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VTBIRD  February 2018

VTBIRD February 2018

Subject:

Long-eared Owls --- western Addison County

From:

Ian Worley <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Vermont Birds <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 06:54:51 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Long-eared Owls are now singing and vocalizing in western Addison County.

Last night Ron Payne and I searched two locations, and at one located 
three Long-eared Owls as well as a Short-eared Owl, a Northern Saw-whet 
Owl, and a Great Horned Owl.  We were able to record (check out 
iNaturalist for some recordings) for the Long-eared Owls alert calls, 
excitement calls, and hoot songs, as well as the calls of the 
Short-eared.  The hoot songs of the Long-eareds were sometimes 
counter-sung and sometime overlapping, and were at different pitches 
identifying different birds.  We saw at least two, and maybe all three 
of the Long-eareds, and the Short-eared (there may have been two).

The location was representative of good habitat for Long-eared Owls in 
Addison County.  The birds were in, and flying from and to, a mature 
thicket stand of red cedars (juniper) adjacent to extensive open 
fields.  Most of our listening and viewing was from the field 100-200 
feet from the edge of the trees.

We typically search for Long-eareds from just after sunset, and also 
later in the night.  Last night sunset was at 5:25pm, and the end of 
(Civil) twilight was 5:55pm.  Our first encounter was a bird that 
acknowledged our presence at 5:36 with numerous repeats of a single 
alarm call as it made circles over the thicket.  We both had fleeting 
glimpses of that individual.

At 5:48pm a single Long-eared began a characteristic, soft, hoot song 
from the thicket. That it was only 7 minutes from the end of Civil 
Twilight was quite typical and expected.  From then until 6:35pm (when 
we left the viewing/listening site) we heard various combinations of 
excitement and hoot songs from three different individual Long-eareds.  
They moved around during that time.  At one point two of the Long-eareds 
were flying low back and forth in front of us (well below tree height), 
between us and the edge of the thicket stand of cedars.  We also heard 
the other three owl species during this time.  The actions and 
vocalizations were suggestive of a nesting site, and the thicket is 
mature and tall enough to fit that possibility.

Unless you are well experienced with the variety of calls and alternate 
songs of each owl species, it is very difficult to separate some of the 
calls of Long-eared Owls from calls of Northern Saw-whet Owls.  
Sometimes only careful reading of sonograms made from on-site recordings 
is the only sure way to know.  There are also some "conversational" 
simple calls that are very similar sounding among several species of 
owls.  The best way to verify a Long-eared Owl by sound is with the 
slow-paced hoot song.  They also make mechanical sounds, notably bill 
snaps and wing claps.  We did not hear either of these last night.

In the last 10 days at two other locations we also heard Long-eareds 
singing hoot songs for extended durations, at times which were well into 
the dark of night.

You can read much more about the Long-eareds of western Addison County 
and how to find them in this report of our 2016 discovery of their 
habitat of preference in this area. 
https://ebird.org/vt/news/finding-vemonts-enigmatic-long-eared-owl

Please note the "Precautions" section of the article.  We know very 
little about these birds in Vermont and we believe they should be given 
every protection of privacy that we can.

If you go to eBird Species Maps and search for Long-eared Owls for the 
period 2016-2018 you will get a good idea where they have been found in 
the western Addison County area.  Only a couple of the markers on that 
map are exactly where the observations were made.  For the safety of the 
birds and the species, the markers are put in generalized locations.  
There are many other locations with seemingly good habitat to be searched.

If you then look at the map for all years, you will find other records.  
Since there is an owl banding station at the north end of Snake 
Mountain, you will find many of its mist-netted birds mapped at 
scattered locations on or near Snake Mountain.  The actual location for 
those scattered map pins is just one place near Route 17 at the north 
end of the mountain.

At least two of the locations that we have found for Long-eared Owls 
this year have a strong possibility of being nesting sites. If you 
locate hooting Long-eareds in the next few weeks, you may also have 
discovered a possible nest site.  It is our practice, and strongly 
encourage others to do the same, to not map those sites until after the 
4th of July.  Furthermore, we strongly encourage not returning to the 
locations where you discovered the species, at least not until next year.

We hope others will seek out new locations for this enigmatic species, 
so that we can better understand their status in Vermont and guide us 
further on how to protect them.

Good owling all!

Ian and Ron

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