn't see anybody mistaking them for something else. 

Over in this area is a lot of field, and a beach... and some trees, but not dense enough for me to search for a Screech-Owl. I decide to try one other area near the marina while I waited for the sun to come up.

Somehow, luck was with me. As I drove the road leading to the marina, I heard him- a Screech-Owl! I pull to the berm, park, and play the vocalization. By this point, it's light enough to see with the naked eye, but still not bright enough for good photos. He was pretty bold, flew right out into the open to check out that odd bird that was calling back to him. All this time I've looked for owls and never once used playback... ethically I've questioned the use of it. I went against my former thoughts and tried it out, and the results I got may have changed my mind on the subject.

Since the beach is close to the marina, I decide to drive back there and check it out again. I'm mostly looking for shorebirds and waterfowl, as I broke my toe and hiking long distances wasn't really something I wanted to endure. Sparrows were present in the thickets and fields, and once I got to the beach, I saw a group of Canada Geese and about fifty Ring-billed Gulls hanging out. Running the shoreline were several Killdeer and a group of three Dunlins. By the time I'm finished walking this area, the sun has come up and I can see the beauty of an Ohio fall surrounding me.

I bird a little while longer, seeing a fine assortment of species. Activity is high as the front that came through overnight grounded the birds. No rarities, but definitely a lot of species I never get tired of seeing. Fifty four to be exact- a wonderful morning spent again at Salt Fork State Park. If any readers in eastern Ohio are looking for a nice spot- I cannot recommend this park enough.

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!