It was an unseasonably warm day for tracking yesterday. The warm weather brought out mosquitos and gnats, and as usual, the ticks were out in full force. We have two owls remaining at King's Gap, Morticia and Quasi. Autumn and Fairfield seem to have left, although we still have hope they might show up on a future search. They may be hiding in a hollow somewhere just out of the 1/2 mile range of our receivers.
I looked for Quasi first. As I was narrowing down the tree she was in, just outside the King's Gap boundary, my receiver batteries started to weaken, so I stopped to change them. After putting in a fresh set, I looked up, and there was the fuzzball of Quasi high up in the pitch pine I was standing near. An important part of tracking is following the signal, but the key is looking up, because sometimes the owls are just as clear as day. Or, in the case of most owls that are very well hidden, the key is looking down to the ground for signs of an owl, including whitewash and pellets. Directly underneath Quasi I saw whitewash, but came up short on a pellet search. Upon looking at Quasi with my binoculars, I saw the long thin tail of a mouse hanging beneath her. I snapped a few photos to get a better look at the lifeless body she clutched in her talons. Because Quasi was about 50 feet up, the closest photo I could take with my camera is slightly blurry, but you can make out the tail and the body of the mouse in the photo above.
Quasi could not be bothered by me at all at this height, and didn't look down at me once. Because of the angle of the branches, the best shot was directly underneath her, which provided a good view of the mouse. She never started eating the mouse, which is sometimes the case, and she still held onto it when I was done with data collection.
I checked on Morticia next, who has been favoring the leaf cover of oak trees. I found her in a large chestnut oak east of the Pond Day Use area parking lot. I found whitewash, but she remained concealed the entire time.
The tracking team will be headed out tonight through wednesday to monitor the activitiy of these owls at night. Last weekend, we started out tracking Morticia, who turned out to be incredibly active, jumping from hollow to hollow, while Quasi remained in only one hollow. We are unsure if either of these patterns are usual behaviors for saw-whets, and we'll need to spend many more nights in the dark to find out!