Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hello, neighbor

After a holiday hiatus while the crew was away, daytime roost tracking in King's Gap State Park and Michaux State Forest resumed Tuesday, with the welcome news that all three of our beeping owls are still around.

"Today was a veritable saw-whet owl trifecta!" Aura Stauffer reported. She started tracking Maria, heading for the tree both Maria and Morticia had used this fall. "She wasn't in the tree, but since the snow melted, there were at least 15 pellets under the tree. Some were pretty old, but others were fresh." Those pellets will be added to the others we've collected, to shed some light on fall/winter food habits.

Aura found Maria about 30 yards away, perched about six feet off the ground in mountain laurel. When Aura tracked down Lexi, in the fire break, she too was sitting head-high in laurel. Gemini was again in the white pine forest along Tom's Run, not far from the base of ridge, sitting up in a pine tree.

New Year's Eve Aura headed back out - and got the kind of surprise that's almost becoming commonplace this fall. She found Maria in a pitch pine, "holding on for dear life as the cold front moved in around mid-morning" with powerful winds. And as for Lexi -- when Aura switched to her frequency, she appeared to be in the same tree as Maria, or another just 10 feet away. Aura never got a visual on Lexi, but the presence of whitewash (and a slightly stronger signal) led her to think Lexi was in the neighboring pine.

Some species of owls, notably long-eared and short-eared owls, roost communally in the winter, but such behavior isn't well documented in saw-whets. But we learned a long time ago, nothing's out of the question with these birds.

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